(Ordinary Time – Cycle C)
1 Corinthians 15,1-11
The mystery of the prophetic and apostolic vocation constitutes the dominant theme of this Sunday’s biblical readings. At the root of all vocational call is found the gratuitous election on the part of God that calls to man and woman, appealing to their liberty, to realize a concrete mission in the history of salvation. Vocation always is on God’s behalf: “Whom shall I send?” (Is 6,8), “put out into deep water” (Lk 5,4); it finds its realization through the free acceptation of man and woman: “Here I am, send me” (Is 6,8); and overflows into a concrete mission: “Go and say to this people” (Is 6,8), “from now on it is men you will catch” (Lk 5,10).
The first reading (Is 6,1-2a.3-8) is the narration of the vocation of the prophet Isaiah. Everything happens in the Temple at Jerusalem, probably during a solemn liturgy. It is the “year of King Uzziah’s death” (v. 1). This chronological indication has as an objective to place in the concrete history of the people the manifestation of Yahweh, that every vocation matures and is brought about as a mission in favor of the people of God. The scene opens with the royal hymn sung in refrains by the ministers of the celestial court, the seraphs, whose name in Hebrew evokes the fire and mobility of the sun’s rays, symbol of God. The hymn begins invoking the absolute holiness of God: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts” (V. 3a). The adjective “Holy” (Hebrew: qadoš) indicates the numinous and transcendent aspect of the only and true God. God is the Diverse, the Only, the Holy. The hymn celebrates his transcendence and his uncontaminated perfection. Continuing is added: “his glory fills the whole earth” (v. 3b). The term “glory” (Hebrew: kabôd) is the manifestation of the divine holiness in the universe. The holiness of the Lord becomes visible through his Glory. The Glory of God becomes visible in the words of creation and in his actions in history. Triumphing over the Egyptians and making his people pass through the midst of the sea, the Lord “covered himself in glory” (Ex 14,18). The hymn is accompanied by the smoke of incense that fills the Temple (v. 4) that reveals the presence of God, but at the same time, hides his presence from the sight of men. God is at the same time hidden and manifest, fascinating and terrible. This has been the experience of Isaiah and that of every faithful that goes up to the Temple: the experience of contemplating God that is close and intimate (glory), but at the same time far and absolutely diverse (holiness).
Before the divine mystery Isaiah, discovers more vividly his smallness and the limits of his humanity. Isaiah is a man “of unclean lips” (v. 6). For this reason, he exclaims before the grandiose presence of the Holy God: “Woe is me! I am lost” (v. 5a). The phrase in Hebrew can mean two things: “I am immobile, paralyzed” or “I have been like a mute.” The prophet’s words allude in both cases to a type of death. He has remained immobile and mute as a cadaver. It is the immobility and the silence of death. The Holiness of God has made him experience, also the limit of death, his impurity and his precarious and fleeting human condition. If God does not intervene, the prophet can remain submersed in the world of death. It is in this moment when one of the seraphs comes close and touches his lips with a live coal that he has taken from the altar (vv. 6-7a). Then the prophet hears these words: “See now, this has touched you lips, you sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged” (v. 7b). The divine holiness reveals itself now as grace and life for man and woman. Isaiah, that before has discovered and accepted his sin and his human fragility before God, now allows himself to be purified by Him.
God makes him pass from paralysis and muteness of death to life, becoming therefore a new man capable of carrying to others the word of God. From now on, Isaiah will not belong to himself. For this reason, when he hears that God asks: “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?” (V. 8a), he responds: “Here I am, send me” (V. 8b). This last phrase does not manifest solemnly the availability of Isaiah, but rather above all the capacity that now he possesses to listen to God and to be sent to proclaim his Word. The vocation of Isaiah demonstrates on one had, that all vocation is born through encounter with God and supposes an experience of death; and on the other hand, that all vocation is realized starting with man’s liberty and exacts promptness, spontaneity and enthusiasm.
The second reading (1 Cor 15,1-11) is a confession of faith of Paul, with which he intends to show that his personal testimony and his evangelizing word concur with apostolic tradition. “I preached to you the gospel that you received” (v. 3). The content of his preaching synthesizes it citing a fragment of the first Christian Creed, centered in the paschal mystery of Christ, illuminated by the Scriptures and experienced personally by many believers (vv. 3-8). The mystery of his call expresses it from the double vertex of all vocation: divine initiative (v. 10: “by God’s grace that is what I am”) and the free human adhesion (v. 10b: “the grace of God that he gave me has not been fruitless, I, have worked harder than any of the others”). It is not important to be like Paul, as “born when no one expected it”, “the least of the apostles and hardly deserving of the name” (Vv. 8-9). All vocation is a call to be an option of fruitful and fascinating life.
