5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – 7 February 2016

"Jesus teaches us how to live"

Scripture Reading – Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

Gospel reading – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Jesus teaches us how to live”

by Fr Koenraad Van Gucht SDB

Imagine yourself in the beautiful lakeside setting of today’s gospel. Jesus is there, as he often is. And so are the crowds, eager to hear him. Pining for a word from his lips. A healing word, a hopeful word. God’s word. God knows we need it.

Further along the shore there’s a group of fishermen. They’ve stepped out of their boats. They’ve caught nothing and are washing their nets, weighed down with diappointment. Perhaps you’re there among them. Because we’ve all gone after the big catch in some way, only to come home empty-handed, broken-hearted.

It wouldn’t be too bad if we were to try again. But it IS too bad if we step out of our boat and just busy ourselves with the nets, getting hopelessly entangled in self-pity. To the point that we don’t notice what’s going on around us, even when Jesus speaks to those a  little further along the shore.

But the Lord comes among the fishermen too, and their knotted nets. He comes to meet us amidst disappointment and despair. And he speaks to us. First by asking us to put out a little from the bank. It seems a small thing, but it’s an important first step – to leave the safety of the shore, the security of our certainties, and dare to get into the perhaps rickety boat and paddle towards the unknown. Perhaps it’s reaching out to the one who unexpectedly asks for a helping hand. It’s the first move out of the net of self-interest. A small step that can bring us far.

And then Jesus asks us to go a little further. Cast into the deep. Into the depth of ourselves; the depth of others; and not get stuck in what’s shallow, but dare to discover one’s deepest desires. And cast the net, not fearfully or reluctantly, but widely and generously.

Of course at first we don’t really want to; After all we’re well-experienced in the ways of the world. Who is this Jesus, son of a carpenter, telling fishermen how to do their job? They who’ve toiled and done their best all night.

But Jesus doesn’t come to tell us how to make a living, but teaches us how to live – fully, deeply, abundantly. So when they cast their nets, the catch is beyond all expectation, the boat is full to the brim. Wow! What an experience that must have been! And what does it do to them?

They’re amazed, overwhelmed at this abundance; this overflowing gift; this God-given goodness; And what do they do? As always when we’ve experienced something wonderful, they tell their friends, invite them to share in this bounty, to take part in this joy. And it leaves them humble and grateful for God’s generous friendship.

And then Jesus asks one thing more: that they become fishers of men, to reach out to people, especially those struggling on the edges, those sinking under the weight of life’s burdens.

That is our invitation too. To bring a bit of hope to those for whom life is difficult. Go out into the deep. There’s no knowing what wonders await. Do not be afraid.

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

In Luke’s gospel, the call of the first disciples comes a bit later than in Mark. Luke does not present it as the first thing Jesus did. In Mark, discipleship was introduced while Jesus was evangelizing the people. According to Luke, Jesus was preaching and he needed a boat to serve as a pulpit. Before the disciples were called to follow Jesus, they had to hear how he preached to the crowd, and see for themselves the tremendous power he had to attract a crowd. Before being called, the disciple was one of the listeners in the crowd. Before giving his life to serve Jesus, he had to lend Jesus his instrument of work, his boat. Before becoming a fisher of men, he had to see that catching fish was of little importance.

This text does not record Jesus’ first meeting with Simon Peter, the disciple who was later to become the rock of the Christian community.

Peter’s life underwent a radical change that day. Jesus gave him a new job – he was no longer to spend his time catching fish, but catching men for God. This new job of promoting the Kingdom among people was entrusted to a fisherman, who just happened to meet Jesus, a complete unknown until that day when Jesus approached him and asked him to pull his boat out a bit from the shore, so that he might be better able to preach to the crowd gathered at the lakeside. Now that he had met Jesus, he never wanted to leave him.

LECTIO DIVINA

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

Luke’s account of the first call differs notably from that given in his source (Mk 1, 16-20). Jesus is fully engaged in the work of evangelization. Luke has a good reason for not following his source in this instance, because he has a particular understanding, all his own, of what it means to be a disciple.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is still unknown when he calls his first disciples.  In Luke, however, the people already know Jesus (Lk 4, 16-30). His fame as a wonder-worker is already recognised (Lk 4, 38-42). In Mark, the people called, the two sets of brothers, did not want to go with Jesus. But according to Luke, before Jesus called Simon Peter, he had already been a guest in his house and had healed his mother-in-law (Lk 4, 38-39).

In this way, Luke did not want to portray a vocation as the beginning of a relationship that would develop into sharing the life and mission of Jesus (Mk 3, 13-19). The call presupposes prior knowledge and an experience that has already begun. Therefore:

  • Before being called by Jesus, the disciple had to be a useful collaborator in evangelization (Lk 5, 3). He had seen Jesus preaching to the crowd from his boat and had experienced the power he had over the people who heard him.
  • Before being called, the disciple must go wherever the Master sends him, even out into the sea, from which he might return empty-handed (Lk 5,5). This act of obedience, seemingly pointless, prepares the disciple to follow Jesus and will make him stronger in his mission.
  • And when the gift is so abundant that it places his life in danger, he will know whom it is he is following, and will feel unworthy to remain in his presence (Lk 5, 8). So when he was called, before he followed Jesus, Simon had a powerful experience alongside the Master.
  • Sharing life with the Master prepares the disciple for the call. Anyone who has not served Jesus, even for a short time, will not fear him. Anyone who does not fear him, has never been close to him. Anyone who has never been close to him, will not be called to follow him. Anyone who does not follow him and him alone, will not abandon everything.

