Each of the readings this morning tells a story of conversion because of a miraculous initiation on God’s part. In IS 6:1-8, the prophet has a vision of God and the Seraphim, whose voices of praise shook the doorframe and filled the house with smoke. Isaiah lamented because, although he was gifted with this kind of vision, he saw himself as “a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips.” One of the angels took an ember from the altar with tongs and held it to Isaiah’s mouth to cleanse his sin after which the prophet “heard the voice of the Lord saying, Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah answered, “Here I am. Send me.”
Paul’s conversion is recorded as no less spectacular as Paul was struck to the ground and blinded by the light of God on the way to Damascus, having heard the voice of Christ call to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This morning Paul is preaching the gospel to the Corinthians (1COR 15:1-11). As he recounts all the appearances of Christ after the Resurrection, he says at the end, “Last of all 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. But by the grace of God that is what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective.”
Today’s gospel story of conversion can be seen as the first of many in the life of Peter and it is compelling in the physicality of it (Jesus is right in the boat with him rather than giving instructions from heaven) as much as in its similarity to the first two readings. Jesus is being pressed by the crowds so he just walks up to Peter’s boat, gets in, tells him to push out a little way so he can continue preaching without being trampled, sits down and resumes his teaching. I often wonder what that encounter touched in Peter to allow his response to be so seamless – no objection or asking for time to finish washing his nets…especially since when Jesus stopped preaching and told Peter to go out further and start fishing again, he wasn’t so keen, having fished all night with no success. But he did what Jesus asked. The rest of the story is familiar; so many fish in the nets that they filled two boats. The response of Peter echoes Isaiah and Paul when he “fell to his knees and said, Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus said in reply, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching [people].”
So here’s my conclusion which actually arose because of one sentence in the gospel but is built on the happenings in all three stories. Peter, Paul and Isaiah all experienced a shocking personal revelation of God’s power to which each of them responded by speaking of their unworthiness. God did not respond that they were, in fact, worthy; rather in each case God removed their unworthiness which would have blocked them from their mission. Most of us are not recipients of such miraculous calls from God but many of us tend to respond with the same hesitation; we feel unworthy. Paul caught the point that it is God’s grace that allows us to overcome what blocks us from doing the work that is ours. But what is it that helps us to truly see what Paul saw? What removes the blindness that keeps us from response?
What answers those questions for me is the second command of Jesus to Peter this morning. “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” Jesus said. Seen in my life as a metaphor, that statement reminds me that the habits of deep listening and faith are the keys to breaking out of the mindset of unworthiness and trusting God’s grace in all I attempt to accomplish. Success and failure do not matter as much as willingness to serve. God will take care of the rest of the story.