Gospel for Fifth Sunday (7 February 2016)
Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way 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 the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11 – NRSV)
See similar accounts can be found in Matthew 4:18–22; Mark 1:16–20 and John 1:40–42.
Jospeh Fitzmyer writes of this text: “Though Simon Peter has been introduced earlier in the Lucan story (4:38), this episode begins to reveal the esteem that Luke has for him—an esteem inherited, to be sure, from the early community before him. This is the beginning of the special story that Luke will tell about Simon in his own narrative account. Luke has derived from “Mk” the story of Simon’s call (5:3, 10), his first place among the Twelve (6:14), his role as a spokesman for the disciples (9:20, 33; 18:28), his close association with Jesus, along with James and John (8:51; 9:28), and his denial of Jesus (22:33–34, 54b–60). But Luke has also omitted some of the less flattering details in “Mk”: Jesus’ rebuke of him (Mark 8:32–33), Jesus’ reproach of the sleeping Peter (Mark 14:37); Peter’s running to the tomb (24:12). (Mark 16:7 is omitted because Luke 24 is centered about Jerusalem.) But some of the special material in the Lucan Gospel is derived from the special source “L”: his role here in the miraculous haul of fish (5:4–8); Jesus’ prayer for Simon (22:31–32); and the notice about an appearance of the risen Christ to him (24:34). There was apparently nothing in the “Q” source about Simon; and Lucan redaction is probably responsible for the appearance of his name in 12:41; 22:8, 61. .... But Luke is consistent at least in calling him “Simon” prior to 6:14, where he mentions Jesus’ naming of him as Peter.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I–IX (Vol. 28), Yale University Press, 2008, 564.)
The word of God – this I the first occurrence of a phrase that is almost peculiarly Lucan. (Mark and John each use it once – see Mark 7:13 and John 10:35. Luke will go on to use the phrase three other times in his Gospel and fourteen times in Acts. In Luke 5:1 of course it refers directly to the words/teaching of Jesus while in Acts it is the words of the disciples conveying the message of and about Jesus. In every instance there is no doubt that the source of the message is God. In this line of communication Jesus is the proclaimer of the kingdom and Peter and the disciples will share that role.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds – “The Lucan emphasis on Jesus’ activity as a teacher continues .... The recurrence of the motif here serves to link this episode with the last two verses of the preceding one (4:43–44); it supplies a kingdom-preaching context for the promise to be made to Simon.” (Joseph Fitzmyer, op cit, 566.)
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” – Peter’s reaction is similar to that of Isaiah – see Isaiah 6:5. It is an expression that is paradoxical, at once recognizing distance and intimacy, rejecting any “right” to be here because that would be arrogance but recognizing the remarkable fact that he is here. This is encounter with the living God.
The Founder of the Marist Fathers, Jean Claude Colin (1790-1875), said that once people have tasted God everything else will look after itself.
In fact, that is a fundamental rule of life that we all know, as if by instinct, even if we do not always follow through on it that well. For example, we want our children to know they are loved, no matter what. We know that this experience of love underpins all else. (Of course, our capacity to love our children and – perhaps more importantly – our capacity to actually communicate that love to them, is a very imperfect and somewhat unpredictable thing. That this is so is one of the sadder truths of life.)
Both Isaiah and Peter bear witness to the fact that an encounter with the living God – the One who is the Source of all Love – is transforming. That encounter, more than anything else, defines our faith and the life choices we make. All else depends on it. It sets free our spirit to bear united witness with the Holy Spirit that we long to be one with all in the One, “Abba, dear Father!”(see Romans 8:16).
The normal place for this encounter with God’s Love is the family. Beyond that, the community is called to be a place of love. Occasionally God communicates more directly with individuals, such as Isaiah and Peter.
Pope Benedict, in a magnificent statement at the beginning of his first encyclical, writes: “‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them’. (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of humankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: ‘We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us’. We have come to believe in God's love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his or her life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” (Deus caritas est (December 25, 2005))
There is an uncomfortable side to this encounter. It shakes to the foundations all the pretenses and fictions we so easily identify with. It also tends to overwhelm us because even the best experience of human love is nothing compared to the Love. The fact that that Love is given without merit on our part and without expectation of reward on God’s part, makes it even more overwhelming.