5th Sunday in ordinary time
Isaiah 6:1–2, 3–8; 1 Corinthians 15:1–11; Luke 5:1–11
We are scared, our faith is very often only a theoretical knowledge or a crumb of the leaf of bred of the faith of our parents.
Our faith has two elements. The first is expressed by Paul in the Second Reading where he gives the briefest summary of what the Christian message is about. To "have faith" at that level is to accept that message as true and credible. For many Catholics, faith often stops at that point. If a person fully accepts the teaching of the Catholic Church, we sometimes hear people say, "He/she has the faith." Some Catholics like to spend a lot of time spelling out in detail what is orthodox and what is not and condemning those they believe to be "deviating from the true Faith". For some people faith can even be a painful matter leading to scruples.
However, there is another level of faith which we ignore at our peril. And it is the meaning that predominates in the Gospel. The Greek word for "faith" is pistis. The basic meaning of pistis is "trust". To have faith in Jesus is to put one's total trust in him.
That involves a different kind of relationship from the first. We might express the difference as between "believing a person" (what he/she says is true and reliable) and "believing in a person" (I would be ready to put myself totally into the hands of that person). Or, "I believe what you say" and "I completely trust you" are quite distinct in meaning and application.
This is basically what we see happening in today's Gospel. Peter and his companions are the experts when it comes to fishing in that lake. But even so, after a whole night's work they have nothing to show for their efforts. Then Jesus, after he had finished teaching the crowds (giving them the message to believe), suggests that they go out into the "deep water" and let down their nets. There is an element of scepticism and even condescension in Peter's reply. "We [the professionals] spent the whole night in vain, but if you [the amateur] say so, I will let out the nets."
The result was overwhelming and totally beyond their expectations; their nets could hardly hold the catch. It was their first test of faith in Jesus. The same call comes to us: "Go out into the deep water... Trust me completely... and you will be in for a pleasant surprise." We really have not learnt to believe until we have reached that level of total and unconditional trust in the Way of Jesus.
It is clear, too, that the huge catch of fish is just a symbol of what they and their successors will do later in drawing people to become followers of Christ. A large harvest will materialise and it will be the work of the Lord.
It is a truly wonderful and fascinating story and there are many lessons for us in it.
One lesson is surely that God chooses our weak moments to show what he can do. Peter and the other fishermen were down on their luck; they were exhausted and somewhat exasperated when Jesus appeared on the scene.
They already knew Jesus. Two paragraphs earlier Luke recounts how Jesus had visited Simon Peter’s house and cured his mother-in-law. So Jesus was no stranger, they knew him and they had already listened to his teaching and experienced the results of his extraordinary healing powers.
But they surely did not expect that he would choose them to be his closest disciples, they didn’t expect to be asked to leave everything to follow Jesus.
That’s a bit like us. We too are disciples of Jesus; over a period of many years we have gone to mass, listened to his teaching and from time to time have experienced his remarkable works. But we tend not to expect him to have any special task in store for us.
It is one of the great paradoxes of the Christian Life that in our weakness is our strength.