On the day Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the Temple precincts Simeon feels himself physically moved by a kind of divine radar: “Guided by the Spirit”, Luke says, “Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child...Simeon took him in his arms and praised God...: ‘Master, you are now dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation...’” And even the old 84-year-old widow who lived in the Temple, Anna, daughter of Phanuel, gets swept up in the emotion of the moment and begins to praise God and, Luke points out, “to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
What must that have felt like for Simeon? To hold that baby boy, knowing that this was “the One who saves”, the One whom generations of his ancestors had longed to see? What was Anna thinking and feeling? And the people, passersby, in that busy Temple? What did they see beyond a group of four people and an infant?
It was literally a “divine” moment! A moment of manifestation, of revelation, of theophany: where the curtain was pulled back -- re + velare, a retracting of the veil -- and human beings experienced God Himself.
In our sacramental rites we celebrate such moments of enlightenment with or by holding candles: certainly in Baptism and Eucharist, sometimes in Marriage and Ordination, often at wakes and memorials for the dead. In the words of Lutheran Pastor Kim Beckmann: “...candles point to our own bodies, our own lives lived in the world, as places where God may dwell and others may see God’s power and glory reflected.” And that’s what we’re about today in the Scriptures, as Isaiah, Paul, and Peter experience similar moments of revelation in which they, too, see “God’s power and glory reflected”.
Even more astounding: his ears tingle at God’s own voice: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Before he can even think about it, Isaiah blurts out: “Here...me...send me!” Almost as if nothing which Isaiah would’ve said would matter, God commissions him to go and speak God’s message to a completely deaf, uncomprehending, unseeing, unaccepting, arrogant, totally resistant populace in Jerusalem. Perhaps with a gulp Isaiah asks: “How long, O Lord?” Essentially, God intimates, until the land is totally devastated and everyone sent away into bondage and slavery, until it all looks like a complete failure, until there is no-thing human left: except for a stump, a “holy seed”, a remnant, from which the chosen people of God might start over in the future. See, we don’t mind committing to answering God’s call for a token “limited time only”. It’s the long-haul commitment that bothers us: the day-in, day-out routine, with people who give us a bad time because they don’t see it our way. Yet, the great and glorious God, for all God’s breathtaking mystery, and for all of our misgivings and lukewarm investment, is always leaving little doors and windows open for new life under Plan B.
- Jesus died for our sins in accord with the Scriptures;
- he was buried;
- he was raised up according to the Scriptures;
- he appeared to Peter, then to the twelve;
- he appeared to more than 500 others at one time (scholars think this could refer to Pentecost);
- he appeared to James, then to all the apostles;
- he appeared to Paul.
Paul compares Jesus‘ revelation to him as an “untimely”, premature birth. Who could have expected that the Holy God would even think twice about sending a person like Paul out with the Good News: a persecutor of God’s church, one who stood by and held the cloaks of the people who stoned Deacon Stephen to death? But -- and this is the unimaginable wonder and glory of God’s mercy -- “by the grace of God I am what I am.” Even more remarkable is that Paul lay claim to this just to show that he’s an apostle. He tries even harder than the others, and realizes, every step of the way, that he’s not the one who’s accomplishing anything, but only “the grace [presence] of God” working through him among the Corinthians. And, he says, it doesn’t even matter whether it was him or the other apostles: “...so we proclaim and so you have come to believe”.
The heart of the matter for Paul, and hopefully for us, is that the proclaiming, the receiving, and the spread of the Gospel is and must be a networked, rather than a linear ministry. Paul mentions the other great apostolic leaders by name, but surely he would have thought, too, of those many unnamed disciples, e.g., the women at Jesus’ tomb, Mary Magdalene, etc., who were witnesses to the Resurrection [though please note, interestingly, that just 7 verses before this passage, Paul had ruled that “As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches...”]! Nevertheless, Paul wants his hearers to catch a glimpse of what he and we don’t know yet: the glory of our life in Christ to come. He himself is striving mightily to embody it, and his message is to convince the Corinthians and us to open ourselves more and more to grace, which, according to Paul Sampley, is a code word for the “ongoing work of God” which renews our own selves even as we’re sharing that grace with our sisters and brothers.
But Peter patiently indulges Jesus, knowing that, after all, nature is unpredictable, and just maybe... He also knew that Jesus had done some pretty astounding things on their journeys together, one of them the healing of his own mother-in-law. So out they go into the deeps; they cast the nets, and as they begin to reel them in Peter becomes flabbergasted. Fish begin to literally leap into the nets, such that the amount hauled in begins to strain them to the breaking point. [Take a look sometime at Winslow Homer’s 19th century painting, The Herring Net, for an idea of what they were coping with.] They quickly send an S.O.S. out to those in the other boat to come and help. And the boats are filled and close to sinking under the weight.
Peter, the humanly expert fisherman, is, in a flash -- like Isaiah, like Paul -- suddenly humbled before the mighty, glorious God revealed in Jesus. “Lord,” he cries [that’s Luke’s equivalent for “God”], “go away from me for I am a sinful man...” No, Jesus says, not “sinful”, just “amazed”; maybe “afraid”?? “Don’t be afraid...from now on you’ll be catching people.” Peter now realizes that what Jesus had in mind wasn’t just a fishing trip, but an opportunity to get Peter to open himself to God’s unpredictable grace. God in Christ showed up in Peter’s bailiwick, the sea, and bids Peter to let grace, the “ongoing work of God”, reveal the glory of God to others in Peter. Luke’s story here makes it clear that everyone of us in the Church is a necessary partner in grace-giving. When the nets are full of “fish” [read “people”], when the harvest is ripe with “grain” [read “people”], Jesus lets us know that all of us have work to do.
Kim Beckmann writes: “On the day of our baptism, new members of the priesthood of all believers are given a candle. In Christ, we are places where God dwells, revealing lights to the world. Where are our stories in the tradition of those called to bear witness to God’s glory? How is the meaning of our everyday life...transformed by the call to follow Jesus? How do we see ourselves networked in community...?”