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If you are paralyzed by fear — fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of the future — (and you know you are), then this Sunday’s readings, the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, are for you.
They explain the one surefire way to avoid fearing everything: Fear God instead.
Peter demonstrates what fear of God looks like: Not fear that God will be unfair, but fear that God will be fair.
At the climax of today’s Gospel, Simon Peter ”falls at the knees of Jesus” and says “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
He is not afraid Jesus will lash out at him or punish him. He is afraid that he can’t coexist with the the overwhelming glory of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel begins with Simon Peter steadfastly trying to avoid Jesus, until he can’t.
Simon in today’s Gospel is like many of us. He is busy at work, doing what he is good at. Not only does he not want to change the world — he doesn’t even want to change himself.
The God who created him from all eternity wanted him to be the leader of the Apostles, taking on arguably the single most important job ever. But when the Lord himself approached him, Simon Peter steadfastly ignored him in favor of his current job, cleaning nets.
So Jesus did to Peter what he does so often to us: He makes himself impossible to ignore. He literally stepped into Peter’s boat and started preaching to the crowds from right next to him.
We don’t know what Jesus’ lesson for the day was, but we can be sure that it was powerful — and that it was meant for Peter, who immediately after it is done calls Jesus “Master.”
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” says Jesus.
Peter answers the way we do: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.”
Peter was tired, frustrated, just trying to finish his day and go home. Just like us.
When Jesus Christ invades our space, it is all too easy to ignore him. We know better than him. We know that we can barely keep up with what is on our plate right now.
But Peter added very important words that we need to learn from: “but at your command, I will lower the nets. “
What follows is a catch of such gigantic proportions that the nets tear with it (there goes all that work Peter did while ignoring Jesus) and Peter’s crew — which includes future super-Apostles James and John — has to get help from others.
Peter knows a miracle when he sees one. And he knows himself, too.
This is the point when Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man,” and reveals what has been going on all along.
All along, what he really feared was himself. His past, his weaknesses, his sins. All his self-assurance disappears when he sees the awesome power of God.
It is at the moment that Jesus says “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” And it is right after this that he and James and John “left everything and followed him.”
Peter went from fear of change to a fear of God, and everything changed.
The same thing happens to Isaiah and to Paul. And to you.
Isaiah was also afraid of his mission, until he “saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne” with angels shouting his praises so loud that “the frame of the door shook.”
His first reaction: “Woe to me, I am doomed!” When God responds with a miracle, Isaiah is ready to be sent, anywhere.
Paul also declares himself “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle” who is changed, like so many, by the risen Lord who appears to many — including “500 brothers, still living” — but then “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.”
This kind of encounter with the Lord happens to each of us when God comes to us the way he came to Peter — at work, in our daily routine, in our little boat where we are trying desperately to keep ourselves busy and distracted.
If we allow ourselves to to be overcome with the awe and respect God’s glory demands, if we answer him with humility and obedience, then our cringing, servile fear of ourselves will turn into a mighty, life-changing fear of God.