This week’s readings, like so many other scripture stories, remind us that we don’t have to be perfect to be called and sent by God. In fact, God often chooses us in spite of our imperfections, limitations, worries, and fear. Like a potter patiently molding a lump of ordinary clay into something useful, beautiful, and extraordinary, the patient hands of God gently and lovingly sculpt us to reveal our true “self” and show us what we could be. The characters we encounter in this week’s stories are ordinary folks, going about their daily businesses, who deem themselves unworthy to be God’s collaborators. Knowing the depth of fear, and perhaps pride, in the human heart, God equips each of these individuals with the exact amount of grace and humility needed to “put out into the deep water” and catch people instead of fish (Lk 5:4). These stories are not only about the call, but also the transcendence of one’s heart and soul: from fear to courage, from tentative to tenacious, from confusion to clarity.
Like the individuals we encounter in this week’s reading, most of us would certainly have many creative and even reasonable excuses to turn down God when He comes knocking on our doors! When God knocks on Isaiah’s door, quite literally, “the frame of the door shook” and smoke fills the house (Is 6:4). Isaiah’s immediate response is fear and confusion as his “eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is 6:5). According to traditions, “no one shall see [God] and live” (Ex 33:20)! Isaiah admits that he is “doomed” for he has “unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips”, hence, unworthy of being in God’s presence (Is 6:5). His excuse of “unclean lips” is immediately countered by the seraphim flying to him with a red hot ember “taken with tongs from the altar” (Is 6:6). Once touched by the ember, Isaiah “wickedness is removed” and his “sin purged” (Is 6:7). The smoke has finally dissipated! When God asked, “Whom shall I send”, Isaiah, now equipped with courage, tenacity, and clarity, responded, “Here I am … send me!” (Is 6:8).
St. Paul shares Isaiah’s humility and intense awareness of his own sinfulness, “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, … I have toiled harder than all of them” (1 Cor 15: 9-10). In his letter to the Corinthians, he has demonstrated complete openness and a child-like confidence in God; the God who has literally knocked him off his high horse, blinded him; “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank”, and led him along the path of conversion (Acts 9:9). In fact, it is God who seeks out Saul, an enemy of God’s people, and molds him into a faithful servant and missionary for God’s kingdom. Indeed, Paul’s commitment to his mission is extraordinary but he emphasizes that it is not him; not by human effort, “but the grace of God that is with [him]” (1Cor 15:11). Paul’s complete submission to God’s will empowers him to be a beautiful instrument of God.
The call of Simon Peter, James, and John is a story no less extraordinary than that of Isaiah or Paul. It seems that Simon the fisherman just happened to be at the right place at the right time, the shore of Lake of Gennesaret, where Jesus was looking for a boat. Already exhausted after a night of hard work on the water but without much success, Simon still acted on Jesus’ “command”: “Put out into the deep water” (Lk 5:4). As a result, he ended up with the largest catch of his life! He immediately “fell at the knees of Jesus” and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Like Isaiah, he feels small and unworthy; however, Jesus raises up this ordinary fisherman to lead His Church. Knowing the fear and doubts in their hearts, Jesus said to Simon, James and John, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5:10). Seeing clearly their life’s purpose and mission for the first time, Simon, James, and John immediately “left everything and followed [Jesus]” (Lk 5:11).
Indeed, if we recognize who is calling us, there’s no reason for us not to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me”, Yet, too often we are full of excuses, and as a result, missing all the wonderful opportunities that the Lord has laid before us. When we say, “I’m busy”; “I’ve tried”; or “I’m exhausted”, deep down, we are really saying, “I’m a sinner”; “I’m not worthy”; and most of all, “I’m afraid”. Like Isaiah, Paul, Simon Peter, James and John, none of us is perfect and fully prepared for God’s call; yet, God comes knocking at our doors when it’s the right time. While we are weak, exhausted, hopeless, and sinful, God calls each by name to a greater purpose in life and tells us not to be afraid. As Paul teaches, God’s grace is greater and more potent than any of our excuses and human logic. Therefore, let us take courage, be tenacious and focused, place ourselves in the skilled hands of our potter and let Him mold us into who we are meant to be, beautiful instruments sharpened to build God’s kingdom.