DO NOT BE AFRAID; FROM NOW ON YOU WILL BE CATCHING MEN
Sunday, February 7, 2016
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Call of Simon the Fisherman
1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.2He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.3Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”5Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”6When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.7They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.8When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”9For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him,10and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”11When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
The Cleansing of a Leper
Other readings: Isaiah 6:1-2; Isaiah 6:3-8; Psalm 138:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
We have come to the end of a short period. After Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we have had five Sundays of Ordinary time which, in turn, will give way to a new and longer section of the liturgical year. In three days, we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday and will start the path that goes from Lent, runs through Easter, and will end on Pentecost (this year, May 15th). Then, we will return to Ordinary Time and to the semi-continuous reading of Luke.
Today, curiously, the three main readings have a common trait, three characters whose religious role in the Jewish and Christian tradition is paramount: Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Three moments in history, three callings, three roles to play … and a single attitude of honesty and faithfulness to God or Jesus who entrusts them with a personal mission. The historical settings are quite different, but for reasons of space, I will have to skip making reference to them.
The specific circumstances surrounding each event present very peculiar details in each case. For Isaiah, the venue of his encounter with God is undoubtedly sacred: a lofty throne in the Temple, Seraphim singing the Trisagion, smoke and the trembling of the door, are the counterpoint to other prophetic callings in more humble and secular settings (let us remember Amos 7:15, “The Lord took me from following the flock…”). For Paul, Jesus appeared to him in what we might consider an embarrassing situation, when the apostle was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians and put them in prison. In the three accounts of the event alluded to in Acts (9:1-19; 22:1-21 and 26:9-18), Paul only manages to ask, “Who are you, Lord?” and “What shall I do, Lord?” As for Peter, the circumstances are somewhat complicated. We find a context where Jesus’ preaching and a miraculous catch of fish create a climate where Simon faces the presence of the Lord in a way that reminds us of a post-paschal apparition (compare the passage with chapter 21 in John’s Gospel). However, in our text today, Jesus does not make any pronouncement whereby Peter would feel he was being invited to follow Jesus or enter any established “group” of disciples. Jesus simply announces the future activity of the apostle.
As for the way in which the dialogue takes place, the three recognize their shortcomings. Isaiah admits he is “a man of unclean lips;” Paul declares that Jesus appeared to him as to “one born abnormally;” and Simon Peter asks Jesus to depart from him for he is “a sinful man.” In these three stories, the three characters are aware of their own limits and flaws, but the mission is, in all cases, more important than any of the negative factors. Again, God’s salvation enters the world and becomes effective in the most unexpected ways. The Word becomes flesh, and human weakness and frailty is not an obstacle for God’s plans to be carried out. The Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians were richer, more numerous and more powerful nations than Israel. But it was the small group of Hebrews, descendants of a wandering Aramaean and subjected as aliens to the dominion of the Egyptians, who would become a great nation, called to witness to the glory of the Lord (Deuteronomy 26:1-11). Among the Twelve, the closest disciples chosen by Jesus, one will betray him, Peter himself will deny him, and all of them will abandon him on the night he is arrested. Yet, even so, they will be the ones who will bear witness to his resurrection, follow in his footsteps and proclaim the Kingdom of God.
None of us (at least, none of the people I know) has had an experience of being called by God or Jesus similar to what the characters in our readings felt, causing them to make the decision to accept the mission entrusted to them. Most of us decided to get married, enter religious life or prepare for the ministry after meditating, pondering or (in the case of marriage) arriving at a common decision. Of course, personal contact with Jesus in prayer and through the guidance of some spiritual advisor likely played a vital part. But, in a sense, our decision was one humbly taken in faith “without seeing the Lord or hearing his voice.” It is obvious that, without God’s action, our decision to follow Jesus would have been impossible. A simple suggestion: taking these facts into account, meditate in silent thanksgiving on the moments you can recall in the process that led to where you are now. I insist - in a spirit of thanksgiving and silence.
Give thanks for the calling you received to your personal vocation and pray that, with the help of the Lord, you may remain faithful to the mission you received from him.
Pray for those who are facing their future and trying to find out what the Lord demands from them; pray also for those who already know the path they must follow, that all of them may find and hold fast to the plans God has prepared for them.
As I announced in our Lectio, in three days we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday. The liturgy will present once more the three traditional activities in a time of conversion and penance: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Prepare yourself for the celebration by reading beforehand the texts of the Eucharist: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians5:20 – 6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18. Perhaps they will provide you with some idea or hint about how to put into practice the Lenten penitential actions.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain