A Leap in Small Steps
[Is.6:1-8; 1Cor.15:1-11; Lk.5:1-11]
Today is Word of God Sunday. Pope Francis instituted this celebration in 2019, to highlight the 10th Anniversary of Verbum Domini – Pope Benedict’s landmark document on ‘The Word of God’.
It also marks the 1600th anniversary of the death of St Jerome, who first translated the Bible from Greek into Latin. [i]
Of course, the Bible is important every day. But in instituting this celebration, Pope Francis is encouraging us all to promote the Sacred Scriptures and to help others appreciate their extraordinary riches.
The Bible, of course, is not just a storybook. It’s a constant dialogue between God and his people, as relevant today as ever. It’s the door that leads us into the life of Christ, offering a profound sense of meaning and purpose. It’s full of wisdom, detailing God’s extraordinary love for us, and it teaches us how to live the life that really does lead to heaven.
But to get the most out of God’s Word, we must read it prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.
Let’s look, for example, at our reading from Luke’s Gospel today. To some, this is just a story about fishing, but it’s really about how we enter the spiritual life. For those of us who wonder why it takes so long for some people to accept Jesus, this passage can be especially helpful.
Jesus is teaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and Peter and his friends are nearby, listening to Jesus while cleaning their fishing nets. But Jesus needs a better platform to teach from, so he approaches Peter, seeking to use his boat.
Peter, however, is reluctant; he’s tired and hardly knows Jesus. But Jesus did cure his mother-in-law, so he agrees, and Jesus borrows his boat.
Sometime later, Jesus asks Peter to go fishing once again. But now Peter is really hesitant. He’s been fishing all day and caught nothing, but he does respect Jesus, so he agrees, reluctantly. He goes out into the deep, drops his nets and catches so many fish that he’s astonished.
Peter is in awe of Jesus, and thinks, ‘I don’t deserve this’. He starts to feel unworthy and says, ‘Go away from me Lord, for I’m a sinful man’.
The boat almost sinks and the men are scared. But Jesus reassures them, and when they return to shore Jesus calls them to become his disciples. ‘From now on’, he says, ‘you’ll be fishers of men’.
This story mirrors life for so many of us, for it reveals how Christian conversion can be a slow, gradual process involving several steps.
It begins by us simply observing, watching what’s happening from a distance – just like Peter. Then it involves listening to what’s being said, and allowing it to move our hearts. After that, it involves gradually accepting small commitments within our comfort zone, helping here and there.
Then we’re amazed when the call becomes specific and deeply personal, and something powerful happens inside us. We start to feel unworthy, even sinful, and perhaps even scared. But then we’re reassured. And that’s followed by acceptance, and finally, a deep and personal commitment to Jesus.
These are the steps we all typically go through in the process of conversion, as we gradually enter the life of Jesus Christ. For some people, this process can take a lifetime. The actor John Wayne, for example, converted on his deathbed.
But even the greatest saints, like St Paul and St Francis of Assisi, went through a process of conversion. For St Paul it was remarkably quick, but for St Francis it took years.
St Francis was initially a likeable but spoilt young man who enjoyed partying. But then he recognised the emptiness of his life and started to feel guilty. This encouraged him to open up his heart and mind, and gradually, step-by-step, he came to discover and welcome Jesus into his life.
The leap from where we are today to where God wants us to be may be huge; that’s why Jesus takes us through the journey in small steps. Thankfully, God is patient and loving, and encourages us to grow gradually.
Importantly, he’s given us the Scriptures to guide us on our way.
St Thomas Aquinas once said that our love for God is ultimately not love for a Creator, Judge or Father; it’s love for a friend. We develop our relationship with God the same way we develop other human friendships. It takes time and a series of adjustments as our love grows and our commitment becomes deeper.
We can see all this in the Bible; it’s God’s love letter to us.
The way to read it is prayerfully, with loving hearts and open minds.