To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 6:1-2, 3-8; 1 Cor 15:3-8, 11; Lk 5:1-11
The theme that shines through all three readings today is what God can accomplish in sinful, weak, mortal human beings because of his graciousness and might. Isaiah, though sinful and weak, became one of the greatest of Old Testament prophets after being touched by God. Saul, who was a persecutor of Christians and so, of Christ, became Paul, and after Jesus, one of the most influential figures in Christianity. Peter, who even after being chosen by Jesus and regarded in Jesus’ lifetime as the leader of the group of disciples, denied him when it mattered most. Yet, he became one of the founding pillars of the Church.
What also shines forth in the three individuals who figure in the readings of today is their awareness of their unworthiness, and thus, their dependence on God and on his grace. In the first reading, Isaiah is afraid that, because he is a sinner and lives among sinners, there is no hope for him. Yet, with a simple and single touch, all his sins are wiped clean and he becomes the one whom God will send to his people. He will send Isaiah to tell the people about God’s unconditional mercy and love. This is also the experience of Paul who speaks, in his letter to the Corinthians, of the revelation made to him. On the one hand, Paul considers himself as most unworthy to have received any kind of revelation from the Lord simply because he had closed himself to grace. On the other hand, however, he was the one to whom God revealed a great deal because Paul realised his own inadequacy and weakness. The revelation of the risen Lord made Paul aware of what God could do, in and through him, and he allowed God to work in his life.
The realisation of unworthiness and the conferring of God’s grace find a classic description in the Gospel text of today. Peter had done nothing to merit the call of Jesus or to have him sit and teach from his boat. As in the case of Isaiah and Paul, it had to do with divine choice. God’s call and God’s choice are unpredictable. Secondly, the call to discipleship, in the case of Peter, did not come in a holy place like a temple nor did it come with great fanfare. The call came when Peter was engaged in his daily life. The point is significant, not because God does not call people in a holy place but, because it is a further sign of the work of God’s kingdom reaching into the arena of human life. Luke, by stating that although they had fished all night, they had caught nothing, is probably indicating the consequences of any kind of enterprise that does not have the Lord at its centre. This allows an opportunity for Luke to show both the success of the activity, which is done on Jesus’ word, and to narrate the commission to Peter and the mission in which he will henceforth be engaged. Peter’s protest of his sinfulness and unworthiness is negated by Jesus’ ability to fill him with all that he needs to become a fisher of men and women for the kingdom.
God’s grace, conferred on Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, is effective. It brings forth what it promises. In the case of Isaiah, it results in blotting out his sin and making him an effective instrument of God’s word. In the case of Paul, grace is responsible for the conversion of Saul into Paul and for the unimaginable breadth of Paul’s’ ministry. In the case of Peter, it results in both a realisation of the consequences of his denial and a renewed commitment to the Lord who first invited him.
The voice of God that echoed in the heavenly court at the time of Isaiah, the bolt of lightning that struck Paul from his horse, and the voice of Jesus that called Peter, continues to ask “Whom shall I send?” This is because, though God is all powerful and omnipotent, he does not work alone but continues to work in and through collaboration with human beings. We can respond to this voice in a variety of ways.
One way is to ignore it completely and pretend that we have not heard it. This response allows us to continue doing what we are comfortable doing.
Another response is to give in to a false sense of humility and think that it could never be calling us because we are incapable, or not talented enough, or not holy enough.
A third response is to realise that the voice is calling to us, but to pay no heed to it because the task ahead is too daunting and we do not trust God enough.
However, there is also the way of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. It is to hear the voice, realise our own unworthiness and, even as we acknowledge this, to know that we will engage in mission, not on our own, but with Him who goes ahead of us, guiding our path and lighting our way. It is to know that, though we are of unclean lips, a touch of the Lord can make us clean and whole. It is to know that the grace of God is with us at all times. It is to know that, with the Lord by our side, we, too, can become fishers of men and women.