In the readings on this Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Isaiah acknowledges that he is a man of unclean lips. Yet God’s purifying glory appears to him in the temple and sends him on a mission. Paul, once the persecutor of Christians, now risks his life to pass on the essentials of the faith. Simon recognizes himself as a sinful man but nevertheless he responds to God’s call to be a follower of Jesus. These readings challenge us to examine the excuses we find for hanging back, and failing to follow the Lord. All three of these men were imperfect and sinful yet each followed God’s call without reserve. They each gave themselves to God. How can we do less?
First Reading: Isaiah 6: 1-2a, 3-8
1 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. 2 Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft. 3 “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!” they cried one to the other. “All the earth is filled with his glory!” 4 At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke. 5 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” 8 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!”
NOTES on First Reading:
* 6:1 By the Temple may be meant the holy place, just in front of the holy of Holies. King Uzziah died in 742 B.C.
* 6:2 Seraphim means literally “the burning ones,” and are celestial beings who surround the throne of God. The six wings and the functions of the wings are symbolic. They veil their faces with two wings out of reverence for the divine majesty. “Feet” is a euphemism for sexual parts. They veil their “feet” out of modesty. They extend two wings in preparation for flight out of zeal to serve God instantly.
* 6:3 The exclamation, “Holy, holy, holy” is made in recognition of God’s perfect interior holiness which is seen in His glory. Moral perfection is included in the attribute of holiness but it includes much more than that. For Isaiah, God’s holiness meant especially that He was transcendent and altogether “other” than anything in creation.
* 6:4 The smoke here is an echo of the clouds which surrounded God at Mount Sinai; See Exodus 19:16-19 and Deut 4:11,12.
* 6:5 It was popularly believed by the ancients that seeing God would lead to one’s death; See Genesis 32:31, Exodus 33:20, and Jdgs 13:22.
* 6:7 Isaiah is symbolically purified to be worthy of his vocation as God’s prophet by the ember taken from the heavenly altar. By purifying the symbolic sin of his lips the entire man is cleansed. This is a common Biblical occurrence where the whole person is designated under a particular aspect of his being.
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Or 15: 3-8, 11
1 Now I am reminding you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you indeed received and in which you also stand. 2 Through it you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. 3 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; 4 that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; 5 that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 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. 11 Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 15:1-58 Some consider this chapter an earlier Pauline composition inserted into the present letter. The problem that Paul treats here is that some of the Corinthians denied the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12), most likely because they could not imagine how any kind of bodily existence could be possible after death (1 Cor 15:35). Their attitude may have stemmed from a combination of Greek anthropology, which looked with contempt upon matter and would be content with the survival of the soul, and an over realized eschatology of Gnostic flavor, such as that reflected in 2 Tim 2:18, which considered the resurrection a purely spiritual experience already achieved in baptism and in the forgiveness of sins. Paul, however, affirmed both the corporeality of the resurrection and its futurity. This response is phased in three steps: Recalling of the basic kerygma about Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:1-11), Asserting of the logical inconsistencies involved in denial of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:12-34), and Considering theologically what the properties of the resurrected body must be (1 Cor 15:35-58). Only the first of these is included in today’s reading.
*15:1-11 Paul states the tradition (1 Cor 15:3-7), which he presupposes as common ground and which provides a starting point for his argument. This is the fundamental content of all Christian preaching and belief (1 Cor 15:1-2,11).
*15:3-7 In the beginning of verse 3 Paul used the same formula that a rabbi would have used in passing on traditional material that he had been taught. This language indicates that Paul considers that this essence of the “gospel ” (1 Cor 15:1) is not his own but is drawn from older creedal formulas that he had been taught. This earliest of recorded creeds highlights Jesus’ death for our sins (confirmed by his burial) and Jesus’ resurrection (confirmed by his appearances). The phrase, “in accordance with the scriptures ” indicates conformity of Jesus’ passion and resurrection with the scriptures and presents both of them as fulfillment of prophecy. This is also asserted in Matthew 16:1; Luke 24:25-27,32,44-46. The application of some Old Testament texts (Psalm 2:7; 16:8-11) to His resurrection is a very early Christian practice illustrated by Acts 2:27-31; 13:29-39. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Hosea 6:2 may also have been in the minds of the community.
