Last week we were made aware of our call to share in the prophetic ministry of Jesus. In our readings today we explore this further in considering vocation and discipleship. We are helped by the wonderful stories given to us of the calls of the Prophet Isaiah, and the disciples Peter and Paul. We are dealing with profound religious experiences that have shaped and determined our awareness of God’s action in our lives.
Simon Peter, the fisherman, is the first to be called personally by Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. His calling resembles Isaiah’s commissioning in the First Reading: confronted with the holiness of the Lord, both Peter and Isaiah are overwhelmed by a sense of their own sinfulness and inadequacy. Yet each experiences the Lord’s forgiveness and is sent to preach the good news of His mercy to the world. No one is “fit to be called an apostle,” Paul recognises in today’s second reading. But by “the grace of God,” even a persecutor of the Church, as Paul once was, can be lifted up for the Lord’s service as an apostle.
Simon put out into deep waters even though, as a professional fisherman, he knew it would be foolish to expect to catch anything. In humbling himself before the Lord’s command, he was exalted, his nets filled to overflowing; later, as Paul tells us, he will become the first to see the risen Lord.
Isaiah’s mystical experience in the temple can be seen to have little in common with the story of fishing on the Sea of Galilee, but they have remarkable parallels. In different sets of imagery, God reveals Himself: there is a human confrontation with the Divine, whether this is the LORD seated high on His throne, or Jesus teaching and fishing with the labourers at their nets. There is the perception of wonder, be it at the heavenly majesty of holiness, or the overwhelming generosity and insight of Jesus. In both cases it leads to a sense of unworthiness: “What a wretched state I am in”, and “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”. Yet the Lord is here with you, but more than that, he wants you. It is not so much that either man is sinful personally, but each is deeply aware of the limitations and wretchedness of humanity, of the imperfect human condition.
Confrontation with the All-Holy should lead to alienation and a sense of futility, but to our utter surprise it does quite the opposite; holiness cleanses, and, for the open heart which recognises and accepts forgiveness, there is a change, invitation, and call to purification. Isaiah and the disciples can now hear the question: “whom shall I send?” and grasp the intention: “I will make you fishers of men.” There is a new impression of hope, strength, and purpose: “here I am, send me.” “They left everything and followed him.”
The stories of great sinners who were called, like St Paul, and St Augustine, illustrate this image, and gives us hope too. If men like these can be called by God, and be used to fulfil his divine plan, then so can we. However far we have travelled from God, the distance back to Him is very small indeed, and we need to come back so that we can be part of his divine plan for the world.