5th Sunday Year C

See Commentary on Luke 5:1-11

Homily 1 - 2007

What is Paul on about in today’s Second Reading? Christ died for our sins; he was raised to life... he appeared to...  a string of disciples. Let’s look at each of those three statements, but we’ll work backwards.

He appeared to Peter, the twelve, a group of 500, Jesus’ brother James and then to Paul himself. That means that the fact that he was raised to new life was not just wishful thinking. It was witnessed by a whole lot of people – it really happened!

He was raised to life: That means that death wasn’t the end. More than that, it was the dawn of a whole new adventure of life - (for want of a better word, of risen life). More than that, if death didn’t end life - if it didn’t all finish then - then life, living, has purpose and meaning. More than that, Jesus’ way of living had meaning – his choosing to commit his life to loving people, and, in the process, to steer clear of force and violence, wasn’t fruitless or futile (as it seemed when they killed him) but it has meaning. Indeed, God raised him. God put the rubber stamp definitively on the approach he adopted.

Which brings us to He died for our sins - for our personal sins and for the social, structured, systemic sin of the world. That means that the mess we make of our lives, the mess we make of our relationships in families, as citizens and as nations, the pettiness, the injustice, the wars, the inequality, the mess and the sin are not inevitable, and need not have the last word.

Indeed, Jesus’ choice to commit his life to loving people, and, in the process, to steer clear of force and violence was his way precisely to counter and to reverse the pettiness, the injustice, the wars, the inequality, the mess and the sin. But it did mean his death.

That is what Luke is on about: Last week, Jesus announced the possibilities. He insisted that he had been sent to bring the good news to the poor, to set captives free, to proclaim God’s year of favour. This week he said to three fishermen, Simon, James and John: Don’t be afraid; from now on its people you’ll catch. And they followed him.

Jesus could not do it alone. In fact, he cannot do it at all unless we all are part of it. He can’t love in our place; we have to learn to do that ourselves. And as much as we can - as Jesus did it as much as he could - we need to help others to  do the same.

That’s what the Church is for, what it is: the gathering of followers of Jesus doing our best, with his help, to get others on board, to swell the movement, to confront the mess of the world and to show it instead a better way, the way of profound respect, even of love.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all find the inspiration and the courage to say, with Isaiah, Here I am, send me. It makes sense. As Paul said: He died for our sins; He was raised to life by God; he was seen. It is not just wishful thinking on our part

Life now has meaning. Life is worth living. And we can’t even suspect the next stage that it is leading to.

Homily 2 - 2013

 Probably none of you feels all that special.  But you are.  You're faithful.  Why are you here? A lot of others you know aren't here.  Oh well, you always come – it's part of your weekly ritual. Or, maybe, you feel you've got to come; you should come.  All that may be true, but I think there it is more than that.  Somehow, somewhere, some time, God has touched you.  Or, maybe, it's not that yet; it could be that you long for God to touch you.

During the past week, I have been reflecting on today's Gospel.  Peter and his companions had an experience.  The Gospel said that they were completely overcome by it.  They were professional, experienced fishermen.  They were always catching fish – sometimes not much, sometimes a good catch.  But this one seems to have been remarkable – remarkable enough for all sorts of things to happen in Peter.

Somehow, he felt, precisely, what the Gospel called overcome.  He felt afraid.  He became fearfully aware of his sinfulness – perhaps about time! He became frightened of Jesus – whom he had already seen doing remarkable things like healing his mother-in-law's fever some time back.  But that didn't seem to have struck him.  This did.  … I suppose it was the sort of thing he had dreamed about – [what every fisherman dreams about!]

Sometimes in life, things strike us.  We sense the hand of God.  It can be anything that triggers it off.  But sometimes, it happens – unspectacular, usually out of the blue, when you're going about what you're usually going about when nothing happens.  We sense the hand of God.

