Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today could well be called Vocation Sunday. All three of our readings present dramatic vocation stories. In the first reading, Isaiah describes his call by God. In the second reading, Paul speaks of his own vocation to be apostle by the grace of God. And in the Gospel, St. Peter is called to be a fisher of men. All three of these men left one form of life for another that God had chosen for them. St. Luke’s account of the call of Simon Peter is different from those found in Mark and Matthew.
The scene is the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is morning and many people are listening to Jesus’ preaching. To be better heard, Jesus asks Simon to put his boat as a sort of speaker’s platform. When Jesus finishes speaking, he asks Simon to prepare for a catch in deep water. Simon objects based on experience -the night has proved fruitless and morning is not the best time for netting fish. Jesus knows he is asking Simon to perform an action which goes counter to what an experienced fisherman would do. Yet, Simon reluctantly tries again for an inner reason -faith in Jesus’ word. To his astonishment, Simon nets so many fish that he needs help from the other boat.
After witnessing the wonderful result, Simon experiences the reaction of all righteous persons who find themselves in the presence of the Lord: Leave me, Lord. I am a sinful man. Until now, Simon had referred to Jesus as Master; now he acknowledges his sinfulness and addresses Jesus by the divine title, Lord. Simon senses he is in the presence of divine power. His eyes are opened through his act of faith, and he falls before Jesus. Peter is the first person in the public ministry to call Jesus Lord. Jesus responds to Simon by commissioning him to a new calling: From now on you will be catching men, that is, co-laborer with Jesus in the great task of salvation.
From earliest times the Church has seen herself as the boat of Simon in which his faith in Jesus is tested. Jesus chooses Simon’s boat; he saw two boats at the shore, but he got into Peter’s boat. There were other people with Peter in the boat, but it is to Peter that Jesus speaks and gives the order to put out, calling for a decision based solely on personal faith. The faith of Simon’s response is what makes him the Rock on which the Church is built. Peter and the other apostles (James and John) are partners; they constitute a particular ministerial association led by Peter. And it is Peter who answers: We have been hard at it all night...; but... I will lower the nets.
After the miracle, it is Peter again who tells Jesus: Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinner, even though all others were astonished. Even more importantly, only Peter is encouraged, do not be afraid; only he is promised to be turned into a fisher of men. It is precisely in Peter’s boat that Jesus himself is enthroned (seated), and it is he who, through Peter and the other apostles, addresses his message and teaching to those outside the boat. And above all, it is in the boat of Peter, not in the other, that takes place the miraculous catch.
At different times in our lives, it may seem that we exert much effort yet catch nothing. At times like these, the words of Jesus will give us encouragement. Even though we are sinners, we can go out into deep sea and be confident that, with his presence. we will bring in the achievements that God wills for us.