Sunday, February 7, 2010

Depart From Me, For I Am A Sinful Man!

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading I
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.

They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it, and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

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Psalm 138

In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, with all my heart,
for you have heard the words of my mouth;
in the presence of the angels I will sing your praise;
I will worship at your holy temple
and give thanks to your name.
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Because of your kindness and your truth;
for you have made great above all things
your name and your promise.
When I called, you answered me;
you built up strength within me.
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
All the kings of the earth shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
when they hear the words of your mouth;
and they shall sing of the ways of the LORD:
“Great is the glory of the LORD.”
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord.
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Reading II
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
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,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance
what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus
and listening to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made
seized him and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
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One of the sources I read in preparing my homilies calls today “Excuse me Sunday.” In the first reading, we hear the opening verses of the prophecies of Isaiah. It seems there is a sacred liturgy taking place. The prophet is in the Holy of Holies of the Temple when something extraordinary happens. He has a vision of the throne of God, and the Lord himself is seated upon it, while choirs of Seraphim, angelic attendants at the throne, are singing His praises. In the midst of this holy smoke and chanting, Isaiah senses that he is unclean and unworthy to stand in the presence of Holy One. He senses that he is about to be condemned.

But the opposite happens. The fire-carrying spirits descend with a burning coal and touch his unclean lips. He hears the Seraph's words that his lips are clean and then the Lord asks whether there is anybody whom He can send. This seems to be a simple announcement and so Isaiah responds that he is available, but for what he does not inquire.

The verses that follow Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord and his response reveal something even more terrifying. These verses are not part of today’s reading, but I am going to tell you “the rest of the story.” Isaiah has confessed that he lives among people who, like him, have “unclean lips”. He is about to be commissioned to make devastating announcements to the people of Israel. “You are to make the heart of these people sluggish, to dull their ears and close their eyes. Otherwise, they will see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and they will be turn and be healed.”

Isaiah is going to have to bring bad news to Israel, “until the towns have been laid waste and deserted, the houses untended, the countryside made desolate, and the Lord drives the people away.” Hearing this, Isaiah will feel even more the “woe is me” than when he first beheld the Lord as King.

In today’s Gospel, Peter also has a good excuse. He has been fishing with his friends and caught nothing. Jesus seems to know where the fish can be found, and says, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets.” Peter takes the bait, and he gets hooked. After the nets bursting with fish have been brought ashore, Peter kneels and confesses that he is a sinful man, recognizing that he is in the presence of a holy man. Jesus, it is important to note, does not deny the truth of Peter’s confession. In a manner which Peter will eventually become used to, Jesus invites the fisherman to follow Him. Over the course of time, Peter will learn even more clearly just how sinful he is, and Jesus will reveal the fullness of his compassion.

Sometimes it seems that our excuses don’t work, especially when we feel unworthy to be called. Others in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Scriptures have similar negative or puzzling responses to God’s call. Mary of Nazareth had a really good one when she was invited to become the mother of the Messiah: “But I’m not married!” Sometimes, as with Isaiah, God’s call to carry out a particular mission or to enter into a more intimate relationship with him (the precise word is “vocation”) brings out both the best and the worst in us. On the other hand, in relationship with our Creator, Redeemer and Source of Grace, our worst brings out God’s best.

Peter expects that his excuse will allow him to get back to his fish-finding. Maybe he has projected onto Jesus what he feels about himself, especially after having been out on the water all night long and catching nothing. In the light of such gentle holiness, the big fisherman feels himself even worse off than he had imagined. Still, he leaves everything to follow Jesus – everything but his willingness to learn the truth about himself and about Our Lord, which he will experience, over the course of time and space, from Capharnaum to Jerusalem, from Jerusalem to Rome, ever more fully and, at the same time, ever more gently.

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