We are called to be fishers of men | Carl E. Olson | A Scriptural reflection on the Readings for Sunday, February 7, 2015
Is 6:1-2a, 3-8
Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Cor 15:1-11 or 15:3-8
God initiates. Man responds. Jesus calls. Man answers.
Such is the dynamic relationship at the heart of salvation history and at the center of human existence. “Through an utterly free decision,” the Catechism explains, “God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men.” Today’s readings offer a challenging view of God’s revelation of Himself, His call to specific men, and His desire for all Christians to be “fishers of men.”
Let’s take a brief look at three men caught up in the divine drama: the prophet Isaiah, the apostle Paul, and Peter, the head of the Apostles and the first Pope. In many respects they were quite different from one another. Isaiah was likely from an upper-class family, was apparently well educated, and was married to a prophetess (Isa 8:3). Paul was also highly educated, the prize student of the great rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and, prior to his conversion on the Damascus Road, a fervent enemy of the budding Church. Peter was certainly fervent as well, but was a fisherman and a blue-collar businessman. Yet, however different they were from one another, each man was called, in dramatic and personal fashion, to proclaim the Word of God in difficult, harrowing circumstances.
Some seven centuries prior to Jesus and the apostles, the prophet Isaiah had a dazzling vision of the throne room of the Lord of hosts. Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel, initiated contact with the prophet and called him to the task of proclaiming the glory of God and exhorting Israel and Judah to repent of their sins. Isaiah recognized and confessed his own sinful state: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips…”
As the Catechism says so well, “Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance” (CCC 208). When man sees himself in the light of God’s holiness and recognizes his desperate plight, he can then admit his sinful state and be given the grace needed for the work of God. “See,” Isaiah was told by the seraphim, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Paul was also transformed and purified by a heavenly vision. Having held the cloaks of those who stoned Stephen, the first martyr, the young Saul was intent on persecuting the Church in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas (Acts 7:58; 8:1-3). Then, while traveling to Damascus in search of more Christians to arrest, “a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him” (Acts 9:3). As he wrote to the church in Corinth, in today’s Epistle, “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Whereas Isaiah’s sinful lips were purified by fire, Paul’s blinded eyes were healed by the prayer and hands of Ananias, a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Paul eventually spent time with Peter (cf. Gal 1:18), whose life contained more than a few instances of dramatic response to God’s call. Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish sets the stage for one such moment; it begins with the note that the crowds following Jesus were eagerly “listening to the word of God.” Some of the early Church Fathers, such as Ambrose and Augustine, saw this event as both historical and metaphorical: the boat of Peter represents the Church in history, going forth to catch men through the guidance of Christ, the head of the Church. Peter, who would eventually be the Vicar of Christ (Matt 16:16-18), accepted by faith the command of Jesus. Upon witnessing the miracle he responded with the same humility as Isaiah and Paul: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Yet Jesus does not ask only Peter and the apostles to be fishers of men; He asks it of every son and daughter of God.
God is calling. How will we answer? Jesus tells us to cast our nets. Will we?
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the February 4, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)