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Sunday Scripture: Called to serve

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

By Terrance Callan

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

A personal invitation has a much greater effect on us than a general announcement that help is needed. We are much more likely to say “yes” to a person asking us to do something than to a request we receive some other way. In part we do not want to disappoint the person asking us, but we also feel that the person may have seen something special in us that prompts the invitation.

The readings for this Sunday tell us how God invited Isaiah to be a prophet, and how Jesus invited Peter, Paul and others to be apostles. As we hear in the reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah’s call to be a prophet came while he was in the temple in Jerusalem. He had a vision of the Lord seated on a high throne, with the train of His garment filling the temple. And there were seraphim around the throne, who called to one another, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with His glory!”

The reading from the Gospel according to Luke tells how Jesus called Simon (i.e., Peter), James and John to follow Him at the beginning of His public ministry. After using Simon’s boat as a platform from which to speak to the crowd, Jesus told Simon to go out into deep water and lower his nets for a catch. Although Simon had been fishing all night without catching anything, he did as Jesus said. And he caught enough fish to fill two boats until they nearly sank.

Despite having been called to follow Jesus during His public ministry, Peter, James, John and others received a second call to be apostles after Jesus’ death. The reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians implies that it was Jesus’ appearance to Cephas (i.e., Peter) and the Twelve after His death and resurrection that ultimately made them apostles. And many others were called to be apostles in this same way, including Paul himself.

One common element in these call stories is that they involve an extraordinary experience.  Another common element is that those who were called immediately felt that they were unworthy of the call. Confronted by the holiness of God, Isaiah saw that he was a man of unclean lips. After his amazing catch of fish, Peter said that he was a sinful man. And Paul declares that because he persecuted the church of God, he is the least of the apostles, not even deserving the name of apostle.  However, despite their unworthiness, all accepted the call to serve.

In the cases of Isaiah and Paul it is clear that they did so by relying on the grace of God to supply their deficiencies. One of the seraphim cleansed Isaiah’s lips by touching them with an ember taken from the altar. Then Isaiah answered the Lord’s question, “Whom shall I send?” by saying, “Here I am; send me!”  Paul says, “By the grace of God I am what I am,” and that God’s grace has been effective in his ministry.

As we reflect on these stories, we can be grateful for the way God worked in the lives of these people, establishing a foundation on which we now stand. And we can also be inspired to discern the call of God in our own lives. Probably few of us have had the type of extraordinary experience we hear about in these readings.  However, it is quite likely that we have felt our own unworthiness as we considered that God might be calling us to some ministry. Perhaps the example of the people we hear about in these readings can help us to accept God’s call in spite of our unworthiness, trusting that God’s grace will be sufficient for us.

Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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