It could be that, at the same time, we sense our own unsuitability, our sinfulness – and that could have the effect of our telling ourselves that we're kidding ourselves.  We become aware of our dreadful inadequacy.

In today's Gospel, Peter's spontaneous reaction was to say: Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man. And Jesus totally ignores it.  He doesn't say: "Oh no, you're not" – because he was.  He simply ignores it.  No surprise to Jesus – but that would be something they could work on together later.

And what about us? It is not that our sinfulness is irrelevant.  But until we realise that we are special, that we're loved in spite of everything, we can never really do anything about our sinfulness anyhow.  We may wriggle and squirm, but we need to let God love us, to let God, in fact, like us – and somehow relax into that.

Even in the face of Peter's sinfulness [that both Jesus and Peter knew about], Jesus still said: "Things are going to change in your life.  I've got things for you to do."  And I think that that is where Jesus is with us.

Peter left everything and followed him.  So did James and John his partners.  But the other companions in the boat? We don't know about them.  Perhaps the penny didn't drop.  Perhaps they just made the most of their once-in-a-lifetime catch – and were oblivious or unresponsive to the mystery of Jesus, and to the mystery of their own lives.

Anyhow, as I said when I started, you're here.  I'm here.  Something has happened to us; or, perhaps, we're longing for something to happen to us.  I don't know what makes the penny drop – but sometimes it does.  Perhaps, it helps to be on the lookout, to be reflective, like Mary, to treasure our life, our ordinary life, and to ponder it in our hearts.

Homily 3 - 2016

When Pope Francis talks about the mercy of God, he looks like one who means it. He is full of it himself. He enjoys it. He spreads it both by who is and what he does. He would love us to discover God’s mercy, too, not just superficially but truly personally, to know it down at our roots. 

I don’t think that most of us realise God’s mercy spontaneously, or easily. Look at today’s readings, especially the First Reading and the Gospel. Isaiah was in the Jerusalem Temple, where he had a remarkable experience of God. But no one can comprehend God, even when God reveals something of the mystery. We see God with our own ways of seeing and thinking. So Isaiah sees the holy God, the warrior God. That is essentially the God of his tradition, what he expected, without realising he was doing the filling-in between the dots. The seraphs, whatever he imagined them to be, were crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” “Holy” means different, separate, diametrically unlike the secular, the ordinary. And “hosts” refers to armies arrayed in their splendour. Both descriptions engender insecurity and fear. Rather than stay transfixed and attracted by God [perhaps we cannot blame him!], Isaiah became absorbed with himself, specifically with his unworthiness, “What a wretched man I am! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips – and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Something similar, but less spectacular, happened to Peter. He and his partners had had a totally unprecedented experience, not a vision, but an uncertain insight into the mystery of the externally ordinary Jesus who had begun to captivate them. Peter’s immediate reaction was to look at himself, a self whom he spontaneously judged, and judged negatively, “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”

Why, after an experience of the mystery of God on the part of both, the spontaneous sense of insecurity? And it was not just Isaiah and Peter. I suspect that it is the experience of us all. Why the instinctive sense of unworthiness, of shame? Why judge ourselves, and judge negatively? Just let us sit with it – and quietly observe.

Isaiah could have filled-in the dots differently. In his Hebrew tradition, along with the marked insistence on the holiness and power of God, there was an equally firm tradition of God’s gratuitous mercy, and God’s readiness to enter into deep and personal covenanted love with Israel. Yet Isaiah did not automatically go in that direction. God had, once more, to make the move. In his vision, Isaiah had a kind of second thought: he sensed the seraph, the messenger of God, gratuitously touch his lips with the sacred ember, take his sin away and purge his iniquity – not due to any sudden conversion on Isaiah’s part but because of the unmerited, unconditionally merciful initiative of God. Isaiah could relax.

