The prophet Isaiah, fresco painted by Michelangelo (1475-1564), Sistine Chapel Ceiling (1508-1512) Rome, Vatican

God's Word on Sunday: When God calls, response is clear

  • February 8, 2019

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 10 (Year C) Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

Dreams can seem more vivid and real than everyday life. 

We sometimes awake from a dream with a pounding heart and a conviction that we have visited strange and exotic places and done marvellous things. Slowly reality returns, and we realize that it was only a dream.

For the ancients, the gods or God communicated with humans through dreams. Dream-visions guided their lives, gave warnings of dangers and imparted messages from the realm of the divine. 

Isaiah’s dream-vision was life altering. In his vision, he was whisked up to the heavenly court, but he recoiled in terror in such an awe-inspiring and terrifying place. The court was filled with divine power and energy. He knew that he was in God’s presence and was surrounded by angelic beings. 

People of that time were convinced that to be in God’s presence and to gaze upon heavenly beings was perilous, even fatal. They were aware of the deep chasm between the human and divine, and they believed that most humans were not pure or holy enough to approach God. This was one of the reasons that temple worship was hemmed in by many purity and holiness rules — they were to prepare the priest to approach God. 

The seraphs proclaiming “holy, holy, holy” were giving a warning — Isaiah was in another realm, one that required great caution, for “holy” meant set apart. Fear threatened to overwhelm Isaiah. He was a man of unclean lips, living among a people with unclean lips. In other words, he had no right to be there. But he was purified by a seraph touching his lips with a burning coal from the altar. 

Then Isaiah learned the reason for his heavenly journey. The voice of the Lord asked, “Who shall I send, and who will go for us?” A transformed Isaiah was able to step up to the plate and respond, “Here I am; send me!”

Nearly all of the Old Testament prophets were reluctant to accept their call. They were acutely aware of their humanity, with all its imperfections, and they felt unworthy. But in each case, God assured them that this mission was not about them! God is the one who calls; God is the one who enables and empowers. 

The difference between a real prophet and an imposter is that the former knows that it is God’s show, while the imposters believe that it is theirs. We should not listen to the inner voices that try to convince us that we are unworthy to serve God. It is God who does the asking and our response must always be, “Here I am; send me!”

Paul struggled with the same feelings of unworthiness. When he recited the long list of those privileged by an encounter with the risen Christ, he placed himself at the very end. He could never forget that he had persecuted relentlessly the followers of Jesus. At the same time, he had an overwhelming awareness of God’s grace. He understood that the call was about the Lord, not about Paul.

The ordinarily brash and impetuous Peter was completely overwhelmed by the miraculous catch of fish. He had probably been amused and skeptical when Jesus instructed him to put down the nets one more time. After all, they had fished all night unsuccessfully — and what did this holy man know about fishing? 

Now he realized that he was in the presence of someone special — one sent from God — and it unnerved him. He could sense the difference between himself and Jesus, and his own very evident humanity and imperfections made him feel extremely uncomfortable. He begged Jesus to go away, for it was just too painful. 

His reaction was similar to so many people — go away Lord, I’m not ready. Jesus gave a new twist to his role as a fisherman. From then on, he would be catching people. Fishing was a biblical metaphor for the ingathering of the righteous in the last days.  His net would bring many people home to God. 

The metaphor is still alive — the mission of the followers of Jesus is to touch as many people as possible, making them aware of the compassionate mercy of God.

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