The readings for Sunday, February 7, 2016, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, are
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; and Luke 5:1-11.
The gathering of disciples was much in fashion in intertestamental times, that is, a century or two before and after the birth of Jesus. The great scribes before and after Jesus had their disciples. Even in the Old Testament we notice that some of the prophets had disciples. There were called “sons of the prophets.” Elijah and his successor Elisha (9th century B.C.) had a large following of disciples, “sons of the prophets.” Our first reading of this Sunday is the call of the Prophet Isaiah. Since the liturgy of this Sunday combines the call of Isaiah with the call of Simon Peter (the Gospel reading for this Sunday), it is legitimate to conclude that the call of Simon Peter is also the call of a prophet. A prophet in the biblical sense is not one called by God to foretell the future, but one who is called to bring God’s message, God’s Word to humankind. Although to be called as a prophet is above all applied to those whom the Church empowers to preach the Word, the role of prophet is a gift received in baptism by all Christians — to be spokespersons for God — for example, the role of parents teaching their children the basic elements of our religion. They too speak for God as they exercise their gift of prophecy.
One of the standard features of Old Testament stories of the call of a prophet is the initial objection of the ones called to this work. Our first reading today is a prime example. Isaiah’s call to be a prophet is only implied at first. Already he objects, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” One of the Seraphim flew to Isaiah with a burning piece of coal or charcoal taken from the heavenly altar. He sears the lips of Isaiah, (Don’t try this at home!), and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.” Then Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah is ready. He replies: “Here I am, Lord! Send me.”
Jeremiah, late seventh and early sixth century B.C., is called as a youth. His objection, “I don’t know how to speak. I’m just a kid!” To paraphrase the Lord’s answer, “Don’t tell me what you are. I knew you before you were formed in the womb and I appointed you a prophet to all the nations.” Jeremiah yields to this kind of power. The Lord continues, “You will go where I send you and proclaim what I tell you to say. Don’t be afraid… I have put my words in your mouth.” Jeremiah obeyed but he was never happy in his work. He complained much, suffered much, even accused the Lord of deceiving him. There is much to be learned from the various dialogues between God and Jeremiah. The Lord had to knock St. Paul to the ground just to get his attention and turn him , like Jeremiah, into a prophet to all nations.
Now the prophet Simon Peter. Simon, son of John, (Simon Johnson today) was proprietor of a successful fishing enterprise on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee (called “the Sea of Gennesaret” in this gospel reading). Simon and Co. had come to shore and were washing their nets. Jesus steps into Simon’s boat and asks him to row just a bit away from shore. Jesus sits down to teach. Jesus completes his “homily,” and asks Simon to move the boat into deeper water. Simon already complains, “We have fished all night and caught nothing, but I’ll do what you say.” They cast their nets and the nets were filled with fish.
Just as in the example of Isaiah noted above, the call of Simon is already implied when Jesus commands him to move into the deep water and lower the nets, and Simon obeys. Simon Peter is known for his impulsiveness in all four gospels. He falls at the knees of Jesus and proclaims himself a sinner. Then comes Jesus’ explicit call of Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” No more objections. Luke writes of this conservative but also impulsive businessman and his partners, “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
It can be concluded from archaeology and the New Testament that the matter was a bit more complicated than Luke describes. Neither Simon Peter nor the other apostles left quite all and permanently. Simon Peter included his family in the discipleship to which Jesus called him. To love Jesus above all can include wife and family. To probe the Scriptures more deeply can lead to the discovery of nuggets of revelation.