In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.
They cried one to the other,
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!"
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it, and said,
"See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
"Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?"
"Here I am," I said; "send me!"
I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
of the gospel I preached to you,
which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
Through it you are also being saved,
if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
unless you believed in vain.
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received:
that Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he was buried;
that he was raised on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures;
that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
After that, Christ appeared to more
than five hundred brothers at once,
most of whom are still living,
though some have fallen asleep.
After that he appeared to James,
then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
Therefore, whether it be I or they,
so we preach and so you believed.
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
"Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."
Simon said in reply,
"Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets."
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men."
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
Regular readers of these commentaries will remember that I’ve mentioned Fr. Casper Deis before. He was my spiritual director in my first year of minor seminary. Though he was helpful on many levels, one of the main things I remember him telling us 13 and 14-year-old “kids” was that we shouldn’t be afraid to tell him we wanted to leave the seminary. “I’ll take any excuse you give,” he said, “except one. Don’t anybody dare tell me he doesn’t want to be a priest because he’s unworthy. If that’s your excuse, I’ll personally throw you out of my office, fling you down the steps and pitch you out the front door. Nobody’s worthy to be a priest.”
Actually, he could have gone further. None of us is worthy to carry out any ministry God gives us. Today’s first and third readings take that for granted.
In the midst of Yahweh’s majestic call, something suddenly dawns on First Isaiah. “I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips,” he realizes, “living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of hosts!” In other words, “I can’t possibly do what Yahweh wants me to do. This must be a case of mistaken identity. God’s going to be furious when he/she finds out the wrong guy intercepted this call.”
But to the future prophet’s surprise, Yahweh’s already planned for his unworthiness. A seraph appears, touches Isaiah’s lips with a burning ember and takes care of things. The reluctant man has no other choice. When Yahweh asks, “‘Who will go for us?’” he can only respond, ‘Here I am, send me!’” Obviously when God calls, God provides us with whatever we need to carry out that call.
Simon discovers the same thing in today’s gospel pericope. This professional fisherman makes the horrible mistake of challenging Jesus’ command, “Lower your nets for a catch.” He basically tells him, “You stick to preaching; I’ll do the fishing.”
Amazed when the preacher demonstrates he’s quite a fisherman, Simon “. . . fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’” At that point, this itinerant preacher surprises him more than he did with the miraculous catch of fish. “Do not be afraid;” he says, “from now on you will be catching people.” In one of the low points of his life, Simon’s called to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. No talents to speak of, no accomplishment to fall back on, he can only trust in the person who calls him.
Paul of Tarsus reflects on something similar when reminding the Corinthian community of his own call. He lists himself among those who originally experienced the risen Jesus. But unlike the others, the Apostle classifies himself as “one born abnormally:” literally, one who was born when no one even realized his mother was pregnant. No one could have seen this one coming. “After all,” he recalls, “I persecuted the church of God.”
In grade school I learned that baptism removes all sins committed before baptism. Only when I started studying Scripture did I begin to understand how that total removal actually takes place. It has nothing to do with washing sin away. Baptism makes us new persons . . . just as the resurrection made Jesus a new person. Newly baptized don’t have to confess those prior sins because they didn’t commit those sins. A different person did the sinning.
Following that reasoning, I presume those called by Yahweh and Jesus also become new persons when they accept those calls. At that point they’re no longer restricted by the old person’s limits. No need for Fr. Deis to throw us out the door.