Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time, Year C
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
The first reading is the vocation or call of the prophet Isaiah to his ministry. The year is 742 B.C. Isaiah experiences a vision. The Lord God is seated on a high throne. Above him stood the Seraphim crying out to one another a prayer that has become part of every Mass — “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, etc.” Though the Seraphim may be thought of as angels, it is unlikely that this is the meaning here. They are some kind of heavenly creatures said to have six wings, four of which covered sensitive areas of their bodies, while the other two were used for flying. Even though the Cherubim are not mentioned in this vision, it is fitting to note that the Cherubim in the Old Testament are lion-like creatures with wings, rather than the angel-figures (human-like with wings) we have learned to imagine. Along with the “Holy, Holy, Holy,” there was a heaven-quake and smoke (think incense).
Isaiah is terrified. He cries out, “Woe is me. I am doomed,” fitting sentiments for the occasion. He continues, “I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” This part of the prophet’s inaugural vision also became a part of the ancient Latin Rite of the Mass in a prayer the priest prays before proclaiming the gospel. “Cleanse my heart and my lips, Almighty God, who cleansed the lips of the prophet Isaiah with a burning coal.” In the vision, one of the Seraphim used tongs to take a burning ember from the heavenly altar and seared the prophet’s lips. Thereby the “uncleanness” of Isaiah’s lips was purified. Then comes the heart of the call, when the Lord says, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Us” is not a reference to the Holy Trinity, but rather to some kind of heavenly council gathered around the Lord to offer advice. One sees such a meeting at the beginning of chapters one and two of the Book of Job. Why was the call of Isaiah selected for the first reading of this Sunday? Because its major theme appears also in the gospel — the story of the call of Simon Peter.
The Responsorial Psalm, 138, picks up the themes of Isaiah’s vision and interprets the Seraphim as angels, at least in our English translations. But the Hebrew of the Psalm reads “Elohim,” meaning not gods, as some translations read, but heavenly beings. But without quibbling, and to keep peace among us, let’s go with “angels.” The Psalm speaks of the majesty and the glory of God, singing, chanting, the Lord God hearing the words of the Psalmist, building up the Psalmist’s strength — all themes are present in Isaiah’s vision. The People’s Response returns to the “angels,” “In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.”
The second reading is the beginning of St. Paul’s chapter on the resurrection of the dead. Paul reminds his Corinthian converts, in the mid-fifties of the first century, that he personally preached to them on the resurrection. There must have been some kind of trouble at Corinth about this teaching. It was rather new. Its earliest clear biblical appearance is found in Daniel 12, about 165 B.C. Paul cites a brief creed — belief in Jesus’ saving death, his burial, his resurrection, and that all of it was foreseen in the Old Testament Scriptures. He lists many witnesses who saw the risen Jesus. At the end of the list of witnesses he places himself, strangely referring to himself as an abortion or miscarriage. Why so derogatory about himself? He answers, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called one, because I persecuted the Church of God.” Though Paul was often boastful, which he calls “boasting in the Lord,” one can add that Paul did not mind belittling himself occasionally, but woe to the man who dared to belittle Paul.
Today’s gospel is the vocation or call of Simon Peter. The setting is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus is preaching the word of God to the crowd. Two fishing boats are close by. The fishermen had just come ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus steps into one of the boats, that of Simon. Readers of Luke’s gospel already knew who this Simon was because in the previous chapter Jesus had restored to health the mother-in-law of Simon. Later on he was called Peter, so named by Jesus himself. Simon moves the boat slightly away from the shore. Jesus sits down and teaches the crowd from the boat. Jesus was grateful for borrowing the boat in service of the word of God, and Simon needed to be taught some theology. Jesus suggests that Simon move into deeper water and try again. Simon was grumpy. They had fished all night but caught nothing, “but at your word I will lower the nets.” The other boat, that of Simon’s business partners, had to be summoned to help them. The boats were overfilled with fish, almost sinking.
Moved by this maritime miracle, Simon Peter fell on his knees before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” One is reminded of Isaiah’s words, “Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips.” Now we find out who were in the other boat — James Zebedee and his brother John. They were Simon’s business partners, though it is more likely that their father Zebedee was the business partner, not his two young sons. Jesus addresses Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” A principle can be invoked here. Grace builds on nature. The skills acquired in an earthly realm will now be employed in a spiritual realm. Luke closes the story, “They left all and followed him.” Did they really? Everything? If the Zebedee brothers were the teenagers they are thought to have been, they would have been glad to run after Jesus, who probably was their older first cousin, (on Mary’s side only). The drudgery of cleaning and mending nets did not appeal to their youthful dynamics. What about Simon Peter leaving everything? His fishing business, with his brother Andrew and their extended families, did not have to depend on his presence. But we also know that Mrs. Simon Peter later accompanied her husband on his Christian missions. See 1 Corinthians 9:5.