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JESUS’ SENSE OF HUMOR

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Homily for 3 September 2020, Feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, Thursday of the 22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Luke 5:1-11

Unlike in Mark, the call of the first disciples is told in a very interesting way by Luke in today’s Gospel. In Mark, what we have is a rather abbreviated story of Jesus casually passing by the lake of Galilee, meeting Simon and his fellow fishermen and calling them to follow him. Just like that, they leave their boats and their nets and start following him. In Luke, we have a more detailed account; and Jesus has a good sense of humor.
First, Luke tells us about the circumstances in which the encounter takes place. It was one of those unlucky days when they came home and had caught nothing, after a whole night of fishing. It was then that they met Jesus for the first time, asking for a favor. He asked to use Simon’s boat in order to preach the Word of God to the people who were standing on the lakeshore. He needed a platform from which he could speak and get himself heard more clearly by his audience. He wanted to do his own kind of “fishing”, using God’s Word as his net. Unlike Simon, he does not end up empty-handed. He would succeed in catching their attention and changing their lives’ direction.
Neither Simon nor his companions were actually in any mood to listen to him. They were tired, exhausted and sleepless, all they probably wanted was to get done cleaning their nets so they could get back home and take a rest. It had been a bad day for them, a whole night of fruitless fishing. They came back with empty boats, and felt very embarrassed that they had nothing to offer to the fish buyers by the shore.
And so, when Jesus approached them in order to ask to be allowed to use Simon’s boat as a platform, Simon probably said, “Oh sure, sir, go right ahead. Don’t mind us, we’ll just be cleaning up our nets. “ They were still soaked on the water, fixing up their nets.
Then Jesus began preaching from the boat, addressing the people on the shore. I have the feeling that he was aiming every word at Simon and his companions, who, although they pretended to be busy were now listening very intently at this man who had succeeded in getting their full attention.
I have heard many similar stories of people whose lives were changed by a casual experience in which, at the start, they were just kibitzers, eavesdroppers, or onlookers,or uninvolved spectators. I know a young man who was working as an assistant wedding coordinator. He was at Mass most of the time but he never really paid attention to the Mass because his focus was just his job. But one time, he found himself listening intently at the Gospel and felt as if the priest’s homily was being addressed by God to him personally. He left his job as wedding coordinator and joined a Bible study group. Later he became a lay missionary and volunteered to do evangelizing in China.
Another one I know told me he was just accompanying his barkada mate who was going to join a vocation search-in in a seminary. He said he did not know what got to him, but he found himself joining the registration just for fun. Tohis surprise, he passed the test and the interview, not his friend whom he was just accompanying. Not only did he become a priest, he became a bishop.
Sometimes, God really has a funny way of dealing with people. Imagine the scene—the son of a carpenter is the one who is teaching the professional fisherman how to fish. I’d expect Simon to take offense, but he could not even resist anymore even if he explained that they had actually fished all night and caught nothing. Jesus leads him first to fish in deep waters, before teaching him to do it in shallow waters. And just when he succeeds and his boat gets filled up with fish, he decides to leave behind his fishing career to follow Jesus.
I suppose, for Peter, the experience of being filled up spiritually after listening to Jesus preaching must have been far more intense than the experience itself of having his boat filled with fish. He must have sensed what Jesus’ real purpose with him was, even before he called him. Somehow, he had already been “caught” by Jesus, even before he made that big catch of fish. He and his companions were now like fish in Jesus’ net; they could no longer resist him.
Luke says Simon fell on his knees and, if we may paraphrase what he said, “Find someone else, Lord. I am not your guy. I don’t think I am capable of doing what you are asking of me.“ But Jesus, like a fisher whose hook and line got heavy with fish that was trying to get away, did not let go of him. His message to Simon is, “I want you to do with others as I did with you, especially those who feel like miserable failures, those who live empty lives. I caught you so that you can help me catch other people for the kingdom of God.”
In the Gospel of John, this story of the encounter by the lakeshore will repeat itself in John 21. There, however, the context is a scene of the apparition of the resurrected Jesus. The situation seems just as funny. Jesus appears to him as a stranger. Same situation, they had fished all night and had caught nothing. He would teach them again how to fish, but this time on shallow waters. Suddenly, their nets get so full their boats are almost at sinking point after they haul in their catch.
The joke is not over yet. The man who they thought was a beggar begging for fish would end up feeding them. Peter’s experience of unworthiness is also repeated. If he fell on his knees in Luke 5, now he would find himself jumping into the water when he realizes that “it is the Lord”. It was like he wanted to disappear in shame. How could he even show his face again to the friend whom he had denied three times?
But the repetition of this encounter in John has a new purpose. It is meant to lift him up after his fall. Something about him had died; Jesus is raising him back to life. They were like sheep who had gone astray, and whom the Shepherd has found again; now he turns them into fellow shepherds. If they had been broken by unfaithfulness, he would make them whole again with his unconditional love. They realize that the story of their discipleship and call to mission has actually just begun. This is how Peter discovered the Lord’s strange sense of humor.

 

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