Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, 11
In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell offers intriguing explanations for why some people are more successful than others. Gladwell looks for general rules of success: Is it nature or nurture? Is it innate talent, genius, favorable opportunities or hard work that makes it possible for some to become more successful than others?
In recounting stories of the lives and early experiences of highly successful people, Gladwell proposes various reasons for the extraordinary levels of success that some people achieve. He traces the backgrounds and habits of successful athletes, musicians, composers, fiction writers, businesspeople and even master criminals in search of various factors that contribute to their “success.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples and us a profound lesson with a different perspective on success. Having worked hard at their fishing nets all night, the disciples come up empty-handed. Fishing was part of their daily, ordinary work and they were not succeeding at it.
So they must have known the discouragement we all feel when our efforts and hard work do not result in success. Reading the daily headline news about the world, our nation or the Church can lead to discouragement. We can easily feel disheartened if our efforts to build up and contribute to society or the Church do not bring the good results we hoped or worked for.
Left to ourselves, the human condition is fraught with failure and weakness. Success is often elusive and out of reach.
Jesus tells the discouraged disciples, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” His words must have seemed counterintuitive to the tired disciples who had been fishing all night without much success. It was in turning to Jesus, in listening to and trusting in his words that the outcome of the disciples’ work changed.
Once they obeyed Jesus’ command, their nets were filled with fish to the point of breaking. The disciples learned that relying on the strength of their own efforts often resulted in failure. Trusting in Jesus’ abiding presence and acting on his divine word led to an abundance of good fruit.
Learning to trust in God is one of the greatest challenges of the spiritual life. It is also the most exhilarating adventure on the journey of faith. We may struggle to entrust ourselves to the loving and merciful hand of God. But when we trust in God’s word, we encounter the generous, overflowing action of God and become living instruments of God’s love in turn.
God desires to act in the lives of those who entrust themselves to his healing word and his divine mercy, as the disciples discovered on the lake of Gennesaret. This is the key to genuine, lasting success!
God’s word invites us to trust in Jesus as we say with deep confidence, “speak to me, Lord.”
Reflection Question: How do I respond to Jesus’s invitation to trust in his word?
(Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.)
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