5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Picture: cc Tyler Bolken
Sisters and brothers, if you had a choice, which would you rather be? Comfortable or uncomfortable? That’s a silly question, right? Given a choice, of course we’d rather be comfortable. We’d rather be seated here, for example. In air-conditioned comfort. Than to worship out in the open. Exposed to sun and rain.
And yet, as much as we prefer comfort, we also know the value of discomfort. In fact, there are occasions when we actually choose to make ourselves uncomfortable, don’t we? As when we take the trouble to go jogging. Or to do some other form of physical exercise. By definition, to exercise is to make our bodies uncomfortable. But we do it anyway. Why? Because there’s a benefit to be gained from the discomfort. A fitter, healthier, more energetic body. The same can be said for all the cleaning and cooking that people do in preparation for Chinese New Year. It can a real bother. Quite a discomfort. And yet we do it anyway. Why? To express our hope for a new beginning. For a peaceful and prosperous new year.
As much as we value comfort, we also appreciate the importance of occasional discomfort. And this is true in the spiritual life as well. In each of our Mass readings today, for example, we find people being made extremely uncomfortable. But for a good purpose. The first reading tells us about the call of the prophet Isaiah. He sees a vision of God in the Temple. And the experience causes him great discomfort. Not only are the foundations of the threshold of the Temple shaken by God’s presence. But Isaiah himself is shaken. To his very core. What a wretched state I am in! He exclaims. I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have looked at the King, the Lord of Hosts.
To be led to finally appreciate and to acknowledge just how small and sinful I really am. Especially when compared to the immensity and holiness of God. That can be a very uncomfortable experience. Especially for someone who habitually behaves as though the whole universe revolves around the self. But this experience of discomfort is not a curse. But a great blessing. God purifies Isaiah’s unclean lips, so that the prophet can respond generously and courageously to God’s call. So that he can become God’s messenger. Bringing God’s life-giving word to the people. Here I am, send me.
We find this same connection between discomfort and God’s call in the gospel as well. Simon and his fellow fishermen are washing their nets after an unsuccessful night of fishing. We can imagine how they must be feeling. Very likely, all they want to do is finish their work and go home to rest. To finally enjoy some quiet and comfort. But it is precisely at this moment that Jesus chooses to step into Simon’s boat. First, the Lord asks Simon to put out a little from the shore. But that’s not enough. The Lord then urges him to put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch. Jesus invites the failed fisherman to return to the very place, and to do the very thing, that has brought him so much disappointment and discomfort the night before.
Quite amazingly, Simon agrees. And, as they say, the rest is history. As it was for Isaiah, so too with Simon. The discomfort turns into a great blessing. In the great catch of fish, Simon is led to recognise how small and sinful he really is in the sight of God. How tiny his boat is. How inadequate his nets are. Too tiny and too inadequate to accomplish all that God is calling him to do. No longer just to catch fish. But to evangelise people. Is it any wonder then that, bringing their boats back to land, Simon and his companions left everything and followed him?
Discomfort leading to dispossession. Call leading to commitment. This too is what we find in the second reading. Here, St. Paul continues to correct the Corinthians’ mistaken view of the Christian life. By reminding them of the foundations of their faith. Of the gospel that you received and in which you are firmly established. And it’s especially important for us to pay attention to how Paul describes this firm foundation.
Although he begins by listing a series of beliefs about Jesus. That he died, was buried, and was raised to life. These are not just abstract affirmations. They are rooted instead in very concrete experience. Paul goes on to recall his own personal encounter with the Crucified and Risen Christ. Like Isaiah and Simon before him, Paul’s call was also an experience of discomfort. We know the story well. How he was struck down by a bright light on the road to Damascus. How he was blinded. Disorientated. How the very foundations of his life were shaken. Transforming him from Saul to Paul. From a persecutor of Christians to a tireless apostle of Christ.
Sisters and brothers, as much as we may prefer comfort, discomfort is not always a bad thing. Indeed, in a certain sense, discomfort is at the very centre of Christian life. At the core of our relationship with Christ. Who often insists on upsetting our comfortable lives, in order to lead us to enjoy something more. A greater blessing. A higher calling. A more fulfilling life.
And it’s especially important for us to bear this in mind especially today, when we find ourselves surrounded by news of war and conflict. Or pain and suffering. Of ignorance and loneliness. Of situations and people crying out for the message of the gospel. Desperately needing to hear the voice of God. To feel the touch of Christ. Circumstances that call us out of our comfort zones. Urging us to put out into the deep…
I’m reminded of that prayer attributed to Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. It’s common for us to pray for peace. What’s striking about this prayer is that it’s a prayer for disturbance…
Disturb us O Lord,
when we are too well pleased with ourselves;
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little;
when we have arrived in safety because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us O Lord,
when with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst for the water of life;
when having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity;
and in our efforts to build a new earth
have allowed our vision of the New Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us O Lord,
to dare more boldly,
to venture on wider seas,
where storms shall show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow Him.
Sisters and brothers, how willing are we to allow God to disturb and to discomfort us today?