“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.
This morning’s Gospel reading is 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.
Have you ever felt like you’ve committed a serious faux pas with a friend? Done something that embarrassed or humiliated you, but can’t figure out a way to broach the subject, even to apologize? Or maybe sometimes — and this has happened to me more than once — just simply fell out of touch for no good reason, and then can’t figure out how to reconnect without feeling foolish, or maybe getting rejected for your action or inaction? It becomes a vicious cycle, with the passage of time reinforcing the separation and distance between yourself and others. Finally, the distance becomes so great that it becomes insurmountable.
So it becomes with sin and our relationship with the Lord. All of our readings today touch upon this, but the story of sin begins in Genesis — in the beginning, so to speak. The Lord raises Adam and Eve up into a special, familial relationship with Him, providing for all of their needs and walking with them in harmony. The Lord has but one rule: don’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Remain obedient and keep their trust in the Lord, and all will be well.
What happens? The serpent arrives and tells them not to trust the Lord, that they are just as powerful as He is, and that Adam and Eve should disobey and eat the fruit — which they do. And what happens then? They run and hide from their sin, further distancing themselves from God. And when confronted, they blame each other and the serpent rather than expressing remorse and contrition.
This is the way of sin. Sin tells us that we are at once greater than we are, without need of the Lord, and puts us as the god of our own universe. It reduces our relationships with others from brothers and sisters in God to transactional commodities whose value only comes to what benefits we derive from them. This propensity toward self-absorption is the heart of sin, and that selfishness drives all of the varieties of sin — greed, gluttony, lust, and so on.
At the same time, we feel the sting of sin, at least for a time. We feel irredeemable; a voice within us insists that our sinfulness puts us forever at odds with God. That builds resentment, eventually eroding any remorse we might feel, and we begin to rationalize our way out of culpability. This too puts us at the center of our own universe, making us equal with God rather than recognizing our true relationship with Him. We no longer need to be redeemed, but become arrogant and full of our own self-righteousness. We seek sin in others to feel relatively better about ourselves.
All the while, we put more distance and time between ourselves and God. Eventually, the effort to recognize our own sinfulness becomes so great that we simply can’t be bothered. Either that, or we obsess so much over our own sinfulness that we give in to the serpent’s voice that convinces us that our sins make us irredeemable and despair of salvation altogether.
A former pastor of ours often described this process as making sin more powerful than God. Faith tells us that cannot be so — and so does Scripture, from beginning to end. All we need to do is recognize our sinfulness and bring it to the Lord in remorse and contrition. Psalm 51 instructs: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” And all three of our readings today remind us of this as well.
Isaiah receives a vision in which the Lord calls him to prophesy. Isaiah, who will become one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament, realizes his unworthiness for this calling. “Woe is me,” he declares in the vision, “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!” Rather than face judgment for his sins, the Lord sends a seraphim to cleanse Isaiah and purge his sins and wickedness.
Paul has the same story to tell the Corinthians — who are badly in need of this advice. His letter to the church in Corinth is a sharp corrective, a loving but firm rebuke for the errors into which it has fallen, but Paul’s message is one of redemption. He uses his own path to make the point that faith in the Lord means more than one’s sins. “For I am the least of the apostles,” Paul writes, “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.”
The grace of God redeemed Paul once Paul put his faith in Christ and accepted his calling, even though Paul still suffers from the predilection to sin. He will note in his second epistle to the Corinthians of the “thorn in his flesh” that Christ allows “to keep me from being conceited.” Whatever Paul meant by this description, it’s clear that he stressed the need to remember the proper relationship between ourselves and God — even for the Apostles — in order to keep us aware of the danger of sin.
In our Scripture today, Peter also has this same epiphany. When Jesus performs His miracle, what does Peter do? He comes to Jesus as a penitent, with remorse and contrition, and declares his unworthiness in almost the exact same terms as Isaiah, albeit more prosaically. Jesus responds by lifting Peter up, reassuring him that he will become an instrument of the Lord’s will.
The good news of the Gospel is this: All can choose redemption — but we have to recognize our need for it first. No sin is greater than the Lord; no time is too long for us to offer ourselves back to Him. That process requires us to demote ourselves in one sense, from being the center of the universe, and to have courage in another, that we can bring ourselves to the Lord without fear of rejection as long as we do so with “a broken and contrite heart” for our transgressions and selfishness.
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” meaning it is within our reach. Our first task as “fishers of men” in our role as priests, prophets, and kings is to catch ourselves and offer our sins up to the Lord. All we need to do is open our hearts and reach out to the Father, and He will cleanse us of our iniquities. That is true hope, and true faith, and those who abide with it are the truly blessed.