Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Sermon at Parish Mass 7 February 2010, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Is 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!”

Responsorial Psalm

Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8

(1c) 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.

Reading II

1 Cor 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11

Lk 5:1-11

Mary set out

and traveled to the hill country in haste

to a town of Judah,

where she entered the house of Zechariah

and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,

the infant leaped in her womb,

and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,

cried out in a loud voice and said,

“Blessed are you among women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And how does this happen to me,

that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,

the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You may have seen a film called “The Pope Must Die”, which came out a few years ago. At least that’s what it was called here. In the US Catholic groups protested about the title and so the American edition was renamed “The Pope Must Diet”. It’s the story of an inept country priest, played by Robbie Coltrane, a priest who is ill-qualified, incompetent, has a murky past and doubts his vocation. In a case of mistaken identity, he’s accidentally elected Pope in place of a corrupt cardinal who’s been money laundering for the Mafia. With hilarious consequences.

Of course, we all know it’s not like that in real life. Real Popes are well known high flyers in the Church: accomplished theologians, outstanding pastors and administrators, renowned for their disciplined and holy lives; men like Karol Wojtyla and Josef Ratzinger. How unlike Robbie Coltrane’s bumbling priest. And how unlike Simon the fisherman, later known as Peter.

Luke this morning tells us the story of the call of the first disciples, and Simon is the main character that Jesus interacts with. It’s a very condensed story and a lot happens in a short time.

Simon with his fellow fishermen has been fishing all night and caught nothing. We can imagine that they are tired, ready to go home and rest, probably despondent that they have nothing to show for their night’s work. They will eat less well today.

Then Jesus, the strange rabbi who has just appeared in their town, wanders along and gets into Simon’s boat, which he uses as a sort of floating pulpit. Apparently that part of the shore forms a sort of natural auditorium, a curved bay, and anyone speaking from a boat at its focal point would be heard very easily. PA systems, first century style.

Now the day before this Jesus had already cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever, so Simon would have begun to realise that there was some unusual power at work in this rabbi. Even so, when Jesus told him to put out into the deep and let down his nets, you can almost hear the tiredness and grumpiness in Simon’s reply.

And then there is the miraculous catch of fish, and Simon instantly realises that in this rabbi before him the power of God is at work. And he’s terrified, realises his own sinfulness and unworthiness, and begs Jesus to go away. But Jesus does no such thing. Instead, he makes Simon a promise, “from now on, you will be catching people in your nets”.

There’s a deliberate pattern here, that we’re meant to recognise. This story of the call of Simon is told in the same way as stories about the call of prophets in the Old Testament. And we have an example in our first reading. Like Simon, Isaiah is surprised, caught out, by a sudden manifestation of Divine power, and feels his own sinfulness and inadequacy in the presence of God. And yet God calls him anyway and appoints him as a prophet, a bearer of God’s message to his people.

So this story reflects the past, and the hope of Israel spoken in the message of the prophets. It tells us about who Jesus is.

But it also looks forward to the future. Jesus promises Simon that he will catch people in his nets. But that doesn’t come true straight away. Before that happens, Simon will run up against his own weakness, and the great failure of his discipleship. Three years from this scene, when Jesus is arrested and put on trial, Simon Peter will run away and deny that he ever knew him.

We know that story, of course, but that shouldn’t dull us to the shock of it. The shock brings home the point. It’s Simon the useless fisherman, Peter the failed disciple, who is chosen by Jesus. And after the resurrection, Jesus comes back to Peter, and calls him and sends him again. After the death of Jesus, Peter knows his own failure and sinfulness far more deeply and keenly than he did on that boat in Lake Gennesaret. But more deeply still he knows how completely he is forgiven. Not in spite of his sinfulness, but because of it, he knows himself to be truly and unconditionally loved. And it is Peter after the resurrection who goes out and fills his nets with people, the Jews and Gentiles who come pouring into the Church, the new community of forgiveness and love which Jesus has established. When Peter knows deep down that he is forgiven and loved, he can convey that forgiveness and love to others too.

Are we worthy of Jesus? Assuredly not. We are sinners, all of us, as we confess at the beginning of every Mass. And before we approach to receive Holy Communion we all say, “Lord, I am not worthy”. But our worthiness is not what matters. Jesus bids us welcome at his table, feeds us with his body and blood, his very self, not because we have earned it, but because he loves us. Totally, unconditionally, we are welcome.

So many people, even committed Christians, have a very stern and remote idea of God. A God who is always disapproving and disappointed. A God for whom we can never be good enough. That is such an obstacle in so many people’s spiritual lives. What we end up doing is focussing on ourselves, on our own failure or inadequacy, instead of on God and his love.

Jesus shows us what God is really like. God doesn’t ask us to be good enough for him, as if we ever could be. He gets into the rickety little boat of our lives, where perhaps we feel we’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing, and meets us just as we are.

In calling Simon and the other disciples, Jesus knew exactly what they were like, better than they did. He loved them and chose them and called them anyway. And he loves us, and has chosen us - every one of us – and called us to follow him. We confess our sins, not to wallow in guilt, but so that we can know ourselves to be completely forgiven and unconditionally loved.

Love bids us welcome today at this altar and is present for us in our lives, just as we are. Love that knows us through and through and loves us all the more. Love that calls us and will sustains us to the end.

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