Christ says: Give me this fisherman, this man without education or experience, this man to whom no senator would deign to speak, not even if he were buying fish. Yes, give me him; once I have taken possession of him, it will be obvious that it is I who am at work in him. Although I mean to include senators, orators, and emperors among my recruits, even when I have won over the senator I shall still be surer of the fisherman.
The senator can always take pride in what he is; so can the orator and the emperor, but the fisherman can glory in nothing except Christ alone.
Remember this fisherman then, this holy, just, good, Christ-filled fisherman. In his nets cast throughout the world he has the task of catching this nation as well as all the others. So remember that claim of his: “We have confirmation of what was prophesied. ” — St Augustine
Three sentences stand out in today’s mass readings: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah); “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” (Paul of Tarsus); “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Simon Peter).
In a biblical scheme of things, these can and are considered a typical if not required part of the standard call narrative of a prophet. The sequence goes like this: a) there is a theophany, b) within the theophany there is a specific call to the future prophet to start a new life of being God’s living and walking reminder of the will and acts of God, c) the future prophet, by this time in a state of bowel moving terror, declines for what seem like valid reasons, d) God dismisses the prophet’s objections, e) God sets out the new life that the prophet will lead. Our three sentences above are part “c)” in the sequence of prophet call events.
In the book of Luke we have already read one call narrative. It was early on and part d) was slightly modified, but it is the call of Mary of Nazareth to become the bearer of God. In that encounter, the tone seems to be more one of asking permission, or that is how it is usually interpreted and read.
We have also had a prophetic call by proxy: The calling of John the baptist. John does not get a voice in it at all. Instead, Zechariah is called to become his father and after that all is set up for John’s ministry. He is never asked in any Gospel account whether he wants to be part of this. It just happens. One might say that while Jeremiah is called before he is born, from his mother’s womb (Jer 1:5), John is called before he is even conceived. In Jeremiah, we also have a followup in which God basically says: “You were born for this.”
In the calling of Peter, we have an added little twist. Somehow Jesus has just gotten done preaching which Peter probably expected of Jesus who had a name as a preacher by then. What Peter, Andrew, James,and John — and Zebedee for that matter — did not expect was that Jesus knew their business better than they did.
We might look at it as a call all in its own. Jesus calls them to do the job they already did and thought they had completed for the day. They, like all good prophets and probably anyone ever called to do the will of God, reply that what Jesus suggests is foolishness. Jesus’ answer is a boat sinking under the weight of fish, the very prize Bar-Jonah and Bar-Zebedee Seafood LLC is seeking.
In a way, Simon Bar-Jonah’s call is like that of Ezekiel. The theophany overwhelms him. Ezekiel has to be called a second time after sitting speechless at the banks of the Kabar for three weeks. Simon needs a second assurance as well.
It is charming to read the call narratives in state not quite unlike John the Baptist. In a Lutheran pew there sit many who like John became followers of Jesus before they could speak of think and in most of our cases, arrangements for our baptisms was made before we were born.
There also sit many who were baptized in older years. Yet, for most of them even, that moment, though remembered, has been morphed by the process of remembering. Science says that we remember things in a peculiar way. Something happens and reprograms our brains with a trace of itself. As we remember it that part of the brain restructures once more. As we remember again we do not really remember. Instead we remember that we remembered. This is how stories of the good old days come stories of the good old days.
It might be pointless for us to ask each other to remember our calling. It might however not be strange to remember our calling if by that we mean the invitation to the work to which we have been set. Like Isaiah, Paul and Peter, it is important to have a clear sense who we are in the scheme of the things done for God. There can never be even the slightest sense of worthiness. Luther’s sacristy has this right: I am not worthy to speak or touch. This cannot happen because of me. It must happen in spite of me. Only you, O Lord, can make it happen.
But what if what God intends through our work does indeed happen? What if the boats do get into danger of sinking, so to speak? These are times of peril for us. Pride crouches at the door. A sense of overwhelming might wait for us. Maybe even an Elijah like despair: “It will not matter. It will not be enough.”
We are all in need of the attitudes of Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. It is the only attitude that is capable of carrying on whether the boat is full or empty right then. It is the attitude that remembers who God is and even more recalls what we are not. It is in this manner that confession is good for the soul and it should probably attend our prayer more.
The proud count fish and speak of their heavenly visions. The servants of God speak of the thorns in their side and the suffering of their lives but then witness to the greatness of Jesus Christ.