‘Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people. So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.’  Luke 5: 10-11

Today’s gospel reading from Luke includes the call of Saint Peter (Luke 5:1-11) on the shores of Lake Gennesaret.  Simon Peter, having fished all night long, is asked by Jesus to put out a little from the land so that Jesus can teach from his boat.  When Jesus finishes his teaching, he tells Peter to fish again: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Peter reluctantly agrees, but not before pointing out that they had been there, done that.  To everyone’s amazement, Peter and his partners catch a huge amount of fish, so incredible that Peter realizes immediately that this is a divine intervention.  He responds like most of us would, namely, with fear.  He falls on his knees before Jesus and asks that the Lord leave him.  Jesus, in responding, does not leave Peter in his fear.  Instead, he invites Peter to move beyond it: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.”  Fear is the natural response to a display of God’s power, but Jesus asks Peter to leave fear behind and join him in discipleship.

Face to face with God’s power and goodness, we experience both our fragility and our sinfulness.  Fear is, on the one hand, understandable, and on the other hand, not the fullest response possible. God does not want to us to simply fear him, but to love him. He doesn’t seek to intimidate us into coerced action, but to love us into cooperation with his work.  This requires faith and free, personal response on our part.  Such a response is symbolized in today’s gospel passage by Simon Peter and the other disciples leaving everything and following Jesus.

The experience that Isaiah the prophet had of his own calling is similar (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8).  This is today’s first reading, and it dovetails nicely with the gospel.  Isaiah has the same basic interior movement as Simon Peter: in God’s presence, he feels unworthy, fearful, and acutely aware of his own sinfulness. Isaiah self-identifies as a “man of unclean lips” who dwells amidst a “people of unclean lips.” The additional element in Isaiah’s story, however, is that to be in God’s presence we must be purified. Isaiah’s purification is symbolized by the fiery coal that is touched to his mouth by the seraphim. Once Isaiah is purified, he is ready to be sent. In Simon Peter’s story, we know that the purification will be a gradual process. The same is true for all of us.  Once called, however, the process of purification begins — thanks be to God.

A similar theme of awe-struck humility can be seen in today’s second reading from Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). In this reading, Saint Paul reminds the Corinthians of the foundations upon which their faith is built. The kerygmatic declaration (kerygma: Greek for saving announcement or proclamation) that Saint Paul gives is a clear and concise summary of salvation in Jesus. He writes: “For I delivered 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, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.” Saint Paul goes on to say that, undeserving though he was, Christ also appeared to him. His sentiments can be connected to those of Isaiah, Simon Peter, and our own: I am unworthy of God’s personal solicitude for me. However, God’s decision to draw close to individuals is his choice, not ours. Our choice is how to respond. We can ask him to depart or decide to follow … may we all decide to follow.