Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 10: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Answering the call

Is 6:1-2a, 3-8; Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8; 1 Cor 15:3-8, 11; Lk 5:1-11

An intriguing feature of the Bible is the “call” stories. Great characters such as Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Mary and the disciples of Jesus receive a call from God that dramatically changes the course of their lives.

The first reading is a prime example, describing the momentous beginning of Isaiah’s role as a prophet. In the Jerusalem temple, the prophet-to-be experiences a powerful vision of God. The Lord is seated on a “high and lofty” throne, his garment filling the vast sanctuary.

Angelic voices cry out in adoration: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” At the sound of this thunderous chorus, the temple shakes and is filled with smoke.

No wonder Isaiah is overwhelmed. Faced with the awesome presence of God he becomes aware of his own failures: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips.” Continuing the high drama of this vision, an angel takes an ember from a burning lamp before the altar and purifies the prophet’s lips, purging his sin.

All of this leads to the finale, where the Lord says to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah, moved to the depths of his being, cries out, “Here I am, send me!”

Few stories have the high drama of Isaiah’s temple vision, but there are elements here that appear in virtually all the biblical call stories. First, there is a sense of the overwhelming power and beauty of the One who calls. Second, there is an emphasis on the inadequacy felt by the one so called: Moses stutters, Isaiah realizes he is a sinful man, Jeremiah thinks he is too young, Amos protests that he is only a farmer, Mary has not had any relationship with a man, and so on. Yet, God’s call ignores these hesitations, and imperfect instruments such as these are commissioned to do God’s work.

Both the second reading and the Gospel passage demonstrate that the dynamics of God’s call continue in the New Testament. One of the most remarkable “calls” was that of Paul the Apostle. 

Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ transforms him from being a persecutor of Jesus’ followers to Christ’s most ardent missionary. At several points in his writings, Paul recalls with embarrassment his former life. Such is the case here: “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

But awareness of this did not block Paul from responding to God’s call: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace to me has not been ineffective.”

Luke’s account of the call of Peter and his companions is another exquisite example. Pressed to the edge of the sea by the crowd eager to hear him, Jesus steps into Simon Peter’s boat and uses it as a floating pulpit. When finished, he tells Peter, “put into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” 

The reader of the Gospel knows that with these words of Jesus, Peter and his companions are entering a “water” deeper and more compelling than they can imagine. Peter notes that they have fished all night and caught nothing, yet he accepts Jesus’ command and the result is a catch so great that it threatens to sink the boat. 

At this moment, Peter falls to his knees and joins the long line of biblical characters overwhelmed by the power of God and their own unworthiness: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus reassures Peter and puts him on the way to discipleship: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

Our own call to be followers of Jesus may not have the dramatic tones of these call stories, but we, too, are invited to follow Jesus and to share in his mission. We may think we are inadequate or too sinful, but the Spirit of Jesus calls us to live lives of purpose and goodness.


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