Fifth Sunday of the Year C: February 6, 2022
Fr. John Tran
The readings this Sunday all speak about a call. Isaiah is called while praying in the Temple; Paul is called while riding a horse with the purpose of persecuting Christians; Simon, James, and John are called while fishing for their livelihood. There is one more element in common: that of fear and unworthiness. Let us explore these themes; are they just of interest for what they say about others, or is there some direct meaning for us today.
Let’s take Isaiah. Isaiah is devoutly praying in the Temple and the Lord decides for him to see and experience the reality of God’s dwelling in the Temple with the angles worshiping him. What an experience! Isaiah is brought into the highest level of prayer. What is his reaction? It is one of fear, of not being worthy to be there in the presence of God and the angles. Now God and his angels were in the Temple every day, but on this day, Isaiah was allowed to see the reality which was hidden on ordinary days. And probably Isaiah is afraid for his life, since he knows he has unclean lips as do all the people of Israel. What is he to do? But God senses his feelings and has an angel symbolically cleanse his lips with the burning coal. Then what? God lets Isaiah know that He needs Isaiah: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me.?” And Isaiah says, “Here I am...send me!” And so in an instant, Isaiah’s life is change forever: In his close contact with God in prayer, God chooses to let him see God and allows Isaiah to become his prophet, the one who speaks for him in the prophet’s own day and time.
Next we look at Paul. Paul is a religious man; he takes his Jewish religion seriously; Paul is a devout Pharisee, one of his religions most strict parties. Paul is so devout that he wants to see this new cult in the Jewish faith done away with because it will break up the faith and the nation. So Paul is setting out to persecute these new believers in Jesus Christ. Just as Paul is getting ready to put his great plan into practice. he is knocked of his horse and has an encounter with the very Jesus Paul is persecuting. This encounter fills Paul with fear; he cannot see; he finds out that the one he is persecuting is the Lord. This encounter changes his live; it is never the same again. And, Paul realizes that he is the least of the apostles: his whole life will now be spent in bringing Jesus’ message to all peoples.
In the Gospel we come to the story of the call of Simon, James, and John. They are fishermen who have been out all night trying to catch some fish so that the can sell them and provide for themselves and their families. It has not been a good night. Night is the best time for fishing, and now that it is gone, they have to face the reality that there will be no sales today. Then, Jesus comes to them and asks to use their boats so that he can better address the crowd on the shore; the fishermen know that Jesus is preaching Good News about God. They may even be listening as they clean their nets. But then Jesus tells them to row out from shore and cast their nets for a catch; they are tired. It is not a good time of day to fish; they are tired from trying and probably do not what to try again. But as Simon says, “Master, we have worked hard all night, but at your command I will lower the nets.” And what happens? They catch enough fish that two boats are almost sinking. And what is the reaction? “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” The same reaction as Isaiah has had and Paul will have. Again they are reassured: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Are we surprised that this changes their lives forever? From then on, they would walk with Jesus, and eventually carrying on Jesus’ work after the Resurrection.
We see a pattern here. Encounter with God; feeling fear and unworthy; a life change that has them speaking for God - being God’s voice, hands and feet. What about us today? We may or may not have experienced God in prayer in a special way; we may or may not have encountered God while going about our ordinary business; we may or may not have been changed is such a way as to become God’s mouth, hands or feet. If we have, we need to wake up and be those things for God. If not, what are we waiting for? Perhaps now is the time for us to change our attitudes and how we live; change what we make the most important things in our lives; take up the cross, be the resurrection, for others. In one way or another, if we are in this church today, we have had the opportunity of encountering the Lord. Let us recognize it and become who he needs us to be: his voice, his hands and his feet.
I’d like to close with these words of St. Augustine:
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has the eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men and women. That is what love looks like.
-- St. Augustine of Hippo