Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 10, 2019
On the surface, today’s Readings clearly speak to vocation…the call by God to serve. But, if you plunge deeper, there might be something more to learn.
Our First Reading describes an unimaginably severe penance. A burning coal to the lips is extreme to say the least. Still, the severity of the penalty causes us to give due consideration to the seriousness of the sin. The fact is a lot of damage and hurt is wrought by our gift of speech. The lips can be a lethal weapon. Most people bear scars from verbal attacks. Likewise, few people are completely innocent of that crime that has become even more destructive, thanks to social media.
But, just as speech can be hurtful, the right message can be “life-giving” and even “life-saving.” And so we turn to the Gospel, which is an invitation to serve, wrapped up in a miracle story. What Luke describes is the Lord recruiting, and, at the same time, preparing His followers to use their gift of speech to broadcast the Good News.
The drama begins with Jesus coming upon fishermen cleaning their nets after an unsuccessful night’s work. The Lord chose this time and place to deliver a waterfront homily to a crowd of people. Then, focusing His attention as well as His miraculous powers on Peter, Jesus suggests: Let’s go out fishing! Fatigued and, quite likely, sleep-deprived, not to mention frustrated and disappointed from the “payless” payday of the night before, Peter’s reply is less than enthusiastic. One can’t help but wonder if Luke has sanitized the way Peter reacted to the suggestion that he go back to work. Maybe Peter responded like a “man of the sea” rather than an Apostle.
Then comes the miracle! The astounding catch of fish was like a burning coal, searing Peter’s mind and heart. His reaction is an act of perfect contrition: I AM A SINNER! But because of what transpired that day, he could also say: I AM A BELIEVER!
Still, perfect contrition does not necessarily mean perfect behavior from that point forward. The Gospels tell us of many subsequent occasions when Peter said something he deeply regretted. Right on up to Holy Thursday night, The Rock on which our Church was built continued to speak without thought to the consequences. Denying that he even knew Jesus, Peter felt like taking a “burning ember” to his lips…lips that, from that tragic night forward, were committed to the work described in our Second Reading: preaching so that others might believe.
So then, what we have here is an invitation to continue the miracle. But first, we must clean our nets, and cleanse our minds, and lips and hearts. We don’t need a burning coal to do that. We need only to acknowledge, as did Peter: I AM A SINNER! but I AM A BELIEVER! A believer in the forgiving and healing power of Jesus Christ; a believer that, through my Baptism, The Lord sends me out into the deep waters of the world to lower the nets; a believer that I can and must use my power of speech, as did Peter and Paul and generations of disciples, to proclaim the life-giving message of Jesus Christ; a believer that I can keep the miracle going until Christ returns in glory.