“Here I am, send me.” The words of Isaiah, the prophet, echo through the ages of a people who respond to the gracious call of the Lord. Isaiah’s response comes after an encounter with the Divine Word. In this case it was through a vision. He sees the Lord sitting on a “high and lofty throne with the train of his garment filling the temple.” The Lord is surrounded by angels crying out their praise: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”
The picture created is one of great splendor and magnificence. The grandeur of the scene humbles Isaiah who first responds to the divine presence with recognition of his unworthiness. “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!”
The Lord then acts to remove Isaiah’s uncleanliness through the symbolic ember touching Isaiah’s lips. The divine action cleans and purifies. The Lord heals in His great mercy: “See … your wickedness is removed, your sin is purged.” The Lord thus prepares Isaiah for his mission and Isaiah responds: “Here I am, send me!”
The “call-response” theme finds echo in other parts of the Scriptures both in the Old and New Testaments. Abraham, Moses, David, Hosea, Paul and Matthew are just a few examples of persons who were called and responded to that call of mission.
The Gospel passage for today recalls the call of Peter who will later become the leader of the Apostles. When we compare the accounts we can gain an insight into God’s interaction with His people that is reaching fulfillment with Jesus.
Jesus is proclaiming the Kingdom of God and people are attracted so much so, in this account, that they are pressing in upon him by the sea. There is no room for more people. He gets into a boat belonging to Simon Peter and asks him to set out a little bit from the shore so He can teach from the boat. This way more people will be able to hear His words. After He finishes He asks Simon to set out into deeper water to lower the nets. Simon first objects: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” Simon responds to Jesus in obedience though he does not fully understand.
He and his crew set out. The catch of fish is so great that they will need help from an additional boat to carry the catch to shore. In response to the great catch of fish Simon falls on his knees in front of Jesus and says: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
St. Luke tells us that he and the others were filled with astonishment at the great catch of fish. The Greek word used that is translated “astonishment” is one which is used for a reaction of person who encounters the divine. Jesus’ response to Simon Peter is, “Do not be afraid: from now on you will be catching men.” The account concludes with St. Luke telling us that after they arrived at shore Peter, James and John left everything and followed Jesus.
In comparing the two readings we see similarities but also some differences. Isaiah and Simon Peter both have an encounter with the divine — Isaiah through a vision, Peter in person. Peter and Isaiah both have a similar reaction to being in the divine presence – both express their unworthiness. Isaiah says, “I am a man of unclean lips,” and Peter, “Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man.” In both cases God acts to heal. In the case of Isaiah it is through the mediation of the angel who touches his lips with the ember. In the case of Peter it is Jesus’ word that heals and strengthens – “Do not be afraid!”
In the Isaian passage God invites Isaiah to participate in His divine work. The invitation comes through a vision. In the Gospel passage God’s invitation comes through Jesus. Simon encounters God who He will know as father, through Jesus. Jesus speaks for the Father. He is the healing word of God. It is through Jesus that Peter encounters mercy itself. Through this divine mercy he is healed.
The invitation to discipleship is an invitation to faith and mission. Simon is told that “from now on you will be catching men.” The words Jesus speaks foretell the commissioning of Simon Peter for the work of evangelization. His preparation will continue. Later in the Gospel when Jesus changes his name from Simon to Peter the commission will be complete. He is now a new man prepared to continue the work of the Lord.
The saving work of Christ continues through the ages. Through our encounter with Christ we know the Father. In our hearts, we sense our unworthiness in the presence of the divine yet we hear those consoling words of Jesus to Peter spoken to us, “Do not be afraid!”
Isaiah and Peter both remind us that God invites us to share in His saving mission. He invites all of us in whatever particular vocation we have to become instruments of His mercy. At the same time we see in Isaiah and Peter particular vocations. Each one is called to carry forth a specific ministry. Isaiah is to be a prophet or spokesperson for God. Peter’s role will develop in time and he is commissioned to carry out the mission of Jesus. He will be entrusted with the mission itself by being a “fisher of men.”
As we celebrate the Eucharist today we ask the Lord to help us respond to His gracious invitation to faith, to discipleship and to mission. We ask Him to help us respond as Isaiah did: “Here I am Lord, send me.”
At the same time we recognize the vocation to the priesthood. We recognize the need for men to respond to this particular vocation as did Peter. We pray that more men will respond to that invitation in those same words: “Here I am Lord, send me!”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.