In today’s Gospel we see Jesus continuing His preaching ministry in Galilee. He draws large crowds, so large, in fact, that in order to address them all, Jesus asks a fisherman, Simon, to take Him out so that all the people can hear and see Him. Then, Jesus makes an unusual request:
‘And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”’ (Lk 5:4)
To which Peter replies:
“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” (Lk 5:5)
At one level, what Jesus is proposing looks pointless, a complete waste of time. After fishing all night long and not catching anything, Simon has a point. He does not, however, ignore Jesus’ request, but complies with it. Simon treats Jesus with respect, and calls Him ‘Master’. Then a miracle occurs:
And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Lk 5:6-7)
The miraculous catch of fish is amazing because where there were no fish, there are suddenly enough to sink two boats. It points forward to the large number of people, like those on the shore, who will become Christians. It is a sign of what the disciples will accomplish, with God’s help.
Simon Peter is overwhelmed by the miracle:
‘But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”’ (Lk 5:8)
Peter realises what has happened. This is a miracle. God is acting in the world. It causes him to acknowledge his own sinfulness, his unworthiness, which is a perfectly understandable reaction to the divine. It is parallel to Isaiah’s reaction to the divine presence in the first reading this morning.
Peter, James, and John, the fishermen who have just hauled the miraculous catch of fish in, are amazed. Then Jesus addresses Simon and says:
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” (Lk 5:10)
Jesus invites these Galilean fishermen to catch people, to join in His mission of transforming people’s lives. They accept the invitation:
‘And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.’ (Lk 5:11)
There is an abrupt quality to the calling of the first disciples. They literally drop everything and follow Jesus, there and then. They have heard the call to repent and believe, and they do just that. They change their lives in an instant. Following Jesus should have this effect upon our lives: we should be completely devoted to Him, and live our lives accordingly.
All three readings this morning deal with vocation: the call of Isaiah and St Paul. Isaiah, Paul, and Peter all feel unworthy of their call. This is quite normal, and I know from my own experience what it feels like. I spent over twenty years running away from it: feeling not good enough for what God wanted me to do. It’s ok. It turns out that I’m in good company as our readings this morning make clear.
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’ (Isa 6:5)
Isaiah is aware of his 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, and that’s the point. God doesn’t call those who are equipped, He equips those whom He calls.
Likewise St Paul, ‘the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle because [he] persecuted the church of God’ (1Cor 15:9) 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. That is the wonder of the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. No-one is beyond its reach, or of God’s forgiveness and loving mercy. Peter recognises his own unworthiness and his complete reliance upon God. Peter is not worthy of his calling, none of us are and that’s the point, but because Peter knows he isn’t worthy. That is how God can be at work, in and through our humility and reliance upon God, not upon ourselves. The next thing Jesus says to Peter is, ‘Paid ag ofni, Do not be afraid’ (Lk 5:10). 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.
The message in our readings 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 God can use us for His glory and the spreading of His Kingdom, so that others may come to know God’s Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness. It’s what we’ve signed up for: to profess the faith of Christ Crucified, to share it with others.
This treasure has been entrusted to us, so that we can share it with others, 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. Amen.