Have you ever felt like you were in deep water? Have you taken on a project that seemed simple enough until you got into it and then you wondered what got you into this mess in the first place? Those of you who are parents, when you have had a particularly rough day, have you wondered why you became parents at all? At work, have you gotten involved in something that became bigger and bigger every time you looked at it and you wondered how it ever got that way? Those of you who are or have been students, have you wondered whatever possessed you to strive for higher education when cramming for an exam or rushing to finish a paper? I imagine all of us could think of a time when we felt like we were in over our heads, and so Jesus’ command to Peter – to put out into deep water – may have for us a rather ominous ring.
But we disciples are constantly invited to put out into ever-deepening water. I’ve said before that God never says to us “hey, here’s something easy you could do for me.” The truth is, whatever we are called to do is always going to be beyond us in some ways. If that weren’t the case, well, then we’d have to wonder if the call were really authentic. If everything comes real easy and there are never any challenges to what you’re doing, then you don’t have to rely on God’s grace, do you? That’s the truth about grace. We’re always going to need it, and if we are faithful, it’s always going to be there. So, although putting out into deep water will certainly be more than we can handle, it’s never going to be more than God can handle. All we have to do is rely on him.
Today’s Scriptures provide us with three different vocation stories. Isaiah, Paul, and the first disciples all relate the stories of their being called to put out into deep water. These stories tell how all of them were changed, little by little, so that they could become the disciples they were created to be. They all receive a call, their unworthiness is noted, grace is received, and they, well, they put out into deep water.
Isaiah’s call, from our first reading today, came in a vision. This vision takes place in the context of the heavenly worship, and is certainly awesome, or maybe even a little frightening, to imagine. Isaiah exclaims “Woe is me!” and proclaims that he is completely unworthy: a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. His unworthiness has been anticipated and a remedy is ready: an ember from the altar is used to purify his lips. After this, the Lord asks who will go to proclaim God’s word, and Isaiah enthusiastically responds, “Here I am, send me!”
In the second reading, we hear about the call of St. Paul. As we know about St. Paul, his call came through a miraculous – and frightening – event that happened on his way to Damascus. He was struck down with a great light, and made blind. Paul’s call to be a disciple is described in our second reading as one that happened in the line of revelation. Christ is revealed as risen from the dead and appears first to Peter, then the apostles, then to some five hundred witnesses and finally to Paul himself. Paul too is certainly unworthy: he was the persecutor of the Christians and even participated in the stoning of St. Stephen. But that unworthiness has been anticipated, and God’s effective grace makes him what he is: a worthy apostle of Christ. With that grace, Paul has then toiled harder than anyone, and made Christ known all over the world.
In today’s Gospel reading, we have the beautiful story of the call of Peter, James and John, the first of the apostles. Here, the Lord comes to Peter in a boat … a symbol of his everyday life and work. The call itself takes place in a setting of Jesus’ preaching. Just like Isaiah and Paul, these first apostles are unworthy. They are fishermen by trade, and have caught nothing all night long. (Not easy for a bunch of fishermen to admit!) But their unworthiness has been anticipated, and Jesus provides for them a miraculously great catch of fish … a catch that threatens to sink two boats and takes all hands on deck to bring in. Jesus then assures them that this catch is nothing compared to the people they will be gathering in for the kingdom. They respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah and Paul: they leave everything they have known: family, work and home, and follow Jesus.
The call of all these men has much in common. First, their calls take place in a particular context: for Isaiah, a vision of great heavenly worship; for Paul, a setting of revelation; and for Peter, James and John, a setting of preaching. Second, God meets them all right where they are at. In the everydayness of their lives, they come to know the call to put out into deep water. Third, they are all completely unworthy of the call. The first apostles aren’t even good at their current job! But fourth, God anticipates their unworthiness and provides the grace to overcome it. Indeed, it is that unworthiness that makes it necessary for all of them to rely on God, because God’s grace is the only way to overcome that unworthiness. Finally, the call is presented and each of them responds enthusiastically, giving all they can give, perhaps getting in a little over their heads, relying on God’s grace, and doing great things for the kingdom.
We are the successors to these great disciples. We too are called out of the everydayness of our lives, with God meeting us right where we are. We are all of us completely unworthy of the call that we receive. But we are all drenched in God’s grace which more than makes up for everything we lack. The question is: will we respond as enthusiastically as Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John? Will we put out into deep water? Or will we hold back fearing that we will get in over our heads?
Our baptism calls us all to be disciples, brothers and sisters in Christ. If we are to grow in faith, hope and love, we must be willing to take that risk and put out into deep water – because no other response is appropriate! We must bring our boats to shore, leave everything, and follow Christ. Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.