HOMILY FOR THE 5TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C (FEB 7)
Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese and St. Andrew’s Cathedral Parish
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
The prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, has a vision of God in all God’s glory. His reaction to the vision is one of awe but also one in which he has a horrifying realization of how sinful and unworthy he was in the midst of all this perfection and holiness. He understands the human condition to be an impure condition, and he cries out in hopelessness: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
The contrast between the human condition and the glory that is heaven and the presence of God was so great as to make him lose all hope. But this condition was suddenly altered when an angel came with a burning coal and placed it on Isaiah’s lips, burning away the sinfulness and the guilt that Isaiah was feeling.
It is significant that it was the mouth that was so purified, because short;y after, God is looking for someone to be a spokesperson for him, a prophet, and Isaiah, in gratitude, calls out “Here I am, Lord. send me.” The proper attitude toward forgiveness of sin is some sort of action that shows our thankfulness, our gratitude, our love for God’s mercy.
Similarly, in the second reading today which does pick up this theme, Paul also has a vision. His reaction to this vision is one of humility: “I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle…” and one of guilt: “…because I persecuted the Church of God.” So, like Isaiah, Paul has a vision of such glory that it causes him to recognize his sinfulness and to feel great guilt over it. But, also like Isaiah, Paul says that he has been given the grace to know he is forgiven because “Christ died for our sins in accordance with he Scriptures” and Paul also sets out to do something in return. His shout of “Here I am, Lord” causes him to “proclaim” the Good News and to travel for the rest of life, founding churches and teaching the way of Jesus Christ.
In contrast to the vocational calls of Isaiah and Paul, we get a different kind of call in the Gospel reading today. In this account, we have no visions of the glory of God or of heaven itself and the angels, but we do get a miracle. The fishermen, led by Simon Peter, had been fishing all night and were not catching a thing. They decided to give up and come to shore and were cleaning their boats and their nets so they would be ready when they went out again. When Jesus asks the men to put one of the boats back into the water, Simon agrees, presumably because Jesus wanted to preach to those on the shoreline, which he did. But after he finished preaching, he told Simon to go a little deeper and lower his nets again. Simon is deferential but tries to explain to Jesus that there were no fish around that night, that they had tried and had given up. But because Simon Peter respected Jesus as a teacher, he did what Jesus asked him.
The result was miraculous. The nets were breaking with fish, so much so that they took out the second boat and also filled it with fish, so full it was in danger of collapse.
Here is where the three stories converge, however. The result of this miracle for Simon Peter was to make him realize his sinfulness in the presence of such a miracle-worker and teacher. He feels, like Isiah and Paul, both sinful and guilty. Jesus soothes Simon and the others simply by saying “Do not be afraid” for fear is the result of guilt of our sinfulness. After they had been relieved of their guilt, their reaction was the same as Isaiah and Paul, they went out and did something: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.” Our response when we understand our humbling relationship with God and Christ is to evangelize in the best sense. To spread the good news of our being forgiven of our sins and the knowledge that there is grace enough for us to have eternal life in the kingdom of God.
All of this response to experiencing the divine is summed up by Paul at the end of today’s reading: “By the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of the Apostles – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
What does this mean for us right now? I don’t know how many of us have actually experienced God in his glory, had a vision of God or have seen something so miraculous that it causes us to really understand how sinful we seem in contrast. Many of us are willing to take this on faith because of what we read today and because of the Catholic tradition. But those among us who have had an experience that caused us to re-evaluate our lives in light of the awesome of God and our Savior, can only react by doing something about it. That many of us do so many things without having experienced such an intense realization is a tribute to you and your faith and it will doubtless have a great reward.
My prayer today then is that we continue our works in furthering the kingdom in justice and mercy and that we will all experience one day the immense satisfaction and relief of knowing that our God loves and forgives and saves.
And this is the Good News that we need to preach each day of our lives!