GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
And so we have to remember here, on a human level, Simon Peter is a professional fisherman. That might not come through clearly, but it’s really important to notice. He’s got partners, there are multiple boats; we learn from Mark’s gospel that James and John, their father Zebedee has hired servants to work the boats, so this is a fishing business. This is a fishing enterprise. They’re not just peasants who have nothing to do better than to fish. They’re professionals and so they know what they’re doing, and Jesus by contrast is a tektōn, in Greek he’s a carpenter or a builder. So fishermen do not like carpenters to tell them how to fish. That’s just a basic rule.
And so when Jesus gets into the boat and after teaching tells Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”, there’s a real test taking place here because as Simon tells him, “Master, we toiled all night and we caught nothing.” So they’ve been out all night long fishing, which is something you’ll see in the gospels frequently, night time fishing. Evidentially that was a plentiful or strategic way to fish; they fish during the night. They fished “all throughout the night”, so it’s morning. So you can imagine, Peter’s probably tired (on a human level), and he’s frustrated from not having caught any fish and this carpenter comes along and says, “Well, hey, did you try the deep water? Go out into the deep water and try and put your nets down and see what happens.” So this is a test. Is Peter going to do the human thing which would be, “I know what I’m doing, thank you very much. We failed. Nothing, caught nothing all night. I’m not about to just go out into the water again and let down a net.” Especially, by the way, if fish don’t like noise, and you’ve got crowds all along the shore and Jesus has been preaching. That’s not really the ideal setting for throwing the nets into the water. And yet, what does Peter say? “At your word, I will let down the nets.”
In this instance, Peter manifests the virtue of humility to Christ. On a human level, Peter’s the expert and Jesus is the non-expert, but as he says to him later on, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man, Lord (Kurios).” He is putting himself in submission to Jesus. He recognizes his unworthiness in the presence of Jesus, so he obeys him. Humility and obedience are the two virtues that Peter shows in this very important story of his call. So they go out and they let down the nets, and they don’t just catch fish, they catch a great shoal of fish, so many that the nets are breaking. They call their partners to come and help them, and when they fill both the boats, there’s so many fish that the boats are starting to sink. Now, I’ve been on good fishing trips before but never have I been on a fishing trip where we had so many fish that the boat started to sink. This is a super abundant catch. This is a miraculous catch. This is an inexplicable event because they’ve been fishing all night and they haven’t caught a single thing. Now Jesus turns everything around, and makes it so super abundant that the boats are starting to sink. When Simon Peter sees this, he recognizes that this is supernatural. He recognizes, “this is a miracle.” He recognizes that only God can make something like this happen, and in the face of the miracle, Peter is struck with awe and fear. We’re going to see this over and over again in the Old Testament as well as in the gospels. Whenever people encounter displays of divine power, they don’t simply say, “wow that’s really cool!” They often respond with fear and trembling, because in the presence of a holy God we recognize our own unworthiness and our own powerlessness, and our own sinfulness, and that’s what Peter says here in these powerful words. “But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down to Jesus knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.”
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
The first point is that when Paul refers to “the Gospel” (using a definite article), he clearly means one message of the Good News — the euaggelion
in Greek — of salvation. So Paul sees himself not just as a great thinker or a great rabbi who has lots of ideas and a great teacher who wants to share them with his congregation and with his readers. No, he sees himself as one who has been sent — he’s an apostle — by God to preach the
In other words, a message of Good News that has an objective content that exists apart from Paul himself and apart from Paul’s own opinions and apart from the opinions of the Corinthians. There’s a specific objective content to “the Gospel.” And you can see this, where he says:
… I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand
Interesting imagery there of the Gospel as like a sphere of reality in which the Corinthians stand — a kind of foundation upon which they stand, so to speak.
…by which you are saved, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain.
So the Gospel isn’t something just to be believed. It’s something to be clung to, to hold on fast to. It’s something to live within. So there are all these different beautiful aspects to the mystery of what Paul means by “the Gospel.” Now he’s going to go on to elaborate a little more concretely exactly what the content of this Gospel is in the next line when he says:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received…
Alright, so pause here again. Very important point here. Paul here basically equates the Gospel with tradition. It’s very interesting. So when Paul says “I delivered” or “I handed over to you what I had received”, the Greek word there is paradidōmi
— to give over or to hand over. And it’s the verbal form of the noun paradosis
, which literally means “that which has been handed down” or “that which is handed over” or (the most common translation of paradosis
is) tradition… tradition.
So you can translate Paul’s words here:
For I [traditioned] to you as of first importance what I also received…
So you see, tradition exists also (like the Gospel) apart from Paul.. It’s something he receives, and then it’s something he hands over. He doesn’t just get to pick and choose what he thinks is the tradition, what he might not like as the tradition. No. The tradition is the Gospel, and the Gospel is a tradition. It’s meant to be received and then handed down.
