UNLIKELY AND UNWORTHY MINISTERS
Is 6:1-2,3-8; 1Cor 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Following the gospels of the past few Sundays, one notices that the mission of Jesus is being brought one step forward today. He has begun to recruit followers, whom he will inform, form, and, eventually transform, so that they will be able to continue his mission when he returns to his Father.
- THE SETTING OF TODAY’S GOSPEL
Jesus is standing near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called the Sea of Galilee). He is teaching the word of God and the people are crowding in, pushing him back toward the water. Jesus sees Simon’s (or Peter’s) empty fishing boat and he gets into the boat and asks Simon to push off just a little from the shore. From here Jesus continues to teach. When he finished teaching the people, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:4-5). By this act, Peter experiences a miraculous catch of fish.
- BEING ASKED TO DO SOMETHING SEEMINGLY POINTLESS AND ABSURD
There are certain things worth noting in this incidence of Simon and Jesus: First, Jesus asks Simon to take the boat back out fishing, after they had just returned from working all night. Second, he asks him to go back out and fish even though they had already, or had almost, cleaned their nets (which meant they would have to start all over again). Third, Jesus asks them to go back out and fish after they had fished all night and caught nothing. In fact, everyone who fished in that lake knew that you did not catch fish during the daytime in deep water. Real fishing is done at night. But, herewith, Jesus is asking Peter to do something which seems absolutely absurd, and quite frankly a waste of time. Jesus, using Peter’s boat for a pulpit was no cause for alarm, but asking him to pay out the nets into the deep sea was a bit out of the way.
It is indeed senseless and absurd for a carpenter to be giving lectures on fishing to a fisherman. Imagine someone who knows little or nothing about your job giving you advice about what you should do! Peter starts by protesting but then he concludes, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” He faces a moment of crisis in his life by having to trust Jesus: even though his friends would not be pleased to clean the net again. He dares to trust Jesus even though his request did not make any sense to him; even though it went against everything that he had ever been taught as a fisherman. He obeys Jesus even though it was going to mean more work for him, and it would make him look foolish in front of his friends.
Peter shows genuine faith in Christ by trusting him even though he did not see any possibility for a payoff. This is an act of love for Christ and faith in him. Much of our Christian life is motivated by what we hope to get out of things. We go to church because we want to go to Heaven. We are good because we hope to receive a reward. Very often, we give because we believe God will give back to us. We pray because we have things that we want God to fix. These things are normal (and not necessarily bad) but we have to understand that in all these things we are not serving the Lord. We are, in reality, seeking to serve ourselves.
Like Peter, we have to learn how to serve the Lord because he is worthy to be served. We have to obey him because he is the King, and he is all wise. Peter went out into the deep sea, not out of a desire for a great catch of fish. He went out into the deep sea for one purpose: TO HONOR THE LORD JESUS. Peter may not have been enthusiastic about doing what Jesus told him to do, but he did it anyway. It is, therefore, clear that in God’s eyes even half-hearted obedience is still better than disobedience. (Cf. the parable of the two sons whom the father sent to go and work in the vineyard. The one who said “No” and still obeyed the father, was justified. (Mtt 21:28-32).
- A LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE
Peter’s obedience brought him an experience that changed his life forever. This experience leads Peter to see Jesus for who he is and consequently, see himself as one who clearly needs God. What Peter does is: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had caught”. When one truly sees Jesus, one encounters the light. That light exposes our stain. Seeing Jesus makes one realize that he/she is a sinner. Such an encounter with Jesus is life-changing because one sees his/her arrogance being replaced by humility.
Anything wonderful that happens in one’s life leaves us eager to share with others. It makes us want to spend our life telling the story to others. People love showing off the new baby (or pictures), the award that was received, the engagement ring that was given, the purchase that was made. Similarly, those who encounter Jesus as he is and then trust him because of who he is, will want to introduce him to others. We are told, “So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” After seeing Jesus for who he was, these men gave up everything to follow him. They ceased being Christ-fans, as many Christians of today are. They became Christ-followers. They would now spend months away from home. They would seldom sleep in comfortable beds. They would face hostile environments. But at the same time they would see things that were beyond description; they would learn things that would change their lives further. They would change the world. Their lives changed forever when they followed Jesus. Similarly, your own life and my own life can change! However, the “changed apostles” still had their fears and apprehensions.
- UNLIKELY AND UNWORTHY MINISTERS
Quite often, those who are called by God feel unworthy and inadequate for the mission. Today’s readings show us how God can make use of the most unlikely people to fulfill the divine purpose. Indeed, God calls and uses not so much the WORTHY instrument but the WILLING instrument. In today’s three readings, Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, Peter and Paul, two of the greatest apostles of Jesus in the New Testament, also express their deep inner sense of unworthy to serve the Lord. They all have the same conviction, which is shared by all who meet the Lord: GOD IS HOLY AND WE ARE UNHOLY. No one is worthy to stand in God’s presence; how much more to represent him before others! In the first reading, Isaiah responds to God’s call: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Is 6:5) In the second reading, Paul feels himself unfit to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God. He says: “I am the least of the apostles; in fact, because I persecuted the Church of God. I do not even deserve the name,” (1Cor 15:9). In the gospel, when St. Peter is overwhelmed by Christ’s power when they catch a great number of fish in their nets that have remained empty through a night’s fishing, his humble reaction is the same: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man,” (Lk 5:8).