There is sound pedagogy in this vocational itinerary, but it applies to a different type of vocation. It is easy to see the process: a command that goes against one’s own experience, obedience to the command, a miraculous catch, so big that it endangers one’s life, and then safety. The miracle leads Simon to recognise Jesus as Lord, and to acknowledge that he is not worthy to remain in his presence. This confession of his sinfulness leads to a new mission.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Luke places the call of the first disciples much later than Mark does, when Jesus had already begun his public ministry, with some success.   The disciple must go where the Master sends him, even out to sea, from which he might return empty-handed.

This apparently pointless act of obedience prepares the disciple to follow him, and so the Master lets him witness some miracles. And when the gift is so abundant that it places his life in danger, he will know whom it is he is following, and will feel unworthy to remain in his presence.  So when he was called, Simon had to have a powerful experience alongside the Master. Sharing life with the Master prepares the disciple to follow him. Anyone who does not fear him, has never been close to him. Anyone who has never been close to him, will not be called to follow him.

It all begins with a small service, which Peter did as a favour to Jesus. Of all the fishermen who were washing their nets, Peter was the one who helped to ensure that the word of God was heard.

When he finished his discourse, Jesus wanted to reward Peter’s gesture and the time he had taken, so he sent Peter back out to sea to start fishing. It was a strange situation. Peter was an expert fisherman and he knew that the time for fishing was the night. He knew well, therefore, that what Jesus was telling him to do was a waste of time. However, despite his experience and his recent lack of success, he agreed and put out into the deep. He caught so many fish that the boat almost capsized. He was nearly shipwrecked in the deep sea that, just a short while previously, had yielded no fish. This miraculous event was enough for Peter to discover that Jesus was more than a simple preacher.

He was amazed and he feared for his life. A miracle occurred, completely unforeseen and contrary to all expectations, because he had obeyed a strange command, in which he had no faith and no confidence. He realized that he was unworthy to be in the presence and company of Jesus, or in the same boat … when the Lord called him to serve him, he gave him a new kind of work and obliged him to leave his occupation.

This episode shows us how Jesus acts when he approaches someone and decides to make him his disciple. Reflecting on this incident will help us to imagine what kind of conditions Jesus would use today to preach about his Kingdom, in a way that would make people accept it. If we discover that, it will help us to become his disciples.

There are three stages to note. While Jesus is preaching, he needs people who will offer him some small service, and he chooses them by asking a favour of them.   This is his gentle, almost imperceptible, way of entering into communication with us, without requiring too much effort from us. Jesus gets in contact with anyone among us he chooses, asking us to give him a short space of time, and to put at his disposal our talents and the things we possess. Only if we do that, without making it seem too difficult, will he give of his time and power to let us have what we are unable to achieve on our own.

If we pay a lot more attention to him when he asks us for something, and when he has need of us, he will come to our assistance and save us from our helplessness. As in the case of Peter, it is not enough for us to know our job and to do all in our power to succeed. What we were unable to obtain in a whole night’s work, he will give us as soon as we enter his company, and do him the favour he asks of us. If we stay with him, and accept his word, we will receive what we could never achieve through our own knowledge and efforts.

The order to ‘put out into the deep’ was the last thing Peter wanted to hear in that situation. After a hard night’s work and the disappointment of catching nothing, going against all he had learnt from his experience, at a time when his companions were getting ready for rest, he was being asked to put his trust in a total stranger and return to work, heading back out to the sea he had just come from with an empty boat.

Jesus comes to the people he loves, and makes strange and unusual requests of them.  But the miracle happens only when they overcome their amazement at the strange command, which goes against all their knowledge and everyday experience.  No effort is required except the effort to overcome their incredulity.  By trusting totally in Jesus, they will see, as Peter did, the outcome they had worked so hard for, obtaining more than they had ever imagined.

The ‘put out into the deep’ that Jesus addressed to Peter should be enough to convince us that, if we want to see miracles, we have to obey as Peter did, and have the same trust. Anyone who puts into practice the words of Jesus, no matter what he says, will see miracles without having to give up the things he always does, without leaving his occupation and his boat as Peter did that day.

Put out into the deep’ is a constant invitation to risk letting go of our everyday experience -what we have always known and done, what we do as our work for our own welfare – and put our trust only in the words of Jesus. We will come to realize that Jesus does not demand of us more than we are able to do. He merely wants us to do what he asks of us, even if it goes against our experience and we do not feel like it.

It is easy to understand how Peter, in the presence of such a miraculous event, should be deeply touched and feel the distance between him and Jesus. It was the goodness of Jesus that showed Peter how sinful he was, and when he realized his sinfulness, he obeyed the Lord’s command and agreed to share in the Lord’s work.  Jesus accepts as companion in his mission one who feels unworthy even to be near him.

Strange, but that is how it is! Peter was called only after he declared his unworthiness to be in the Lord’s company. It was enough for Peter to be near the Lord for him to feel how greatly inferior he was, and to think of himself as not good enough.

Unfortunately, we do not trust Jesus because we do not see miracles. We do not feel good because we do not give him total trust.

Anyone who comes to Jesus and does not feel unworthy of him, will not be invited to remain with him. Anyone who does not acknowledge that he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus, is not worthy to follow him, to continue his work and to represent him among people. Strange as it may seem, we are not worthy of Jesus’ call, if we think we are worthy. We lose out on what is best, because we think we are good.

And so it is for us: not only will we not get what we ask for, but we will not even get the invitation from Jesus to be near him.

PRAYER

Guard your family, Lord,
with constant loving care,
for in your divine grace
we place our only hope.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

AUDIO

“Jesus teaches us how to live”
by Fr Koenraad Van Gucht SDB

SR_2016.02.07_5OT_C_KoenraadVanGuchtSDB.m4a     

Music: “Skye Cuillin” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

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