Homily for 2.10.13
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
LUKE 5:1-11 (see below)
The Lectionary Gospel reading for today takes us to St. Luke's description of the moment when Jesus calls Peter and the Sons of Zebedee to become part of his chosen men. But, of course, the primary emphasis of the pericope concerns Simon Peter.
Peter, as well as being the stalwart leader of the church, is portrayed in Holy Scripture as a real flesh and blood man. I love his personality and his audacity. Sometimes he speaks when he should be silent, but who doesn't? And sometimes he's silent when he should speak. Then, often he is his own worst enemy, but again, who isn't?
If Mary's discipleship is solid, quiet and steady, Peter's is boisterous, animated and brave, at least up to the point of Jesus' passion, of course, where a failure of nerve breaks his heart, and ours. But far from feeling a sense of judgment toward the Rock, his breakdown makes him all the more accessible to us. We identify with this man, having failed so often ourselves.
Before us, then, in the text is Peter's moment, his confrontation with the reality of the Christ.
I think I shared recently that in my many encounters with people in struggle -- struggles of life-direction or sin-entrapment, I often come to the stage of that pastoral council to what I call their moment, the moment of their decision. Which way would they go? Which path would they chose? I have found that I cannot help the person here, for it is their choice. And I have also found that a person's words at that moment may have nothing whatsoever to do with what their decision really means. That is, here, actions speak louder that words.
Before us is Peter's moment. It does little good to speculate as to why Jesus chose Peter. This we cannot know for access to divine choice is shrouded in mystery. No, the real question is would Peter chose Jesus?
Most of you know well the story. Jesus is in what the scholars call the Year of Popularity. His teaching ministry and his healing and exorcism acts gained for him name recognition and a following.
On this particular day...While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.Getting 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.We can presume that Peter heard Jesus' teaching then, at the boat, but from St. John's account, he may have already become familiar with Jesus through his brother Andrew. Anyway, after Jesus concludes his lesson, he speaks to Peter:
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”Simon said in reply,“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,but at your command I will lower the nets.”This is a beautiful exchange between a fisherman, the expert, and the carpenter, the non-expert. But was Jesus a non-expert? Apparently not, for the result of Peter willingness to obey the request of Jesus was miraculous:
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.So powerful was the catch that once on shore one could image that Peter had in mind to take Jesus away from the carpenter shop and hire him to become part of his crew, but the exact opposite is true. Jesus calls Peter to drop his nets, or better put, to continue fishing, but for a different kind of catch.
This is Peter's moment; this is his moment of truth. What would he do? One thing is for sure, one thing true of all our special moments, Peter would never be the same whichever choice he makes.
Here is how the text describes the moment:
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.I try to think of how Peter's wife heard this news, assuming that she was alive at the time. Or, how his family might have taken to his walking away from the fishing business, to do what? How would you describe what Peter would be doing as he followed Jesus, and would this response to Jesus make much sense to Peter's original hearers?
PETER CHANGES HIS LIFE DIRECTION -- CONVERSION
It seems almost too obvious to say that by choosing to drop those nets Peter's life became irrevocably changed. But, I want us to think for a moment of how this move to follow Jesus changed his interior life, first, before we tackle his vocational life.
What we have before us is an example of the ancient words on action:
"I once was this, but now I'm this..."That is, what we have before us is nothing short of conversion.
Think about the process of conversion, for it is a process. To be converted is to "reverse one's direction in life, to change one's devotion or loyalty, or to repent or to rethink ones way of life as one lives before and in relation to God." (Wayne Oates go here, pg. 93)
Oates goes on to say about conversion that it is
"not a ritual, an outward deed, or a purely subjective experience inasmuch as God is working in the processes of a man's life to will and to do his good work."Conversion is a reinterpretation of ones own history, but it is more than this, for true conversion leaves a clear mark between what we were prior to conversion, and what we become subsequent to it.
Or, said differently, our initial conversion to Christ -- if it is worked by grace through faith, and the subsequent, necessary daily conversions -- again by grace through faith, does not leave us, cannot leave us unchanged. Conversion leaves us with new desires, new understandings and new vocations.
Or said differently still, conversion is the movement from the "self that I am to the self I want to become," or better said the self toward which GOD has called.
I would assert, therefore, that Simon Peter's conversion begins here, in this moment of his calling.
PETER CHANGES HIS LIFE MEANING -- VOCATION
Of course, Christian conversion does not occur without Christian vocation. We are converted to someone; we are converted to some actions based upon that someone.
Peter's call would be to follow Jesus and to eventually become the leader of the disciples. But, is that what Jesus said to Peter at the beginning? "C'mon Peter, follow me, and when they kill me you will lead my group until they kill you!"
I don't think so.
No, as Kenneth Bailey reminds us in his marvelous book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes," Jesus' call to Peter consisted of a question: Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Dr. Bailey writes:
"Jesus reaches out to Peter by asking for help, not by offering it. He deliberately places himself in a position where he genuinely needs the help of the one he seeks to win to discipleship. The help requested is authentic, not fabricated. Jesus needs Peter's boat and rowing skills, and Peter's worth is thereby affirmed on his own terms. Jesus' ministry becomes a partnership with Peter."Isn't this an astonishing thought. Jesus' call consists of a willingness to partner with us, finding in our distinct personalities and eccentricities a personal and eccentric way to express his own ongoing love of the world. Jesus' call to us is a call that respects our personhood, celebrates it in fact. For Jesus recognizes that as individuals we can, by partnering with his Spirit, bring to the world a true, yet unique presentation of who he is and what he came to do.
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting 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.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and 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.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.