If Isaiah, Peter and Paul are not worthy to serve the Lord, how much less worthy are we! Their responses are our responses too, to a call deemed only fit for good, holy, righteous, and worthy people. However, this does not mean that we are not called. It does not mean that we will not play our part in God’s plan for salvation. The Lord sees our unworthiness and addresses it, making us worthy by the power of his grace. He is telling us that His grace and love are greater than our sins. And also, by giving us an assurance, “Do not be afraid.” More than 300 times in the Bible we hear God saying: “Fear not, for I am with you.” When these three heeded God’s encouragement, they became the greatest evangelizers of the love of God to all. No one is exempted from God’s call to service.
- ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO BE FISHERS OF MEN
The call of Christ is not addressed only to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, priests and religious. Gone are the days when the laity are to pray, pay and obey. By virtue of our baptism every Christian is called by God and commissioned to a ministry of healing, preaching and teaching. So whether you are a teacher, a government official or employee, doctor, politician, nurse, executive and others, you share in this apostolate. The Decree on the Laity of Vatican II states: “Incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through confirmation, the laity are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself”.
How can one be an apostle of Christ or “fisher of men?” You can do this concretely by participating in church works like in your parish. Today there are numerous lay Catholics who sacrifice time, money and effort for the church by rendering services as Eucharistic lay ministers, lectors, collectors, choir members and, yes, the sacristans. Consider, too, the many lay Catholics involved in various renewal movements such as the charismatic organizations, Neo-catechumenate, Marriage Encounter, Couples for Christ, etc. Therefore, whether you are an accountant, a lawyer, clerk, doctor, musician, a teacher, a driver or whatever, you have to share in the apostolate of preaching, teaching, healing and caring.
In all this it is worthy to note that the most basic and effective form of being a fisher of people is through the TESTIMONY OF CHRISTIAN LIVING OR WITNESSING TO CHRIST’S TEACHINGS. If people who rub shoulders with us begin to recognize a special “something,” like sincere kindness and joyful service, they might eventually be attracted to our Christian way of life. In his encyclical “Redemptoris Missio” Pope John Paul II said: “People today put more trust in witnesses than in teachers… The witness of a Christian life is the first and irreplaceable form of evangelization.”
In witnessing to the Lord, we can also learn some secret from St. Peter. It is his CAPACITY TO WORK WITH OTHERS. He signals to his partners in the other boat to come and help him. He has the humility to realize and accept that he needs the help of others. Yes, we always need the help of others. We cannot always do it alone. No doubt, Jesus would send his disciples out “two by two” so that they do not go it alone. (Mk 6:7; Lk 10:1)
- CAST YOUR NETS INTO THE DEEP
Executing the mission given to us by Christ is a risk because we do not know what will happen to us in the future. But this is precisely what it means to be called by God: to have a trust in him and to know that when he calls he will take care of his people. We must remember, “Jesus said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch’.” Jesus is asking Peter to trust in him. In our Christian life, we spend much time in shallow water. We like shallow water because it is safe. However, in order to know those life-changing encounters with God’s greatness, one must be willing to cast one’s net into the deep. One needs to be willing to go beyond what is comfortable.
Let us take the example of someone who is learning to swim. To master the art of swimming, one has to get out into the water that goes over one’s head. Until then, one would keep relying on one’s ability to simply stand up in the bottom of the body of water. When one gets into water that flows over one’s head, then one are forced to do what one has been taught. Similarly, it is only when we venture into situations that are “over our head” that we learn to trust. It may be an opportunity that you feel demands more than you can do in your own strength; it may be doing God will even though it may be unpopular with family or friends; it may be giving more than you think you can afford to help someone who is in need, Jesus is inviting to come out of our comfort zones. Tt may be going out on a mission where you do not know what to expect; it may be daring to bring up and discuss a hot issue with a friend or family member who is prone to bad temper; it may be hanging on in a relationship that seems like it has nothing more to offer; it may be daring to make a bold change in your life even though you do not know where the change will lead. In all these, we called to rely on the grace of God.
if we are going to become fishers of men and disciples of Jesus, we must be willing to go where Jesus sends us, even when we do not understand (or maybe even like) why he is sending us there. If we follow him into the deep water; if we will cast our nets even when it seems silly or uncomfortable, then we will go through the life-changing experiences that Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Andrew, James and John had. And when we dare to trust the Lord beyond that which is comfortable, we will discover that God will use us. He will make us into fishers of men; he will use us as his tools to change the lives of others. He will show us a much more satisfying way to fish.