Feb 6, 2022: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

1st Reading – Isaiah 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!”

Last week we heard Jeremiah’s call to prophetic office; today we hear Isaiah’s call to ministry in 742 BC, 116 years before Jeremiah’s call.

Isaiah belonged to the tribe of Judah and his home was in Jerusalem. According to Jewish tradition, he was from a royal bloodline. Unlike Jeremiah, who was celibate, Isaiah was married and had two sons. Whereas Jeremiah’s call was in the form of a dialog with Yahweh, Isaiah’s is a majestic vision.

In the year King Uzziah died,

Isaiah places his call story in a historical setting, “the year King Uzziah died,” that is, 742 BC.

King Uzziah’s death brought to an end a period of great prosperity and security in the kingdom of Judah. Just twenty years later, Assyria would occupy the northern kingdom of Israel and lay siege to Judah.

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.

The God of Israel is depicted as seated in the manner of eastern kings, with his glory filling the temple like the train of a royal robe.

Seraphim were stationed above.

The name “seraphim” means “the burning ones.” They are supernatural beings (i.e., angels) similar to Sphinx, with animal bodies, wings, and human heads and heads. Here they are described as being stationed in homage to God.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” they cried one to the other.

God is depicted by the seraphim as thrice holy, the highest form of superlative available in Hebrew: Holy, holy, holy equates to “holiest.”

No one and nothing is as holy as Yahweh: holiness is part of the very essence of God, an aspect of his unapproachable divine mystery.

God is further extolled as the “Lord of hosts,” a reference to a great number of military regiments.

“All the earth is filled with his glory!”

God’s glory is the way that his holiness is manifested in history and in nature.

The seraphim’s cry about God’s holiness and glory is undoubtedly familiar to us because it is part of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass, during which we join Isiah in proclaiming God most holy.

At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.

Earthquake and fire are common symbols of God’s theophany, God’s self-revelation.

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!”

As typical in call stories, Isaiah now offers an objection.

The holiness and majesty of God has filled Isaiah with a sense of his own uncleanness. This contrast causes him to cry out in despair; he is overwhelmed by the unalterable opposition between God and sin.

It was also believed that no one could see the face of God and live. In Exodus, when Moses is receiving instructions from God, Moses says, “‘Do let me see your glory!’ God answered, ‘I will make all by beauty pass before you… but my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives’” (Exodus 33:18-19a, 20).

Hence Isaiah’s statement: I am doomed!

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

The response to Isaiah’s objection comes from one of the seraphim. As soon as Isaiah humbly acknowledges his unworthiness and insignificance before God, he is cleansed and consoled.

Isaiah does not become worthy by his own power or effort. Rather, God has called and prepared Isaiah so that he is able to do the work to which he has been called. Isaiah’s whole person has been made clean, and his lips have been prepared to speak God’s word to God’s people.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”

Near Eastern theology held that a divine council existed in the heavens, comprised of lesser deities who owed allegiance to the more powerful god. Israel retained the concept but demoted the deities to the rank of angels. This verse suggests that a session of this divine council has just concluded, and a messenger is sought to carry news of the decision which has been made.

“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Now that Isaiah has been cleansed, he is ready to respond to the call.

His instinctive sense of fear has been replaced by a generous and trusting response on the prophet’s part: he is ready to do what God wants.

2nd Reading – 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
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.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.

This week we move forward two chapters in our readings from 1 Corinthians. We join Paul as he is arguing against some Corinthians who do not believe in the resurrection of the body. We know this because just after this passage, Paul asks. “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).

Today’s reading also includes one of the earliest creedal statements: Christ died, he was buried, he was raised, he appeared.

I am reminding you, brothers and sisters, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand.

Recall that Paul wrote this letter in response to various questions and concerns posed to him by the believers in Corinth, a Christian community he founded. Some of the Corinthians are denying the resurrection of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:12), apparently because of their inability to imagine how any kind of bodily existence could be possible after death (15:35).

This attitude may have stemmed from Greek anthropology, which looks with contempt upon matter and would be content with the survival of just the soul. The Corinthians’ perspective could also stem from an over-realized eschatology, wherein they consider the resurrection a purely spiritual experience already achieved in baptism and in the forgiveness of sins.

