5th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
Is 6: 1-2a, 3-8; 1 Cor 15: 1-11; Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
Simon Peter acknowledges his sinfulness and inadequacies and yet the Lord entrusts the ministry of leadership to him! Peter said, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (v. 8). It’s the way the Bible tells of the encounter with the Lord: Moses covers his face because he is afraid (Ex 3:6); Elijah covers his face with his mantle (1 K 19:13). Like Isaiah—we saw it in the first reading—Peter also feels sinful. Not because he, until then, had led an immoral life, but realizes the distance that separates him from God and confesses his own unworthiness. It is about how much the Lord can do with a sinful, fragile human person. Despite being occupied by sinners, it is from Peter’s boat that the word of God is proclaimed. Peter drives the boat to the place indicated (v. 4); he proclaims his faith in the power of the word of Jesus (v. 5), he recognizes him as Lord (v. 8) and it is to him that the invitation to be fisher of people is directed (v. 10). All these elements indicate that Peter has a particular task to carry out in the Church: to listen attentively to the word of the Lord and then to lead, together with the other disciples, not where their professional experience and abilities would suggest to go, but where the Master tells him.
On the orders of the Master, the boat sets sail, venturing on the waters of the sea. There the disciples are invited to cast their nets and to fish (vv. 4-7). Peter argues, it seems to him that the order given by Jesus is senseless: that is not the appropriate time to fish. But he trusts. He is the first person who, during the public life, manifests his faith in the word of the Master. It is a big risk that Peter is willing to take. He knows that, if unsuccessful, he is exposed to ridicule and jokes of the colleagues. Human logic would suggest him to give up, but he prefers to obey. After a moment of uncertainty, he decides and sets to work. He believes that the word of Jesus can accomplish the impossible. He has already experienced the power of this word when he saw his mother-in-law cured instantly from fever (Lk 4:38-39).
The result is amazing, the amount of fish caught is huge and the evangelist emphasizes highlighting the various details: the nets are going to break, he should enlist the help of his friends, the boats are fully loaded and in danger of sinking.
Do we have full confidence in the Master’s voice? Do we know how to recognize this voice? Are we able to distinguish it from the “wisdom of the world,” the “common sense” and human calculations, their insights, their personal beliefs?
“Duc in altum”
In his apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, St John Paul II recalled the fishing incident in today’s Gospel Reading. From it, he called for “a new stage of the Church’s journey” (par 1), the journey of continuous work of evangelization: Duc in altum“Put out into the deep for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Little did Peter know that his obedience had brought in its first catch, “they left everything and followed Him” (Lk 5:11).
Neither too could he and his companions imagine two thousand years later, the story of their catch continues to inspire the missionary life of the Church.
It all began with Peter, an experienced fisherman who listened to a carpenter’s son of how to fish in the midst of his frustration and tiredness. His obedience and trust opened the door to the miracle.
But more noteworthy was Peter’s response which resembled that of Isaiah (First Reading) and Paul (Second Reading). Isaiah felt his unworthiness when he saw the greatness of the Lord in the temple (Is 6:5) while Paul felt unworthy because he had persecuted the Church (1 Cor 15:9-10). Peter too felt that he was not worthy to be in the company of Jesus because he was a sinner. Each of these three was overwhelmed by the holiness and the grace of God and yet, all of them had become servants of God.
God’s transforming power reminds us that in every time and at every place, God calls us to be His instruments. Unlike the fish caught by the disciples which will end up dead, we are to “catch people” alive and bring them into the kingdom of God where they will be free from sin and receive life. Jesus’ reassuring words of “Do not be afraid” (Lk 5:10) are resonating in us today the way they resonated in Isaiah (Is 41:10, 54:4), in Mary (Lk 1:30) and in Joseph (Mt 1:20).
St John Paul II concluded the Novo Millennio Ineunte with these words: “Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is open before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture……..……The missionary mandate accompanies us into the Third Millennium and urges us to share the enthusiasm of the very first Christians” (par 58).
Let us not be afraid then, duc in altum! Put out into the deep and make our catch!