Peter, in the Gospel story, had just had the experience of the nets filled to breaking point, boats even threatening to sink – a clear illustration of the extravagant God, the unmerited, unconditionally abundant heart of God. Yet, his first reaction was not to be captivated by the boundless heart of God but by himself and his own miserable unworthiness – as if it mattered to God!

Holiness, or mercy? Which sums up the deepest essence of God? Jesus opted for mercy. John, one of Peter’s partners in today’s Gospel scene, in a later Epistle, would assure us that God is love. God is love! We may not gravitate there spontaneously – but let us notice our experience, and quickly choose instead to relax into the unconditional love and mercy of God. We do not need words – simply sit in silence. Over time, God’s merciful love can even transform us into living bearers of that love-made-flesh, our flesh, more effectively than can a thousand determined resolutions on our part. 

Jesus, then, calls us, not just Pope Francis, to proclaim God’s superabundant grace and mercy to our world. 

 Homily 4 - 2019

As Luke arranged the events of Jesus’ activities in his Gospel, Jesus had met Simon some time earlier in Capernaum. In fact, he had cured his mother-in-law’s fever. Simon had probably seen the other healings, too, that Jesus worked in the town later that evening. Luke told us nothing of Simon’s reactions then to what he had witnessed.

After today’s incident of the enormous catch of fish, Luke told us that Simon and his fishermen companions were “completely overcome”. But it was not with joy and anticipation, but rather with deep fear. In his shock, Simon had even cried out to Jesus, “Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man!” What had happened?

It seems that somehow, suddenly, the penny had begun to drop. He was overwhelmed by mystery – out of his depth, confused, bewildered .. and afraid. Without thinking, he had called Jesus, “Lord!” And for Simon, as for most of his contemporaries – Pharisees, priests and common people – “Lord” meant holy, separate, different and unconsciously threatening; and was used only of God. Simon’s awareness of his sinfulness, his spontaneous sense, “I am a sinful man”, immediately led him to feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and totally out of place.

Did Jesus’ reassurance “Do not be afraid!” work? I suppose that a lot would have depended on the tone of Jesus’ voice, the expression on the face, the whole body-language. Simon and his companions had so much to learn – that simply by being who he was, Jesus would reveal a God who was essentially and spontaneously merciful, unconditionally forgiving, gentle, non-violent, whose judging was vitally therapeutic and never vindictive or punitive. But for that recognition to penetrate every fibre of their being it would take a lifetime; fortunately, in that process, time would be friend not enemy.

As they learnt truly to follow Jesus and, through their friendship, to be gradually and profoundly transformed, they would find themselves becoming increasingly and radically free to leave everything else, and wonderfully empowered no longer to spend their lives catching fish but, as Jesus put it, “catching people”.

Luke's purpose in including the incident in his Gospel was not to give his readers a simple history lesson. It was to throw light on their lives and to alert them to their mission as followers of Jesus. And if we today hear the story without pondering what it might be saying to us, we miss the point.

If we worry about our Church and our world, if we wonder who will “catch people” today, I think that little is served by simply praying for more priests or religious. Jesus looks to all of us, each in our own way with our varied personalities, capacities and personal opportunities, to work with him. If Jesus were I, if Jesus were you, what would he be doing? Does the question even engage us? Do we care? We need to become friends with Jesus for a start, not just to barrack for him. There needs to be something going between us – a genuine and life-giving relationship. That means we need to spend time with him – as Simon and his companions did – or we shall never even want to work with him.

We need to get to know him well, because he is the one who shares with us his sense of God. It is so easy to get God wrong. So many people have got God wrong. So many adults go through life with a juvenile understanding of God – still tied up with rules and regulations, law and order, black and white, reward and punishment, as though they have learnt nothing about love and the light that love throws on life. No wonder they are not interested in God. And they certainly won’t listen to the so-called professionals – the bishops. But what do they see when they see you? What do they hear when they hear you?

They are not interested in sermons; but they are vulnerable to care and love, and can be inspired by fidelity and truth, by joy and good sense.