So what is this Gospel? What is this tradition? What is the thing that Paul received as being of first importance? Well, he says it:
… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Now when you hear those four articles:
- Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures
- Christ was buried
- Christ was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and
- Christ appeared to the apostles
… that should
ring a bell, because it sounds like the articles of faith in the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
And it goes on:
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
So on and so forth. That Creed exists in multiple forms. The one I was quoting is the traditional form known as the Apostles’ Creed, but the Apostles’ Creed — which is a kind of summary of tradition — itself finds a precedent in these articles of faith that are outlined by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
So in fact, some scholars have actually suggested here, that when Paul writes these lines, that he’s actually echoing early creedal formula that are already beginning to circulate in the Church as professions of faith, especially by newly baptized people, saying, “I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus Christ His Son. I believe that He was buried, that He rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that He appeared to the apostles.”
So for Paul, in other words — this is so crucial — the Gospel is tradition. The tradition is the Gospel, and both the Gospel and the tradition (in terms of their form) find expression in these articles of faith that are substantially identical to what we possess in the Creed.
Notice here, as I say that… notice here that the Good News and the tradition that Paul is particularly highlighting have their emphasis — what does he emphasize the most? The resurrection. So he not only says that Christ appeared to Cephas, that he appeared to the Twelve, but that he goes on to narrate these other appearances of the risen Christ to five hundred brethren at one time. This is the only reference we have to that event anywhere in the New Testament. We don’t know what Paul is referring to exactly here. The appearance to James, to all of the apostles, and then he says last of all:
… he appeared also to me.
Now pause there for a second. Why is Paul, in a sense, taking the article of the Creed regarding the Resurrection and like stretching it out and giving all of these details? Well, the obvious answer is because this is the article of faith that the Corinthians are wrestling with the most. As you’ll see later in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul is going to say to the Corinthians:
Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
That’s going to be in 1 Corinthians 15:12. So obviously what’s happening here is that some of the people in the Church at Corinth are denying the Resurrection. So in order to remind them of its truth and importance, Paul goes back to the basic articles of faith — the basic summary of faith, the basic Gospel and the basic tradition — that Christ died in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared not just to one person or to two people or even to the twelve apostles, but to hundreds of people and even to Paul himself as witnesses to the truth of the bodily resurrection of Christ.
Now, I love the fact that in the context of making this statement about the resurrection of Christ to himself, Paul for one thing gives us his own primary evidence to the fact that he encountered the risen Jesus. We see accounts of this in the Acts of the Apostles, where Luke describes it. But here, Paul tells us himself about the fact that he encountered the risen Christ in a singular way.
But I also love that in the very moment that he’s deprecating himself as least of the apostles, he also makes sure to point out to the Corinthians that he worked harder than any of the other apostles. Listen to the rhetoric here; it’s just beautiful. It’s humorous. It’s beautiful, but it’s also humorous, because he says:
Last of all, as to one untimely born…
And the image there is actually of a miscarriage, of a child who’s born too soon, so they don’t live. It’s a very, very graphic image, in fact. So:
… as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
You hear the remorse in Paul’s words here, for his time of persecution of the Church. And he says:
For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But…
And then he turns it:
… by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary…
I love this:
… I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.
The reason Paul’s doing this here… some people might think, “Wow, that’s kind of egotistical or a little self-centered.” But remember, the reason Paul is doing this is because there are some people at the Church in Corinth who are challenging Paul’s apostolic credentials.
So if you go back to the beginning of the letter, some people are saying, “I belong to Peter”, “I belong to Apollos”, “I belong to Paul”. There are these factions within the Church at Corinth, and there are also some people questioning whether Paul is a true apostle, because he didn’t walk with Jesus. He wasn’t like Peter or James, who spent time with Jesus during his earthly life. He actually persecuted the Church.
So as soon as he gives his witness to having encountered the risen Christ, he also has to, in a sense, stave off any potential criticisms that might be made of him about being an apostle by on the one hand recognizing that he’s unfit to be called an apostle. He is
different than the other twelve. He didn’t
see Jesus while he was during his earthly life. He only
saw the risen Christ.
At the same time, Paul emphasizes that he is the apostle who’s worked harder than any of them. And if you think about it, think about Paul’s three missionary journeys. Paul is traveling all over the Roman empire. We have stories of other apostles going to one place or to this place or that place — a couple different places. Paul travels the Mediterranean. He traverses the Roman empire, bringing the Gospel to as many different people as possible. So he’s emphasizing here his apostolic commitment to the Gospel, and at the same time, says… admitting:
it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me.
So I think this is a fascinating passage too, because sometimes people will say, “Paul… he puts all his emphasis on being saved by grace alone, through faith alone. It’s not human effort, it’s not human works.” And there is some truth to that, in the sense that Paul makes really clear that we are saved by grace through faith, and that the initial gift of justification isn’t earned by any good works that we do, although Paul does say we will be judged by works.
But here we see Paul always strikes a balance between divine grace and human free will. On the level of grace, Paul can recognize that everything that he has accomplished, everything that he has done, is all the grace of God. It’s not for him to boast it. At the same time, he recognizes that as a human being, his free will and his effort is essential. And so he says:
… I worked harder than any of them…
So it’s a great example of how both grace and works go together in Paul. Both divine grace (divine providence) and human free will, work together in the proclamation of the Gospel in this case, and in the process and the growth of salvation, as Paul will say elsewhere:
… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you…
So it’s not an either/or; it’s both/and.
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