We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters, when really what matters is what we let God do to us
Fulton J Sheen Seven Words of Jesus and Mary
I have to admit that the one thing I cannot stand watching is a horror movie. I probably have an over-active imagination, or get too drawn into the action, and certainly don’t like feeling scared. As humans we aren’t keen on being afraid: we feel powerless, we’re not in control.
In this morning’s first reading the prophet Isaiah has an experience of God’s presence in the Temple in Jerusalem. He does not describe his emotional state, other than what he says speaks of human unworthiness in the divine presence. When he is confronted by the majesty of God, the singing of angels, the smoke of incense, all he can say is ‘Woe is me. For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips’ Isaiah is aware of human sinfulness and the gulf between himself and God. Yet his guilt is taken away, and his sin atoned for – the prophet who will tell of the Messiah, who will save humanity, is prepared for this by God, he is set apart. When God asks ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for me?’ Isaiah can respond ‘Here I am, send me’ It’s quite a journey in a few verses.
Likewise St Paul, ‘the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because [he] persecuted the church of God’ is living proof of the redemptive power of God’s love at work in the world. He preaches Christ crucified and resurrected, to show us that Christ died for us, and that we can have new life in him. God can (and does) take and use surprising people to show us that we are loved.
In the Gospel, Jesus begins by using a fisherman’s boat, so that the large crowd at the lakeside can see and hear him. When he has finished teaching he tells Simon Peter to ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch’. Peter cannot see the point – they’ve not caught anything in the entire night, he’s tired, he doesn’t see the point. And yet he is obedient, he does what Jesus asks him – and they catch so many fish that their boats almost sink under the weight of them, a catch which points forward to another miraculous catch of fish after Jesus’ resurrection (in Jn 21:1–11), it is a sign of the Church, a miraculous number of people given new life in Christ.
Peter’s response is telling: he falls at Jesus’ knees and says ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ it is an authentic human response to the presence and generosity of God – he recognises his own unworthiness and his reliance upon God. Peter is not worthy of his calling, but because he knows he isn’t that’s where God can be at work. The next thing Jesus says to him is ‘Do not be afraid’ – in Christ we do not need to be afraid of anything, if we trust in him, and let his love be at work in us.
Once they reach the land the disciples leave everything and follow him, they display metanoia: they change their heart, their mind and their life – the response of a sinner to the love of God. It can be all too easy to see such passages as we have this morning as solely of interest to those of a calling to the priesthood. That’s understandable, but it’s also deeply wrong. It applies to each and every one of us, here, and all over the world. As Christians we are all to kneel in the place of Peter, to recognise our reliance upon and trust in God, and be prepared to be ‘fishers of men’. The calling of the disciples is the calling of the entire baptised people of God: a calling not to be afraid, but to respond to the God who loves us and saves us, a calling to live out in our lives by word and deed the saving truths of God, so that the world may believe. So that it may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion and power, now and forever