I hope that you are enjoying reading Luke’s gospel this year. The people of Brooklyn Heights and Brownstone Brooklyn are Luke’s target audience. When we began to read him a few weeks ago we saw that the Gospel and its continuation the Acts of the Apostles were dedicated to Theophilius, an educated man who was perhaps Luke’s patron. His literary strategy and style are clearly that of a trained writer and he provides the educated reader with the pleasures of learning and craft. We will see today that this contains an opportunity for irony as well.
Today, we read the call of Simon Peter and company. We met Simon when Jesus cured his mother-in-law after leaving the synagogue in Capernaum. When we see him today, he is very frustrated – after fishing the whole night he has caught nothing. He must be dead tired, but Jesus asks to preach from his boat somewhat off from shore. This was very sensible as the acoustics are better. He is in Jesus’ debt, so he unmoors his boat and takes Jesus onboard. When Jesus finishes preaching, he tells him to go out into the deep water to try again. Daytime fishing was usually not as successful, and Simon and his partners had failed the night before, but such is Jesus’s charisma that he does so anyway, and the catch was so great that he needed the help of his partners.
Simon knew a miracle when he saw one and that this was the second one from Jesus. He is given the grace to know that Jesus is more than a wonder worker or even a prophet. When Jesus asks him to take out the boat, he calls him Master; when they return, he calls him Lord. He knows what this means and immediately falls to his knees. He is sinful and is aware that he has no right to be near Jesus. Those around him knew the same. Jesus tells them do not be afraid and knowing their sinfulness which they will reveal many times and in many ways throughout the rest of the scriptures, tells them that they will be His presence in the world and the way that people would come to Him.
This is unexpected, but Jesus is the master of the unexpected. As often with Luke we will see this most clearly with Mary, the mother of Jesus. This little girl from the boondocks is chosen to be the mother of God and, like Peter, asks how can this be? Like Peter, she is shown that God can do all things, for Peter it is the sign of a vast catch from a previously barren sea, for Mary that her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth would bear a son. Mary is for Luke the first and perfect disciple. Peter follows along and, like us, is far from perfect. We will see him representing us and – however fitfully – our sign that we can get there too. Mary’s fruitfulness is Jesus; Peter’s is the growth of the Church, which we will see throughout the Acts of the Apostles. Peter is not the most promising material for sanctity. His saving virtue is honesty: he knows he is sinful and not important in anyone’s eyes but Jesus. Yet, Peter, we must remember, was ultimately a successful leader.
How do we feel about ourselves?
Theophilius, Luke, and the people who would have appreciated his artistry were significantly further up the social scale than Peter, his associates, and indeed Jesus. Yet they are being told to see a young Jewish girl as the perfect representative of their new faith and a fisherman as their leader. The secret nature of Christianity separated the more prominent Christians from their peers, and they became emotionally tied to other Christians. But there were complications. For example, there were no purpose-built churches at the time and the Christians with the biggest houses would open them to meet and celebrate the Eucharist. Yet given what we believe as Christians, they may have received expressions of gratitude but not the usual marks of respect such as different food and drink at the celebrations. Indeed, a tradesman could very well be the presider of the Eucharist in the rich man’s home. We will see this tension in the Gospels whenever there is a meal and it is very clear throughout Paul’s writings, especially in 1st Corinthians, which we have and will continue to be for some time our second reading at Sunday Mass. He says succinctly: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” 1 Cor 1:27
And who wants to be shamed? Luke is gentle, but firm. It is God’s grace which builds the church, and he is not a respecter of persons. It is what he has given, not what we have or have not inherited that is ultimately important.
When I first became involved with community organizing, I realized that some of the people with the most needed skills could barely speak English, but they could bring people together with great skill. Their abilities were far greater than mine, and I needed not only to learn from them, but to follow them.
This is not of course to say that education, particularly in the liberal arts, is not to be cultivated. They give both wisdom and pleasure and God can use them at his time and in his manner as he would wish. But it is as he wishes.
In a religion in which perfection is seen in a teenage peasant girl and leadership in an uneducated fisherman, apostleship is not only matter of what we will say, but to whom we will listen.