5th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8 Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Gospel Reading: Luke 5:1-11
“HERE I AM LORD – SEND ME.”
A mother and father were worried about what career their son would choose. A friend told them to place on the dining room table a $20 note, a Bible and a fifth of liquor. Then they were to hide behind the curtains and observe their sons actions when he came in.
If he took the $20 note, he would grow up to be a banker. If he chose the Bible - a preacher, and if he chose the liquor – a drunkard.
The son came in and put the $20 note in his pocket, held the Bible under one arm and the liquor under the other, and happily walked out of the room.
“Great goodness, Martha,” said the husband to his wife, “He is going to be a politician!”
In the Scripture Readings of today, we have a wonderful set of life-vocation stories – altogether three of them, to be precise. Last week, we heard about the call of the Prophet Jeremiah. This week we hear about the call of another of the major prophets viz. the Prophet Isaiah, and also of the Apostles, Peter and Paul. Now, God has a plan for every life in Christ Jesus and He calls each one of us to carry out the great plan He has for our life. How do we respond to this call of God?
The first story is that of THE CALL OF THE PROPHET ISAIAH, which we hear in the First Reading of today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The call of Isaiah comes in the form of a vision which leaves him both attracted and afraid. He is given a glimpse of the glory of God - of his power & radiance, and of the glory of those who attend him.
This, understandably, fills him with fear. It is not the fear that we experience in the presence of evil or when we feel threatened. Rather it is the fear that comes from being aware of something overpoweringly wonderful - that takes our breath away - and leaves us feeling inadequate and awkward. It is not the beauty and wonder that makes us afraid - it is the awareness of our own weakness in the face of it that can leave us trembling and tongue-tied.
So it is with Isaiah. He is conscious that he is grossly unworthy to have seen this vision - “Woe is me. I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips.” When he pleads his cause, the Lord assures him that his lips and his words will be purified and will speak to the people. When his lips are touched with the coal, the Almighty God speaks and asks a question, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” In the face of his fear and the wonder of the moment, Isaiah responds to God's call in the only way he can: “Here I am Lord - send me.”
The second story is that of THE CALL OF THE APOSTLE PETER, which we hear in the Gospel Reading of today according to St. Luke. It is interesting that Luke tells us that Jesus was standing on the shore and was surrounded by crowds of people - and yet his eye falls on two fishing boats and their crew – Peter, James & John, who were cleaning the nets and making ready for the next trip. We cannot know what Jesus saw in them. The story suggests that they were fully occupied with their task and were not even listening to his teaching - and yet, in them, Jesus saw something that he could work with.
Jesus goes out into the deep waters of the Sea of Galilee with Peter and the other fishermen and tells them to act against their experience and go out and try to bring in a catch – even after they failed to catch anything all night - “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” What these fishermen too saw in Jesus we do not know, but instead of dismissing him as an interfering busy-body, they follow his instructions and bring in a massive, sensational catch of fish. Peter is absolutely overwhelmed by what has happened and suddenly experiences the presence and power of God in Jesus. All his arrogance disappears and he is overcome by his own smallness and unworthiness, and falling on his knees he says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.”
But Jesus raises Peter up and gently tells him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Peter's trust is rewarded not only by a huge catch of fish, but by Jesus' call to become a disciple. Peter, James, and John, overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus, drop everything and follow Him.
The third story is that of THE CALL OF THE APOSTLE PAUL, which we hear in the Second Reading of today from the First Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Because St. Paul was not one of the original Twelve, he sometimes had problems convincing others of the genuine nature of his message.
In today's reading, we see that Paul is anxious to ensure that the Christians of Corinth understand and believe in the resurrection of Jesus. If they fail to grasp that central truth, their faith will be without meaning. So, Paul lines up all the important 'experts,' or witnesses, from Peter (Cephas) on down to himself. With certainty, he claims that Our Lord after appearing to many, last of all, confronted him on the road to Damascus - “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” On several occasions in the course of his letters we read passages like today’s.