* 15:4-5 Paul inserted the triple kai hoti, “and that ” into the older creed he had been taught. This creed was already probably a central part of the still young Christian tradition.
* 15:5 One of the early understandings of the role of the apostles was that they were to be witnesses of the resurrection. The traditional material seems to have singled out Peter (Kephas) for a separate appearance from the earliest days. It is alluded to here, and in Luke 24:34, but that appearance is never explicitly described in the scriptures. This verse is the last part of the traditional creed received by Paul.
* 15:6 Here Paul adds to the creed that had been handed on to him. The point of the addition in verse 6 may be to show that many witnesses were still alive and could be questioned.
* 15:7 Here Paul adds another traditional fragment to help make a transition from the apostles through James and the other witnesses who like himself had not been disciples of Jesus before the resurrection to his own experience.
* 15:9-11 A persecutor may have appeared disqualified from apostleship to human eyes, but in fact God’s grace has qualified him. See the remarks in 2 Cor about his qualifications (2 Cor 2:16; 3:5) and his greater labors (2 Cor 11:23). These verses are parenthetical, but a nerve has been touched (the references to his abnormal birth and his activity as a persecutor may echo taunts from Paul’s opponents), and he is instinctively moved to self-defense.
*15:11 Paul here appeals to the universal teaching of all the apostles. He reminds the Corinthians that the whole church believes this same gospel of resurrection.
Gospel Reading: Luke 5:1-11
1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. 7 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. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 9 For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, 10 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.” 11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
NOTES on Gospel:
* 5:1-11 Luke has transposed this incident from his source, Mark 1:16-20, which places it immediately after Jesus makes his appearance in Galilee. By moving it to this position Luke uses this example of Simon’s acceptance of Jesus to counter the earlier rejection of him by his home town people, and since several incidents dealing with Jesus’ power and authority have already been narrated, Luke creates a plausible context for the acceptance of Jesus by Simon and his partners. There is similarity between the wondrous catch of fish reported here (Luke 4:4-9) and the post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus in John 21:1-11 as many commentators have noted. Some traces in Luke’s story such as Luke 4:8 where Simon addresses Jesus as Lord which is a post-resurrectional title for Jesus and he recognizes himself as a sinner (an appropriate recognition for one who has denied knowing Jesus–Luke 22:54-62) may indicate that the post-resurrectional context is the original one. As Luke uses it, the incident looks forward to Peter’s leadership in the combined story of Luke–Acts (Luke 6:14; 9:20; 22:31-32; 24:34;Acts 1:15;2:14-40; 10:11-18; 15:7-12) and symbolizes the future success of Peter as a fisher of men (Acts 2:41).
* 5:1 The term,”the word of God ” is used 14 times in Acts (also written by Luke) and generally refers to the Christian message. By using the same term for Jesus’ own preaching Luke establishes the roots of the later preaching of the apostles in the ministry of Jesus himself. This sense of continuity was very important to the early Church.
* 5:3 Peter is called Simon by Luke until 6:14 when he begins to call him Peter.
* 5:10 Fishing as a symbol had a rich background in antiquity. Those familiar with Greco-Roman traditions would have recognized a particular aspect of the peculiar Greek verb used here (zogron) which carries the image often used by teachers of luring students to themselves and through their education of them transformed their lives. The analogy is that Peter will be catching men and women with the bait of God’s word and thereby bringing them to new life.
* 5:11 In Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22 the fishermen who follow Jesus leave their nets and their father; in Luke, they leave everything (see also Luke 5:28; 12:33; 14:33; 18:22). One of Luke’s major themes is complete detachment from material possessions. Luke sees acceptance of the Lord as an all or nothing proposition.</FONT
Scripture text: New American Bible with revised New Testament copyright © 1986,1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.
Vince Del Greco
The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (1990) (Eds. Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy)