1986 Feb 10 – 5th Sun Ord Time – Homily (Bulletin Letters)
5th Sun Ord Time – Cycle C
Isaiah 6:1-2a. 3-8 – The Prophet’s call,
Luke 5:1-11 – A memorable catch of fish
February 10, 1986
This past week in Des Moines at the Iowa Pastor’s Conference, I had an opportunity to listen to Reverend Jim Wallis. Jim is the editor of the monthly periodical called Sojourners. It is an evangelical, gospel based, and social justice periodical. He is also co-founder of Witness for Peace. That is where on an ongoing basis Americans, mostly Christians and church folks, go to Nicaragua on a two to four week segments. There they put themselves in the most likely place that the Contras and the Sandinistas would be warring. They have been our ongoing Witness to the escalating war in Nicaragua. Reverend Wallis said in his homily at the final service of this gathering that what is sorely needed in America today is that a few people take the risk to tell the truth in a country that “is dependent on layer upon layer of lies for its sense of truth.”
Isaiah 6:1-2a. 3-8 – The Prophet’s call,
The first reading in Isaiah and me are not strangers. We have a history. I first ran into this text when I was at the Catholic Worker in Des Moines in 1977. I went to Washington D.C. to be part of a two -week training for intensive community-building and exploration about what non-violence and peacemaking was all about. The training ended on August 9th with a witness at the Pentagon. Earlier, as a group, we went through the Pentagon on a tour. If anyone has been on the Pentagon’s tour, you know that all you see is hallway after hallway after hallway of military offices. In these halls there are lots of pictures, photos and paintings.
I came across this very large painting of a bomber ready to take off. In the corner there was a family praying in a pew, and in between the family and the bomber there, is a young man dressed in battle clothes. He is ready to go fight and is running toward the bomber. Underneath it is this saying from Isaiah. “Send me Lord.”
Now I had done three years at the Aquinas Institute and studied scripture. I was very versed in the word of God at that time and I saw this and was blown away. As they say in the vernacular, I was “grossed out.” I was incensed by the blatant misuse of God’s word.
I later ran into this same text when I found out that at SAC base here in Omaha in their chapel they have stained glass windows. One of those stained glass windows has the image of a mushroom. One of those stained glass windows has an image of a bomber, a family praying, and a young man running to that bomber. Underneath is the caption, “Send me Lord.” And again I was blown away, grossed out by the misuse of scripture.
For you see, if you did any studying of who Isaiah was, the man upon which the book was written, you would know that this man would never, ever put his blessing on our Pentagon or anybody’ s Pentagon, on our SAC base or anybody’ s SAC base. For the man’s life stood in direct contradiction to any belief that weapons or preparations for war could be anywhere within God’s scheme.
The history of Isaiah is simply this: He was a man who was a prophet in the time of Jerusalem and Israel where there was great disparity between the rich and the poor. The rise of militarism was in his culture. When he was a prophet, in the world politics of that day there was a big kingdom to the north called Assyria. This empire was getting more and more powerful. The little kingdoms of Jerusalem and Judea, Samaria to the north, and Damascus, were saying, “Hey, we’ve got to start getting together, banding together and making some political and military alliances to protect our interests.” They were starting to think about making deals to protect their turf.
And Isaiah went to Jerusalem to tell the king, “Do not rely on weapons. Do not rely on any deals you might be making with political parties. Rely on God.” The king, you see, was a politician. He was a realist. He lived in the real world, and he said to Isaiah, “Listen, don’t be telling me that kind of stuff. I don’t want to hear it.” And Isaiah, to prove what he had to say was true, challenged the king to pick anything, and God, as a sign of faithfulness, would fulfill it.
Of course the king did not want to do anything like that. He said, “ I don’t want to listen to you, and I don’t want to listen to your God. Leave me alone.” Isaiah responded, “If you don’t want a sign from God, God is going to give you a sign anyway. Here is the sign that God will give you. From a virgin will be born a king, and this king will be the king of all kings. He will put an end to any kind of kingship that relies on weapons. Eventually and ultimately, he will bring the peace of God to all nations. This king will be the king of Jerusalem, the king of Israel.”
Of course that king there in Jerusalem did not want any part of Isaiah. He did not want any part of God’s plan. And do you know what he did? He cut a deal with the Assyrians. He broke the alliance with the other two nations and let them fight on their own. The Assyrians came down, destroyed Damascus, and destroyed the northern kingdom. But when they got to Jerusalem, the Assyrians also said to that king, “Now you will be jumping to our beat. You will lose your faith because you will be our servant.”
So you see, Isaiah, prophet for the poor, the man who stands against any weapons and preparations for war, would never, never be associated with our Pentagon or anybody’s Pentagon, our SAC or anybody’s SAC. How is it that we can in this country, so easily misplace God’s holy word? I believe it is because of our nationalism, our blind faith in the goodness in ourselves, and the audacity to think that God is on our side. Jim Wallis says that our nation is sorely lacking a few people who are willing to seek the truth in a country filled with lies.
Luke 5:1-11 – A memorable catch of fish
In today’s gospel we also have another call. We have the call of the thrie apostles, Peter, James, and John. It’s a familiar story; we have all heard it. Jesus is in the boat and teaching the crowd. After the teaching he said to Peter. “Let’s go out to the deep water and do some fishing.” Simon Peter said. “Lord, we were out there all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you want us to go out there, we will.” They no sooner got out there and dropped their nets in the water when they caught so many fish that Peter had to call his friends in the other boat to come and help them. They both got out there and filled their boats up to the breaking point, the sinking point, with fish from the catch. Peter was one of those great characters, you know. He was either completely off-the-wall or right on. . In this reading he was right on.
He was moved by the presence of the Lord, bowed down and said,” Lord, leave me because I am certainly not a man who deserves your presence.” The Lord said to him,” Peter, from now on you wi11 be catching the souls of men and women.” Right then and there, Peter left his boat. He left his livelihood. He left his work. He left his family. He left it all, laid it on the line, and followed Jesus.
How often, have you beard someone in the church deal with this text. They try to soften the blow, soften the implication of the call of God that wants everything from you. People say, “But of course the Lord is not asking you to leave your 1ive1ihood in order to follow him. It’s an interior thing, something else.” Well friends, I am not going to let you or me off the hook. The text says that they left everything and Jesus meant it.
I got to speak at the RCIA c1ass. Those are the folks who are becoming Catholics in the county. My topic was church and social justice. I was kind of typecast you see. There were about 20 people there, and of course Father Frank started talking, getting on a roll, ranting and raving about the resistance church. I talked about how people in this country are identifying with the poor people who are struggling for peace, who are putting their lives on the line. Some are even being thrown into Jail. One woman, who was part of the class, said “Well Father, does that mean that we have to do civil disobedience to be Catholic?” I said. “No, that’s not the point. The point is that if you’re going to become a Catholic, if you’re going to c1aim the gospel of Jesus Christ, you’re going to have to be willing to risk your life, to put your life on the line. The gospel is an all-or-nothing proposition.”
You know, if the truth about what is going on in Central America is going to be heard, it is going to take people like those in the Witness for Peace who are willing to risk it all and go down there to be a buffer zone between the two warring factions in Nicaragua. If we are going to get rid of these insane and outrageous nuclear weapons, it is going to take a few people who are willing to risk jail and to speak the truth, to claim the peace of Jesus Christ. And in the rural communities if we are going to turn around this process that keeps pyramiding people with fewer and fewer people having more and more land, and if we going to stop the rape of our land by the type of farming that will make our soil as dead as any rock in 50 years, and if we are going to change this process that is dismantling our way of life in rural America t then it is going to take a few people who figure out the best way to speak the truth and risk it all to turn it around. The implications of the call to the gospel are just as radical today as they were back then. We are going to have to risk it all. The challenge is to find out where God wants us to put our lives on the line.
Today, we are going to be giving the word of God to young people who are going to be receiving the Lord and the Eucharist. I just want to tell them that the book on the altar is a book to keep close to you all your life. Remember that what Jesus asks in that book is that he wants your whole life, every bit of it, and that there are some things worth giving your life for. That book will help you to make the decisions of what is worth putting your life on the line and what is not worth it.