Jesus’ appearance to Paul himself was very different - and, like Peter in the Gospel and Isaiah in the First Reading, it is an encounter which sears itself into the memory. Having persecuted the Church and hence, according to Jesus, Jesus himself, Saul (as he was known earlier) had no reason, nor right to expect a vision of Christ and he makes an allusion to the unworthiness of his apostleship because of his sinful actions before his call - “For I am the least of all the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.”
However, as in the Gospel and in the First Reading, God sees things that we cannot - and Paul is called to be a witness to the Good News in Gentile territory; and probably he is the most convincing witness of all, because Christ himself converted him from being a persecutor of Christians to a zealous apostle.
Now, all the three Scripture Readings of today are unusually well-connected in theme:
Firstly, all three of these men – Isaiah, Peter & Paul – were ordinary men and their extraordinary encounters with God became a life-changing event.
Secondly, all three of these men look at themselves as 'unworthy' in relationship to God or the Christ, and recognize their own sinfulness, lowliness and inadequacies in the face of a being that is awesome to them. It is, in fact, a true sign of an experience with God. Anyone who truly comes face to face with God must become aware of his/her littleness and what might be called the shabbiness of his/her life. Like the housewife in the detergent advertisements who thought her washed clothes were white until she saw her neighbor using another brand. Now hers look positively Grey!
Thirdly, all three of these men who were humbled and felt sinful in the face of their God are cleansed by God, and called to do His work: In Isaiah’s case, we have this wonderful image of a Seraphim, an angel of the highest order next to God, who flies down from heaven with an ember from the altar of God, touches Isaiah’s lips and purifies Isaiah, cleansing him of sin, allowing Isaiah to feel that he is now worthy to take up the call of the Lord. In Paul’s case, despite his horrible persecutions of Jewish Christians in the past and his unworthiness in the sight of God, God has given him grace to purify him and make him worthy to take up the call of Christ and preach the gospel. In Peter’s case, we have no need of angels from heaven or visions of the risen Christ. It is Christ himself through his miracle who changes Peter.
The Good News today is that God can take a very human, fault-filled person and offer that person forgiveness and call him/her to holiness. All of us. Not just the apostles, not just the ones who have a special call, but all of us. And God takes us as we are. All we have to do is have some self-knowledge and respond. The response of Peter, James and John was to “leave everything” and follow Jesus. Are we as ready to give up our independence and rely on Christ in order to achieve something better? That is what it means to be called. Will we see our unworthiness before God? Will we see that God’s grace offers forgiveness and a clean slate before God? Will we follow God’s call by letting go of ourselves and putting more faith in him? These are the challenges offered by the Good News today!
Again, Peter, Paul & Isaiah, all three – were called 'to be apostles,' not merely 'to be disciples.' To be a disciple is basically to be a follower of some master or guru. One learns from him and one tries to incorporate his teaching into one’s own life. Obviously, in that sense, we are called to be disciples of Jesus. To be an apostle means to be a messenger delegated and sent out to convey a message or carry out a mission on his/her master’s behalf. These three men were called and, indeed, every person who wishes to be known as a 'Christian' is called, not only to be a disciple, a follower, but also an apostle, a herald, a proclaimer. And it is done not just by words, but by the whole witness of what one is and does. It is a totally natural outcome from 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 center 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.
We may however, say to ourselves - Where is my burning ember to purify my mouth? Where is my vision? Where is my voice from God? Where is my miraculous conversion moment? All these folks were called in a really big way. Where is my big call? A big call wipes out unworthiness. All wrong. Every tugging, pulling, pushing, and little voice in ones head prompting to do something beautiful for another person is a call. Every prompting to share something good is a call.
Yes, we are sinners. We are characters. Yet, we are still called. We are still instruments. God does what He wills. But to hear God's call, first and foremost we must have an experience of Christ, i.e. we must find ourselves in relationship with Christ in all the circumstances of our life. Our call may not be so dramatic - but God still looks at situations in the world and asks us - “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Can we respond to him by saying - “HERE I AM LORD – SEND ME.” And this is the Good News of today.