Epiphany V, Year C
1 Cor 15:1-11
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and yoursin is blotted out. " Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
And he said, "Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and behealed." Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.
(1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in whichalso you stand, through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you–unless you have come to believe in vain. For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit 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 toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them–though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
“Do not fear. From now on, you will be catching people.”
And with these fearful words, the attempt by the Christian West to subjugate the world to and by way of its cultural Christianity began. The imagery here is so vastly different from that of the Great Commission in Matthew 28, where the inclusion of persons in ranks of the initiated is a mere sidelight to the primary task of “discipling.” (The task of baptizing is reduced to a dependent, participial phrase, where the making of disciples occurs in the imperative.)
The non-coercive imagery of Matthew is in stark contrast to the picture of millions of persons, trapped in the Western cultural net, being dragged into the Church. This is, at least, the way that this passage from Luke has been read in many corners of the Church to justify her perversion of the task of evangelism. It is perhaps because this misplaced resurrection appearance is separated from its Johannine setting that we are able to make such an unfortunate leap. John, too, has an image of “capturing” people. The “lifting up” of the Son will “draw all persons” to him. This is more like the task of teaching implied in making disciples or, as John puts it, “feeding his sheep.”
It is time to name the perversion of evangelism that has plagued the Church for these many years. The bearing of Good News to the world, the literal translation of evangelism, has been morphed into the task of convincing those who are “outside” to come and be “inside” with us. This image of evangelism finds its origins in the differentiation that is an indispensable part of the scapegoating mechanism. We must, if we are to recover real evangelism, abandon this way of doing inside/outside thinking.
The “capturing” of people must become something that is grounded in God’s undifferentiated way of seeing, where we set before ourselves the task of telling God’s people what has already been accomplished in/for them by Jesus. They are already inside. Fr. Robert Capon uses the wonderful imagery of a party into which all of us have been not just invited, but brought in, to describe this truth. His imagery focuses on getting people who are at the party to come in from the porch where they can hear the music better. (Parables of Grace)
We have become so conditioned to the coercive way of understanding these words about “capturing” people they no longer startle us. They should. Those of us devoted to sharing the real Good News of Jesus need to challenge vocally and visibly the distortions of the task Jesus entrusted to us by the falsely evangelical within our churches.
This appears to be one of the few texts in the gospel tradition that justifies itself as a post resurrection narrative retrojected into the life of Jesus. As such it is difficult to interpret as other than a ‘call narrative’ perhaps more akin to those of Abraham and Moses or even Isaiah. If we frame this narrative not in terms of ‘theologia gloriae’ (a theology of glory) which has been exposed as a ‘mythic’ or sacrificial rendering of this text, then we are left to ask what is going on in the text. What is exposed is Peter’s deep self-awareness that will be in sharp contrast to what will occur in Acts 10 where Peter is asked to consider what it means to value the ‘other.’
A sacrificial reading of this text has supported all the various versions of the post-Constantinian Christian myth. A sacrificial reading of this story stands behind the conversion by coercion of the fourth century, the Crusades, pogroms, Inquisitions. It also stands behind the modern Calvinist work ethic, capitalism, just-war theory and all forms of hegemony, as well as the influence of Protestant missions. When this text is read from the perspective of the persecutor, we ultimately fail because we do not see a) that this ‘calling’ will especially in Luke, be a call to carry a cross and b) if we believe that the narrative of John 21 and our text today stand in some relation to the other then we also did not see Jesus’ prophetic announcement to Peter about his cross.
A paragraph from "Luke’s Use of Matthew" on this pericope. (p. 94)
This story does not appear anywhere in Matthew and may come from Luke’s nonMatthean tradition. Another version of this story is found in Jn 21:1-11. Luke may have chosen this account over the call of the4 four in Mt 4:18-22 because no explanation is given in Matthew as to why these great leaders should have left their work of providing for their families and become disciples of an itinerant prophet. Luke’s account of the stay at Simon’s house (Lk 4:38-39) and the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:1-11) not only provided reasons for the three disciples to follow Jesus, they anticipated Simon’s leadership role in the early Christian community (Acts). Despite Simon’s disclaimer of sinfulness (Lk 5:8), he is singled out my Jesus as the leader of his mission.
Throughout PreachingPeace.org we have been asking a two-fold question: what does the Church (at its best) look like and what does the Christian life look like. We have sought to address from all the angles implied in the Gospel texts of the RSL the implications of the life of Jesus for today.
We do not carry crosses very well as modern Christians. Our instincts to retaliate run too deep. The “religion” mistaken for real Christianity is shallow, troubled by false piety, full of self deception, bearing the smell of the cancer ward, of impending death. Would that it smelled of a cross-death instead!
We arrogate to ourselves Peter’s commission without first experiencing the crisis initiated by Jesus. We are not like Abraham, Moses or Isaiah or Peter or Paul, for we have nothing to repent of (or so we convince ourselves), we are good and upright people, loyal citizens and good neighbors. (Unless we expand neighbor to include all those whose developing countries are gutted to sate our consumer appetite. And all the while we demonize others, create scapegoats, justify our aggression and then we go to church and learn how to do it all over again. This is Jesus? What does Jesus have to do with the preaching of war? Of coercion? Of aggression? Of hate?
Jesus invites Peter on a journey that will be fruitful and efficacious for humanity. The metaphor is fishing. The only legitimate hook used to catch fish for the kingdom of God is love, exemplified in the Cross of Christ, that exclusive rejection of exclusion, the place where ‘God was reconciling the world to himself.’ As long as the Christian churches preach God and violence together they will not be evangelical, there is no good news in a holy, just, retributive God. There is good news in the gospel of the Lord Jesus, and like Peter, we too are called to share that which is truly liberating: the love of the Creator who has covenanted with Israel. The forgiveness of God first, last, always.
Some Sermon Thoughts.
Having shucked the distorted version, we preachers need to take seriously the work of evangelism that Jesus offers in the reading for today.
The “evangelical” churches (how I hate conceding that word to them!) have one thing right. They understand that their fundamental job is to share their understanding of God (however mistaken it may be) with others, not to sequester themselves as a comfortable organization of insiders waiting to be discovered by those who stumble into our midst.
Paul understood that imitation was the key to passing the gospel from one generation to the next. The bait we use as we fish for others is our willingness to imitate Christ in his sacrifice for the sake of those who come after us.
Granted, this isn’t the kind of sermon that’s going to produce huge numbers on its own, but then, that’s not the purpose of the sermon. The sermon is for the already-initiated, showing them how it is we share the riches of the Gospel with others.
Just because the “decade of evangelism” was so mis-guided, and the 20/20 initiate is equally so, we mustn’t abandon the task of evangelism as preachers.
If we don’t teach our folks how to do real evangelism, we consign the word and the task entirely to those whose understanding of God is still rooted in violence.