In this excellent homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Father Hanly brings to life Peter’s call and shows us the great beauty and delicacy of a call by Jesus to follow him.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
Second Reading: First Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
This short episode from St Luke is considered one of the finest pieces of writing in all the gospels. And rightly so. St Luke, as you know, never saw Jesus. He was converted by St Paul, his friend, and he came to Palestine long after the events that he’s describing took place. But all the apostles were there and the people were still there.
And Luke was a very likeable kind of person, as you can tell from this reading. He had great sympathy for people. He honoured them. He didn’t look down upon them, even though he is the only non-Jew to appear in all the bible, having written a book. All the other authors were the children of Israel. And so he’s rather special.
If you watch carefully how he writes, he writes in a very fine Greek and it flows like poetry very often. And sometimes you kind of miss the meaning, because it’s a sort of poetic form rather than an explanation form. And so it would be good for us just to go over the simple story that he tells today.
The church, in contrast, has the calling, because both are vocation stories, called to God, called to the Lord, called by God to serve.
And in the Old Testament, the first one was the book of Isaiah and it was very thrilling and dramatic, with angels flying, and holy, holy, holy, and choirs, and burning coals burning the lips of the prophet-to-be Isaiah. And you get the feeling that God is really present.
And so this is the kind of way we feel that if God is going to call one of us, or all of us, to our various vocations, it’s going to be very dramatic, we’re going to hear angels, we’re going to feel deep in our hearts that it’s God talking to me and calling me.
And, of course, this is not true. That’s why we have Jesus, because Jesus is quite different. Jesus has just come from his hometown where he was rejected by everybody and almost killed there by them because they were so angry at him for disappointing them.
And now he comes to begin his work. And, in order to do this work, which is basically to save the world and to have the whole gospel preached throughout the whole world and the call of God to reach the farest, farest areas where ears can hear and eyes can see.
And who does he pick? He picks fishermen who can’t read and they can’t write. They might have had a little bit, like Peter might have had a little bit of experience, because most of them, especially the young men, the boys, had to bar mitzvah, which means that they had to read a few parts of the Old Testament in Hebrew in order to grow up and become men in that society. But, in general, these are illiterate fishermen.
And the way Luke sets the scene is very, very good. Jesus comes all alone and he walks along the lakeside and he begins to preach to the people. And a slow group begins to gather because his name is somewhat known. And then the crowd gets a little bit large so then Jesus walks over to a place where there are two boats.
Now it’s morning time and, of course, the fishermen are not fishing, because you can’t catch fish in day time in a lake. They all go to the bottom and they’re out of reach. They’re really basically hiding from the sun. So what they’re doing is they’re washing their nets, then they will go home and get a nap, and they will fish all night because at night time the fish come up to the surface.
So you can imagine it: two boats with about four or five or six men sitting there, washing their nets. And Jesus walks over very quietly and asks Simon, who is, as we know, Simon Peter, Jesus later will name him Peter the Rock, he asks Simon if it would be alright if he entered the boat and could he pull out a little from the shore because the crowd was growing, and, in the area, if he pulled out a few yards from the shore the people could surround him on the land in like a little U. And there would be a growing crowd as more and more people heard that Jesus was back.
And so Jesus, St Luke says, Jesus preached from the boat sitting down, because a teacher in Jesus’ time never stood up to preach. He always sat down. It was the sign that he was on the throne of God and speaking for God. So Jesus sat down and he began to preach to the people.
What did he say? Well, we know what he said. He would say, “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God. And you should be happy and blessed when you feel that you are hearing these words because the prophets of old yearned to hear these words.” And he was talking about himself being the Messiah.
And he would preach what he preached every place: “God is here. God is forgiving. God is come. And this time He will come to be with His people, but He will not return, He will always stay with them.” And then he calls them to forgive. He calls them to learn how to love. He calls them to all the things that we ourselves treasure and want and hunger for in our lives.
And he’s sitting in the boat. And, by this time, Peter, who doesn’t know him too well, although Andrew, his brother, knew him from St John the Baptist’s mission in and around the lake in Judea and had spent some time with Jesus and came back and told Peter that perhaps this was the one they were looking for, the Messiah, but Peter wasn’t too impressed.
But he must have been impressed when he heard Jesus talking, because then Jesus turned to him and finished talking and he said to Peter, very quietly he said: “Now would you bring the boat out into the deep?” The deep means the centre of the lake. The lake is also called the Sea of Galilee. It was a very large lake.
And Peter looks at him and he said: “We’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing.” Besides the deep was a very dangerous place. The squalls that used to come off the land and into the sea could take boats and throw them all over the lake and people would perish from them if you went out too far. So people hung around the sides of the lake for their own protection and safety.
It was bad enough that Jesus asked him to go into the deep, meaning the dangerous part, but he also asked them to throw their nets over the side. And Peter, he must have been a wonderful person, because, if you were living as a fisherman around the Lake of Galilee, you knew that you never fish during the daytime. And here’s poor Peter, one of the well-known fisherman, he’s going to be tossing all his nets out in broad daylight for all the other people around to see and they’ll say: “Something is wrong with this man. He must have gone crazy.”
But Peter, he said to Jesus, making this statement, “We fished all night and didn’t catch anything, but, because you tell me to, we’ll throw them out.” And withstand all the embarrassment and teasing he probably would get. So he threw them out, the nets were thrown into the sea.
And, all of a sudden, it was almost instant, all of a sudden they began to feel that the nets were filling with fish. And there were so many fish that when they were trying to get them into the boat, they had to call the next boat out again because there wasn’t enough room. And they filled both boats and they were almost falling into the sea from the weight of the fish.
And what did Peter do then? Well, there was like a sky rocket, very quiet, you know with sky rockets, you send them up into the air, they are very quiet, and then there is an explosion and there’s everything in every direction and colours. And that must have gone through St Peter’s heart, because he fell on his knees and he no longer called him Master, which is Rabbi, teacher. He said, “Lord,” which means God. “Lord! Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
He knew he was in the presence of something special. He wouldn’t say God, he wouldn’t say Messiah, but he knew it was from the heavens and he knew it was special and he knew that this man, he could not be in this place unless he was angelic or someone that was very known for his virtue and known for his intelligence and maybe could sing psalms and these things. And so there he was, kneeling down in the boat, his head dropped, saying: “Depart from me, oh Lord, I’m just not worthy. I’m a sinful person.”
And, of course, Jesus reached down and he picked him up and he looked him in the eye. And he knew at a moment that Peter had fallen in love with him, that Peter was not going to move until he had said something else. And he looked down at him and he said the words that he used to say after he rose from the dead to all the people who saw him and were frightened. He said to Peter: “Do not be afraid. Come now. I will make you not a fisher of fish, but a fisher of men and women.”
And then they brought the boats to shore and Luke very dramatically says, “From that moment, every one of those fishermen left everything and followed him.”
Following him is not the real good word, because following him means he’s a leader and they’re all marching like soldiers. What they meant was they entered the intimacy of the love of Jesus. He wanted them, he loved them and he was saying: “Now come. Where I go, you go. What I see, you will see. And the wonders of a whole new life, a whole new world, will be given to you.”
And so what the vocation means, in a sense, is to recognise, deep down in our own hearts, that Jesus is there saying the very same thing to us that he said to Peter: “Do not be afraid. Risk it. Give your whole life into my hands and I will show you a world you never dreamed of. And I will bring you to a place, and the way might be difficult, but at the end you will know that you have found what your heart has been hungering for all your days. And I will be there all days, even to the end of the world.”
And that is the story. And the story is lovely and Luke tells it very beautifully. But the boat, of course, the boat is your boat. And Jesus asks and he requests: “May I enter your boat?” And if you let him in, he might bring you out to deep waters and you might be frightened, but in the end you know that his love for you, his caring for you, will hold.
And you, too, will experience what Peter experienced: a feeling “I am not worthy.” But he has pushed it all aside and says: “I make you equal, a son of God as I am God’s Son. And we will be friends and companions all your days.”
And that’s what it means to have a vocation. No angels flying, just the delicacy of the Son of Man seeing that Peter was hungering for something more than to be a successful fisherman and, with great grace and delicacy, he said: “I will give you what you are looking for. And what you are looking for is to come with me together into the journey ahead until the end of time.”
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This homily was delivered on 7th February 2010.
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