Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Today’s readings tell us of the experience of divine presence and the human response of the individual. We have here three important persons mentioned in the Bible: Isaiah, Paul and Peter. All the three persons were most grateful to God for having chosen them and they did make a great effort to answer the calling to the best of their capabilities. This is not to say that they were all perfect persons. Prophet Isaiah wished at times that God would have chosen someone else because the people would not listen to him. He viewed himself as a great sinner among sinners, not worthy of being in the presence of Yahweh. St. Paul started on the wrong track by persecuting the Christians. He having persecuted the Holy Catholic Church instituted by Jesus viewed himself as being unfit of being called an apostle. Peter the first Pope, begged Jesus to get away from him because he was a sinful man. He ran away from his master and denied him during the last twenty- four hours of His life. All of them were weak. All of them made mistakes. But what was most important, all of them had sincere hearts and overcame their weaknesses by placing their complete trust in the Lord. Each person responded in a unique way to the divine presence and looked as if he meant just the opposite. There was a desire to cling to the Lord and not leave his presence, having experienced his grace functioning in their life. When they found themselves unworthy to be before him the Lord turned to them and filled them with his grace to be sent out as his messengers.
The readings of today tell us of the calling or the vocation of the person. In the biblical sense the word “to call,” is explicitly associated with an invitation from God. The calling of God always proceeds from God’s grace and is an invitation to participate in the blessings of God’s creation through that same grace. The call is always connected to the mission where the individual concerned is called upon to do a particular task. The first reading of today begins with the death of King Uzziah but at the same time Isaiah sees vision of the God of Israel seated on a high and lofty throne in the Kingdom of Heaven. God is surrounded by loyal servants identified as the Seraphim, those associated with fire, burning and smoke. This is the only time these servants make an appearance in the Bible. The Seraphim provide the immeasurable holiness of God. They proclaim God’s glory on earth. The people if Israel as God’s chosen people are supposed to reflect the holiness of God. But they have been disloyal and do not manifest that holiness. The Prophets are to be the messengers and he has the calling or vocation to be his messenger to proclaim that holiness. In the Gospel Simon Peter immediately recognises Jesus as the Lord. Like the prophets of the past he proclaims his unworthiness in the presence of his Lord. James, John and Andrew share Peter’s awareness and they too leave everything and follow Jesus. This is a special call, a vocation to be with the Lord, to be his followers and spend their life time with him and be the fishers of men. The success of their mission will never be attributed to them but to the power of the Lord. Paul also received his calling, his vocation at a very crucial moment. He had taken up the mission to destroy the followers of Jesus and he was on his way to attack them. Then he encounters the Lord in a vision and a special call is given to him to be his disciple. Paul responds to him immediately and totally and fulfils the mission and vacation given by the Lord.
All these three readings invite us to consider three interlocking elements of our Christian living namely, faith, experience and discipleship or mission. In the Second Reading St. Paul gives us a brief summary of our Christian faith pointing to the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. These events fulfil the scriptures and bring salvation to the world. This is our faith in the Gospel of Jesus. To build up this faith in Jesus, Paul recounts the appearances of the risen Jesus to several people. Paul adds his own experience of the risen Lord as a clinching argument. Since he was the persecutor the appearance of the resurrected Jesus shows the power of God’s grace. Faith is man’s response to the revealed word of God. God reveals himself to us continuously through word, persons and situations. Our Christian faith implies a deep level of trust in the Lord and depends totally on him. A real faith not only accepts the content of God’s message but involves a total surrender of one’s self to God allowing God to act in his life.
This was the attitude of Peter and his companions at the lake towards Jesus as we heard in the Gospel. Peter and his companions were experts when it came to fishing in that lake. They knew their work well. But even so, after a whole night’s work they had nothing to show for their efforts. Their entire work was in vain. Then Jesus, after he had finished teaching the crowds suggests that they go out into the deep water and let down their nets. There is an element of hesitation and scepticism and to some extent condescension in Peter’s reply. “We know about fishing and we have spent the entire night in vain, but if you a lay person and preacher of Good news say so, I will let out the nets.” The result was overwhelming and totally beyond their expectations; their nets could hardly hold the catch. It was their first test of faith in Jesus. They responded to the words of Jesus and saw the results. The same words we will hear some times in our life: “Go out into the deep water, the place where you seem to have failed. Trust me completely and let go everything and you will be in for a pleasant surprise.” Jesus surely will do marvellous things in our life. What the church has done down the centuries is the response to such an invitation of Jesus by trusting in him and letting go of everything. It is clear that the huge catch of fish is just a symbol of what Peter and his successors would do later in the Church. For the early disciples it was not merely believing Jesus but more importantly, believing in Jesus. It is an element of total trust in him.
