The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isa 6:1-2,3-8 + 1 Cor 15:1-11 [or 15:3-8,11] + Lk 5:1-11
February 10, 2019
“Be not afraid.”
In the year of Our Lord 64, Saint Peter laid down his life for the Church. Some thirty years after the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, Peter was held prisoner in the city of Rome, as was his fellow apostle Paul. Both had been taken there in chains, to that city which was the center of the known world. It was the capital of the greatest empire in existence, and a city which from Jerusalem appeared to be “the ends of the earth”. Yet it was the center not only of the empire, but also of paganism. The temples dedicated to Roman gods were numerous, scattered throughout Rome. In the center of the city was the Pantheon, dedicated to all the pagan gods.
Today you can still visit the cell where Peter was imprisoned: it’s about halfway between the Pantheon and the Colosseum. Within that cell, Saint Peter was miraculously freed from his chains. Then Peter made it onto the streets of Rome, and searched for the quickest way out of the city, presumably with the idea of somehow returning to his homeland. However, just outside the city walls, on a road leading away from his prison, Peter was confronted by a figure whom he soon recognized as Christ Jesus Himself.
Jesus asked where Peter was going, which of course was a rhetorical question. Jesus wasn’t so much interested in where Peter was taking himself. Peter was trying to escape from his vocation. Jesus was only interested in where God wanted Peter to go, which of course was to Heaven. For Peter, the road to Heaven was a martyr’s death. After that conversation with Our Lord, Peter, re-assured of his final mission in life, turned around, went back into the heart of pagan Rome, and re-entered his prison cell. The next time Peter left that cell, he was taken to his martyrdom.
Peter’s earthly vocation ended on that spot where he was martyred. In today’s Gospel passage, we hear about the beginning of that vocation. When we first hear it, it might seem that the focus of this Gospel passage is the miraculous catch of fish, but the greater miracle is Peter’s response. As we reflect on the Word of God, we ourselves are also challenged to allow this same dynamic to work in our lives.
The problem is, though, that often we don’t want this to happen. It’s not that God is ignoring us. It’s not that God doesn’t want to have anything to do with us. It’s that we don’t want Him in our lives. Sure, we want to follow God, but at a distance. “I want there to be a comfortable distance between me and God. I don’t want Him too close to me.” If we can admit this, then it’s a lot easier to understand how today’s Gospel passage is not just about Jesus calling Peter, but also about Jesus calling me.
The words which sum up today’s Gospel passage are, “Be not afraid.” When Jesus tells the disciples, “Be not afraid,” he immediately adds the words, “From now on you will be fishers of men.” Jesus saying these two sentences together is not a coincidence. The reason Jesus builds up the disciples’ confidence with the words “Be not afraid” is because of the job that He has in mind for them.
Jesus knew all that would happen to them because of their vocation. He knew that what they would face because of Him would at times be frightening. To be a follower of Jesus means to be led into some very frightening situations in life. But to be a follower of Jesus also means coming before Him in humility, kneeling down and saying, “Lord, I am a sinful man,” and begging Him for the grace to take steps forward in the spiritual life, no matter where He leads.