To address this issue, Paul begins by recalling the summary of the gospel that he had already preached among them, as common ground and a starting point for his argument.

Through it you are also being saved,

Note that this is not past tense: salvation is an ongoing process.

if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

When Paul was with them, they had been convinced of the faith, believed it in their hearts, or at least made a profession of doing so with their mouths.

“The Corinthians did not need to learn the doctrine, which they already knew, but they had to be reminded of it and corrected from their errors in understanding it.” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. 392 AD), Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 38,2]

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:

He hands over (paradídōmi) to them what he has received (paralambánō).

The doctrine that follows is “as of first importance”: en protois, which means the first, the principal thing.

that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;

Most commentators believe that Paul is referring to Isaiah 53:4-6, which was used to interpret Jesus’ death, possibly by Jesus himself (see also Luke 20:37; Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:22-25):

Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all.

that he was buried;

A historical event that demonstrates the reality of Jesus’ death, and by extension, his resurrection. If Jesus were verifiably dead, only resurrection could explain his subsequent appearances as living.

that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures;

Paul’s emphasis on scriptural references is intended to root Christianity in the traditions of Israel.

For scriptural references to the resurrection, the Apostles appealed to Psalm 16:8-11 (see Acts 2:25-28; 13:34-35), and possibly Jonah 2:1 (Matthew 12:39-40) and/or Hosea 6:2.

that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.

Just as Jesus’ burial confirmed his death, his appearances confirmed his resurrection.

Paul’s usage of the Aramaic version of Peter’s name was probably intended to underscore his emphasis on the Jewish origin of Christianity.

After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

An appearance to five hundred is recorded nowhere else; this may refer to a general appearance.

Mentioning that many of the witnesses were still living means that they were available for questioning. Paul omits the apparitions to the holy women, referencing only those persons which Jewish law would accept as responsible witnesses.

After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.

Christ’s apparition to Paul at his conversion makes him an official witness to the resurrection.

The Greek word Paul uses to describe himself is ektroma, literally “an aborted fetus,” one that is rejected from a womb and not mature enough for a normal birth.

For I am the least of the apostles, 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.

When applied to an adult, ektroma has a secondary meaning as an object of horror and disgust, a monster. This may have been the sense he intended, in which, recalling his persecution of the Church, he calls himself “the monster of the apostolic family.”

This may have been a characterization that came from his detractors, and he has now adopted it as a profession of faith.

Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.

Though once a persecutor, by the grace of God he now toils harder than all the others.

Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Regardless of who preaches the gospel, the important thing is that it is heard and believed. The doctrine that Paul has laid out is what he has already taught when he was among them, and it is what they professed to believe at the time.

“Paul does not expect the Corinthians to choose between him and the other apostles. He justifies his own credentials as a teacher but at the same time affirms the others as well. There is no difference between them, since their authority is the same.” [Saint John Chrysostom (ca. 392 AD), Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians 39,1]

Gospel – 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.

Today’s gospel reading is the story of Simon Peter’s call to be an apostle, in which he leaves everything behind and follows Jesus.

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.

Jesus was a popular preacher and has begun to attract large crowds. Recall that at twelve years old, he was able to debate with the teachers at the temple; how much more skilled he must be by this point, at age thirty.

The Lake of Gennesaret is the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:16), which is also known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1). It is an inland lake thirteen miles long and seven miles wide, and seven hundred feet below sea level. Gennesaret is the fertile, heavily populated area at the northwestern corner of the lake.

He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.

Jesus sees two boats by the lake, the fisherman having returned from an unsuccessful overnight fishing trip. Luke often describes things in pairs.

After each fishing trip, the nets were checked, mended, and cleaned for their next use.

Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.

Between last week’s gospel (Jesus’ rejection is in hometown of Nazareth) and this one, Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law of a severe fever (Luke 4:38-39). So Jesus is not getting into the boat of a stranger; Simon has already witnessed Jesus’ power firsthand.

Note that Peter is still known by his Jewish name, Simon. It isn’t until Luke 6:14 that Jesus changes his name to Peter.

Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

The crowd is so responsive to Jesus that he is pressed for room. His solution is to board Peter’s boat and teach the crowd from there.

