Never Give Up

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 10, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he is the first one to admit that Jesus can do better than to choose him as an apostle. He knows that he is not the best candidate out there for the Lord’s right-hand man and we can go down a long list of things that rule him out.

First of all, Peter is not at all that religious; he often forgets to observe the finer points of the Law. Later on, he will be called out by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before a meal (cf. Mt. 15:2; Mk. 7:5) and for picking grain from a field on the Sabbath (cf. Lk. 6:1-2). He should know better, but, not being a Pharisee, he really does not. Second, Peter does not always think before he talks. At Mount Tabor, he gets the chance to see Jesus in all His glory and to meet Moses and Elijah. But, the first thing he does is to open his big mouth and suggest that they should camp out there (cf. Lk. 9:33). Third, he is prone to violence. He is the one who draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant (cf. Jn. 18:10). Finally, Peter does not always get dressed up for work. There is at least one incident wherein he is practically naked while he is out fishing in the lake (cf. Jn. 21:7).

Any Human Resource Department will tell Jesus that this reckless recruit from the docks is a walking liability. Jesus can do better than to hire this sinful man. He can easily go down to the local synagogue and find more qualified applicants there.

Headline

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he is the first one to admit that Jesus can do better than to keep him as an apostle.

Scripture scholars point out that there are two episodes that feature a miraculous catch of fish in the Gospels. The first is this episode from Luke (cf. 5:4-7); the second is from John (cf. 21:5-6). There are similarities and differences in the two episodes, but the biggest discrepancy is the timing: Luke locates the miracle at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; John places it after the Resurrection. Some scholars have wondered whether Peter’s remark— “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8) –makes more sense if it were said after the Resurrection. Peter then would be telling Jesus that He can do better than to keep him as an apostle, especially since he had abandoned Jesus and denied Him three times. Peter then would be ashamed, not because he feels unqualified for the job, but because he was nowhere to be found when Jesus needed him the most. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8). Peter here is practically begging Jesus to let him go. Any Human Resource Department will tell Jesus that Peter is no longer just a liability; he has been a failure.

Yet, in both episodes, Jesus ignores the advice of every Human Resource Department and calls this flawed fisherman to be a fisher of men (cf. Lk. 5:10) and sends this failure to feed His flock (cf. Jn. 21:15-17). What is incredible here is not Jesus’ seemingly bad judgment that goes against good business practice, but rather His stubborn trust in someone who has proven himself unworthy of it. Yet, this is what our world cannot comprehend: Jesus knows that He can do better than to stick with Simon Peter; but He also knows that, if He departs from him, Peter will remain just a sinful man. If Jesus stays with him, Simon Peter can be a changed man: he will step up and he can become a saint.

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he speaks on behalf of everyone who has ever felt unworthy of following the Lord. We can count in that company the prophet Isaiah, the apostle Paul, and many other great saints who would be the first to admit that they are sinners like the rest of us. Peter speaks for all of us who feel unqualified to be called to the service of the Lord. He speaks for all of us who feel that we have disappointed Him because we have worked long and hard and have nothing to show for it (cf. Lk. 5:5). Yet, even though we are ready to call it quits, Jesus does not give up on us, just as He does not give up on Simon Peter.

We sometimes think that we cannot get over our shameful past and our sinful present. Jesus though chooses to see only our glorious future with Him in Heaven and He invites us to leave behind everything that holds us back—especially our shame and insecurity—and follow Him.

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

It is true that, like Simon Peter, we are unworthy. It is true that, like him, we have sometimes been a disappointment. Yet, in spite of it all, the Lord Jesus still entrusts us with His mission. At a certain point, we have to stop repeating Simon Peter’s plea: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8). We have to accept the fact that there is nothing that we can do that will make the Lord forsake us.

Instead, we can echo Simon Peter’s other remark, the very refrain that we chanted this morning at Lauds: “Master, we have worked long and hard, and yet we have nothing, but at your command, we will try again” (Lk. 5:5). That would be a fitting reminder that we should never give up in following the Lord who never gives up on us.

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~ by Fr. Mateo Zamora, OSB on Sunday, February 10, 2019.

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