The second key word is “experience”. In every human and religious situation, an experience is linked with faith or trust which is in fact entering into the inner depth of origin or source. It is a total and complete encounter with the other. Prophet Isaiah has the experience of cleansing that comes out of the divine presence and the touching of his lips by a burning coal from the altar. This leads him to a total purification. Paul experiences the Risen Lord appearing to him and making him totally blind. He had to be led away by some one to the destination the Lord had chosen. This experience opens to him a new vision of Jesus the Master and he is totally transformed. He asks the Lord what he should do and the Lord tells him. In the Gospel Peter and Andrew and later James and John, are deeply immersed with the experience of the miraculous catch of fish and are ready to leave everything, their work and parents and live that experience with Jesus. Thus to be a Christian is first and foremost to have an experience of Christ. It is to find oneself in relationship with him in all the circumstances of one’s life. It is to find him challenging to love, to have compassion, to practise justice, to live in freedom, to be able to forgive and be reconciled, to be kind, gentle and accepting. It is to seek, to find and to respond to him in every situation and thus experience him deeply.
Finally, there is the call to the discipleship or the mission. To be a disciple is basically to be a follower of the master, understand his life and teaching and make it personal. The disciple learns from the master all he can teach and his very life expresses this by putting all the knowledge into practice. In this sense, we too are called to be disciples of Jesus. We transmit to others what Jesus is to us. That is the mission of the disciple. Prophet Isaiah once he is cleansed by the divine presence has the mission. He responds to God and says here am I ready to do your will. We have Paul, not particularly known for his modesty, says: “I am the least of the apostles… I hardly deserve the name apostle.” Yet he knows his mission. He immediately starts proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. Peter and his companions too are chosen now to be the disciples and apostles and given the mission: from now on you will be fishers of me. We are not certain whether they understood their mission; but they leave everything and prefer to be the disciples of Jesus. It is a natural outcome of the faith that we have in Jesus which leads us to the unique experience and joy of knowing him and putting him unconditionally at the centre of our life. That is an experience that we must share, not because we are told to but because we cannot help doing so. True discipleship of itself overflows into apostleship. On that day when the master called them, Peter, James and John left everything and went after Jesus.
God reacts immediately to the sincere state of mind and heart of his children as we saw in the scripture readings. He forgave the sins of each one of them and gave them a mission to fulfil. Isaiah was called to bring the Israelites to repentance. Paul was called to bring the gentile worlds to follow Jesus. Peter was called by Jesus to assist Him in His ministry and to provide leadership to the Church after the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus never left us alone. Over and above His physical Divine Presence in the Holy Eucharist, He has given us many visible gifts that can be seen with our eyes. These gifts are the strength of our living faith in the blessed hope that awaits us all. Above all he has given our vocation and mission to be loyal to him and fulfil his will in this world of today. The Lord who sends us does not require that we be perfect, but he does expect us to leave other things behind and make commitment to discipleship.
Soon after the miraculous catch of fish, Simon Peter becomes a follower of Jesus. He calls Jesus “Lord”—the title given to Jesus after his Resurrection—and protests his worthiness to be in Jesus’ presence. Today’s Gospel, therefore, marks a turning point in the relationship between Jesus and Peter. Jesus gives Simon a new job, telling him that he will become a different kind of fisherman. No longer will he catch fish; instead he will catch people. In these words, we hear the beginning of the leadership role that Peter will have within the community of disciples. Peter was chosen for this role. His task will be to bring others to Jesus. Jesus today invites us to play the same role of leadership to bring many to Jesus.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ Rome