An appropriate title for our reflection on the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time could be: How God’s Word works in us. With Saint Paul, I could say: I am reminding you, my brothers and sisters of this Christian Community, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the Word I preached to you…
This is a powerful statement indeed, as well as being unusual; something quite different from what we hear routinely in church or to which we might be accustomed.
Now, if we keep in mind that the “Gospel,” the “Word of God,” “the Bible” is a Person; it is Jesus, we are told today that we are being saved day after day or, rather, Sunday after Sunday, by standing in the Gospel and by holding fast to the Word that is preached to us by our parish priests and deacons.
This is interesting: it means that our weekly (for most of you) encounter with God’s Word is not simply for our comfort and uplifting, for our edification, but something so potentially, earthshakingly powerful that our whole life (such as it is on any given Sunday) should stand on it.
Put in a simpler way: although the readings are the same for every single one attending Holy Mass, since those readings are a facet of Jesus, they have something uniquely “personal” in them meant for each one of us to stand on. They hold something designed to see us through difficult times, to sustain us through excruciating trials and to help us keep poise and balance in success and prosperity. Furthermore, the readings are never meant to be optional, a nice accessory that we could take or leave, but something to hold fast to always because they always mean “LIFE” for each one of us.
Now that this is clear, we can delve into the workings of God’s Word as proposed to us on this day.
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God….
The starting point is always God’s initiative in addressing us. The Father places in the recesses of our heart the desire—the need—that we feel inside to be in this particular church and, in it, to feed at the table of the Word. In other words: the Father places in us the wish, the desire to get closer and closer to Jesus. Yet, our present human situation could be such that, at least for a while, we do not take advantage of the Word spoken or preached to us.
Notice how Peter and his colleagues are busy mulling over their losses and failure to catch a single fish to feel the need to get close enough to Jesus, the Word, for Him to make a difference. So, Jesus has to find another way to get closer to him, to us. And so, He picks Peter’s boat to do His preaching.
If we do not go to Jesus with our burden, with our problem, the Lord will find another way, a friend, an event, a show, a catchphrase, something, to get us to open our ears and our heart to His Word. It would be interesting for us to spend some time, today or tomorrow, going over the changes that the Word of God has wrought to us thus far in our life.
This is what happened to Peter and to his companions.
This situation can last a long time, even several years; but, eventually, there will be a time in which the Lord Jesus challenges us so forcefully, so directly, so…insanely out of the ordinary that we might hesitate to take Him seriously.
Put out into deep water
We can translate this bold order roughly like this: “I need someone to act as yeast, to be a catalyst for this or that group.
- I, Jesus, need someone who dares to jolt himself/herself out of their comfort zone and, then, to jolt other people, too, out of their comfort zone to go on a daring mission.” For example: I need you to accept another child in the family even if your family finances are tight;
- I need you to contribute of your time and resources for the good of this parish;
- I need you to take the first step in jumpstarting the stalled reconciliation process between the two sides of your family;
- I need you to swallow your pride and work as a team player;
- I need you to be upbeat and positively engaged even when you might feel like walking away from demanding situations;
- I need you to be grateful and capitalize on what you were given by the Father rather than be consumed by jealousy;
- I need you to be gutsy in facing serious illness rather than crumble and feel sorry for yourself;
- I need you to persevere even when the going is painful.
This is how Jesus interacts with us. This is how God operates.
Every saint had a phrase from the Holy Book that jolted him/her away from their comfort zone and into action. The outcomes of any accepted jolt are guaranteed to be way past one’s wildest expectations. By this I mean that the outcome is so beyond human means that one will never hesitate to give the credit totally to God and to His grace. Consequently, the unexpected outcome, the surprise, the shock of the success are such that one feels terribly, uncomfortably sinful, as one comes face-to-face with God’s majesty.
Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.
This is true of Peter (Luke 5:1-11), it is true of Isaiah (6:1-2, 3-8), this is true of the saints and, hopefully, it will be true of each one of us.
Let us not forget that it is OK, actually spiritually healthy, to feel this way. It is very healthy because, at this stage, we need to be so freed of dross, (personal and communal) to become effective doers of the Word in our little corner of the world and, then, eventually, preachers of the Word to a larger audience.
Thus, I appeal to those among us who feel the urge within to be generous with the Lord to say what Isaiah said in similar circumstances of mass renewal, of mass reorientation, of communal wising up: Here I am, send me!