The Church Fathers saw in Simon’s boat a symbol of the pilgrim Church on earth. Christ gets into the boat in order to teach the crowds — and from the barque of Peter, the Church, he continues to teach the whole world.

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.”

Peter is hesitant to do as Jesus commands. He states the difficulties involved, speaking to Jesus with deep respect, calling Jesus “Master” (epistátēs), the Gentile equivalent of “rabbi.” (Recall that Luke wrote primarily for a Gentile audience.)

Peter and his crew are exhausted, having just finished working all night with no success. Yet he is willing to obey, relying solely on Jesus’ word. He already has faith in Jesus because of his mother-in-law’s cure. Fath is necessary for discipleship.

When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.

Fishing nets of the day were made of natural fibers, weak by comparison to the strong synthetic materials we have today.

They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.

Truly a miracle. First, because none were caught earlier; second, because the weak nets could contain enough fish to almost swamp two boats.

Continuing the symbolism of the boat, here we can see the difficult beginnings of the Church and its later fruitfulness.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

As we saw in our first reading, a call story often involves an objection from the one being called. Note the change in the way Peter addresses Jesus: previously “Master,” now “Lord” (kýrios), a title that combines the elements of power and authority. He has recognized the presence of the divine.

Peter does not actually want Christ to leave him; aware of his sins, he declares his unworthiness to be near Christ. This is reminiscent of the attitude of the centurion who confesses his unworthiness to receive Jesus into his house (Matthew 8:8).

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.

All of the fishermen are filled with astonishment and/or fear. Along with Peter, they will soon be his fellow disciples of Christ.

Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

Jesus’ characteristic response when sinners recognize him: he gives them words of assurance and a commission.

“From now on” is a powerful and prophetic phrase — he has just declared a turning point in their lives. They will cast a different net, one that will catch people. Jesus gathered crowds around him, captivating people with his words and deeds. If Peter and the others follow Jesus’ directives, they too will gather hearers beyond number. Like Jesus, they will become evangelizers, ones who preach the word of God.

The verb for “catching” (zōgreō) is given in the continuous tense, indicating a habitual practice.

When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

The astonishment of the fishermen turns to commitment. They leave everything behind: the incredible catch (which would have been worth a significant sum of money), their fishing business, the stability of their homes and families.

Such a wholehearted response is necessary for discipleship.

Connections and Themes

Called to serve.  The first and last readings of today are call narratives. Isaiah is called in order to be sent; the fishermen are called to gather others to Jesus. So it is with us. Our call is not merely to a life of personal holiness lived in union with God; we are called to be sent out into the world. Our covenant with God is not a private affair, it is a communal reality. We are members of the body of Christ. As such, the faith has been handed to us, and we in turn hand it on to others — just as Paul describes in today’s second reading.

We have been prepared for this during the first few weeks of Ordinary Time: the moment has come for us to step forward and explicitly accept (or refuse) the call. We saw last week how complex the call is and how complicated our response can be — but the examples provided by Jesus and the prophets point the way for us. Now is the moment of decision.

Ordinariness of life.  As transformative as our call may be, it comes to us in the ordinariness of life. Isaiah was called while in the temple, his usual place of worship. Simon and his partners were called while washing their nets after a night’s work. Our call may come as we teach or raise our children, as we prepare a brief for trial, as we examine a patient, as we repair cars or work at a computer. God calls people wherever they are to be found.

Such a view sanctifies what is otherwise ordinary. In his incarnation, God took on human flesh and blood, the human experience in all its ordinariness. Over and over we are reminded that God uses the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary. When we realize this, like Peter, we too will cry out: “It is the Lord!”

Called to witness.  As disciples of Christ, our first and most fundamental ministry is to witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. He died, he rose, and he lives on. This is the gist of Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians in today’s second reading. Some, like Isaiah and the disciples of Jesus, will witness in open and dramatic ways — teaching and preaching, nursing the sick, caring for the elderly. Others will witness in less conspicuous ways — insisting on fair practices in the workplace, weeding out expressions of prejudice and violence. Called in the ordinariness of their lives, they will witness to the death and resurrection within that very ordinariness — and thus transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

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