We hear three stories of call this morning, three epiphanies really; three characters recognizing their unworthiness in the brilliance of divine presence and blessing: Paul and Peter and their holy forebear Isaiah. We witness their religious experience and its reverberations. “Woe is me,” says Isaiah, “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then Paul, only recently back on his feet after falling from his horse, will proclaim, “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.” And finally in the Gospel there is that tremendous haul of fish and Peter falling at Jesus’ knees, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
With the realization of divine favor, there is neither boasting nor complacency but wonder and bitter self-knowledge. In the brilliance of divine light, getting closer to God, we see more clearly who we are. Isn’t it true that the response of a grateful, awe-filled heart is always appropriately- I am not worthy. Noticing the blessing, the undeserved abundance, we see clearly who the recipient is. It is I, it is you, not because of what we have accomplished but because of who God is- all Love. It’s never been about worth, but always about love, and the sweet condescension of his mercy, the tenderness you never really deserve.
Jesus knows perfectly well who we are, whom he has chosen. And so next he tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching (literally in the Greek netting) men”- “netting” others into this relationship of love with him, this web of relationality, of interconnectedness between heaven and all creation that happens when we begin to love as God loves.
Our work is to be seized by astonishment at Christ’s deeds on our behalf over and over again, to see clearly what God is doing in my life, in our lives together. It demands our attention and openness to the epiphanies- to believe beyond all doubt that God is choosing me, choosing us, favoring us, and blessing us beyond our imagining in ways far beyond our often narrow comprehension, ways that are his ways not our ways of doing things.
Raphael, The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, c. 1514,from the Royal Library , England. This drawing is a preparatory study for the series of tapestry cartoons known as the Acts of the Apostles. The cartoons,seven of which survive, were painted in Rome for Pope Leo X and transported to Flanders where the tapestries were woven.