Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Some people approach scripture seeking to wrestle from it some meaning or lesson that has little personal significance. Such people read scripture as if it were a menu, or worse, a train schedule. A sensitive approach to scripture, however, is very different. In a sensitive, personal approach, readers dispose themselves to encounter Jesus.
To do that means to be honest about self in the present moment. Jesus could be standing at my shoulder, but if I am not honest with myself, my vision would be clouded, even blind. Simon Peter presents us with a model of honesty in the presence of Jesus.
The first thing to savor is that Simon was tired physically and his morale was exhausted, too. It had been a long, frustratingly unproductive night fishing. Simon was not at all hesitant to let Jesus know it: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.” Jesus desired to perform a personally directed display of power for Simon. Able to see disappointment on Simon’s face and hear it in his voice, Jesus told Simon to lower the nets again.
Simon’s fatigue and sore-muscled disappointment could not extinguish Simon’s personal fascination with Jesus and attraction to him. With little heart for it, he responded to Jesus, “but at your command I will lower the nets.”
This honest conversing with the Holy One did not debut on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Prophets, like Isaiah, expressed honestly their fears and unworthiness: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips....” Even Mary told the angel she could not understand the divine message that she would be the mother of the Messiah because she had no sexual relations with a man. Mary also said she would accept the word of the Lord and the angel’s encouragement that nothing is impossible with God.
Simon’s response to Jesus’ power directed toward him and his colleagues was not a moral confession; instead, Simon’s response revealed his awe at Jesus’ attractive, accepting quality. It conjures sunlight for me. The more bright the sunlight on me, the more dark and sharply visible to me my shadow. Our faith is no mental exercise, it is an experience of Jesus, an encounter with Jesus who welcomes us to be ever more our true selves not our shadow selves.
So St. Paul confirmed. His opening words today bear the stamp of a faith-formula. They are much more. They are his conviction of being in the sunlight of Jesus. Jesus was raised, yes, and he was experienced by others--over 500, in fact. Plus, the risen Jesus appeared also to me, Paul. Paul gives us firsthand witness of the experience of the risen Jesus. His experience remained remarkable to him throughout his life. It had an effect within him that shaped and fueled his actions, and not his alone. His
experience almost certainly provides the context for the remarkable statement [elsewhere]: It is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ./1/In your 10 minutes each day this week, begin by becoming more aware that you are in the attractive and inviting and bright presence of the Trinity. Then ask Simon Peter to present you to Jesus. Notice what Jesus is wearing, how he welcomes you. Speak honestly to Jesus from your heart. Be alert to what Jesus awakens in you. Savor what Jesus awakens in you even if it is only emerging and not fully clear to you. If the shadow of your unworthiness darkens, do not fear. Take heart because Jesus is calling you, as you are, into the light of his life and love. Close by saying the Lord’s Prayer slowly, being sensitive to each word. Meeting Jesus in your prayer is only the beginning. Being sensitive in your prayer will help you more readily recognize Jesus in others.
1. My teacher, Luke Timothy Johnson, is convinced, and I agree, that 2Corinthians 4.6 flows from Paul’s experience. I remember this from his Introduction to the Testament which I heard as lectures before their publication as The Writings of the New Testament, rev. ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999, 264.