The gospel (Lk 5,1-11) narrates the call of the first disciples, that in Luke’s gospel, different from Marks, happens after Jesus has begun his public ministry. The golden thread of the account is the theme of the Word. At the beginning, it is said that the crowd pressed around to “hear the word of God” that Jesus preached on the bank of the lake (v. 1); in the center of the narration, Simon, in spite of his common sense and his long experience of being a fisherman, they told him that it was useless to let down the nets, he did it though in obedience to the word of Jesus: “Master, we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will put out the nets” (v. 5); in the end, the word of Jesus resounds (v. 10: “Do not be afraid, from now on it is men you will catch”), that convokes and invites to mission. In the beginning the Word is announcement and teaching, strength that convokes the throng; in the center of the account the Word is strength and efficacious power that makes possible an extraordinary catch; at the end, the Word is call that invites to mission and that founds the vocation of the first disciples. So it is with the Word of God: a word that is announced, a word that demonstrates itself efficacious, and a word that calls and convokes the following of Jesus.
There are two important moments in the account: (a) the dialogue of Jesus with Simon that brings about a miraculous catch and the account of this, and (b) the invitation the Jesus makes to be “fishers of men” and the immediate response of those first disciples.
(a) Jesus, Simon and the miraculous catch. – In Luke’s gospel, Jesus and Simon know each other for some time (Lk 4,38); nevertheless, this meeting on the lake will be decisive and will change forever Simon’s life. After having spoken to the people, Jesus asks him that he put out into deep water and put out his nets for a catch (v. 4). Peter opposes a first resistance because of his competence of being a professional fisherman (that was not the hour for fishing!) and of his frustrating experience from the night before; nevertheless, in the end he trusts in the word of Jesus, whom he calls epistatês, that is not exactly “Master” as is translated habitually, but rather designates someone that has authority over a group, someone to trust (v. 5). For Simon, Jesus is someone to trust; for this reason he opposes trust in him to any other evidence founded in reality or in his experience. An extraordinary catch happens. And Simon reacts shocked: “Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (v. 8). Now Jesus is not simply an epistatês, someone to trust, but kyrios, the Lord. Simon has discovered that the word of Jesus is powerful and efficacious. Simon has intuited that en Jesus is present the strength and the mystery of divinity, that same holiness that made Isaiah afraid (first reading). For this reason, he prostrates himself and recognizes himself as a sinner. Before the power of God that manifests itself, Simon recognizes his limit and littleness. It is not so much the confession of a sinful life, but the recognition of the infinite distance between God and man. Then Jesus tells him: “Do not be afraid.” As in the case of Isaiah, also that fisherman of Galilee discovers that the holiness and power of God do not annihilate man, but rather save him and give him life. That word of Jesus that invites him to overcome fear is efficacious, but not only does it calm him, but rather prepares him for mission. That meeting with God, through Jesus and his powerful word, make Simon glimpse a new horizon. With that experience he discovers his own mission in favor of men and women.
(b) “Fishers of men”. – Together with Simon appear James and John at the end of the account, sons of Zebedee, that were dirty in the work of fishing. Though Jesus directs himself only to Simon, this represents there all disciples that will be called after him. The phrase of Jesus: “from no on it is men you will catch,” indicates the mission that Simon and also him companions are now called. The Greek term utilized by Luke and that is translated by “fishermen” is a participle of the verb, zôgreô, that means to trap alive an animal to carry it to the circus or zoo. For Luke, this is the apostolate: to carry to life. The Christian mission is a carrying of men and women to true life. To be “fishers of men” is to be “constructor of men and women,” it is to consecrate existence to the service of life for men and women.
Vocation is a fascinating adventure to which we are all called to live. It is that call that we all have to obey, that is forged in reality and in daily duty. It is that personal plan that god has thought for each one, that is concretized and articulated along all of life through multiple choices and even renunciations. There are, nevertheless, moments, especially lucid in which one has to take a place without delay and dare to run the risk of uncertainty, in a full abandon to God that calls us, as Isaiah did before Yahweh and as Simon did before Jesus. In today’s gospel the miracle that the word of Jesus realizes is not so much the extraordinary catch, but rather the new beginning in Simon’s life and that of his companions. The event of grace and of vocation and of mission is the true miracle of the account: those men left everything and followed Jesus.