A Reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah:
In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above.
They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “Woe is me, 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 one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it, and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.
In the former days it was impossibly bright.
The prophet had a vision of the Holy One seated on His throne, the train of His majesty filling the temple. The Holy One was surrounded by seraphim who could only marvel. The walls of the temple could not withstand their wonder, when they contemplated the divine Presence. At the sound of their cries of joy, the doors shook, and the holy place was clouded with smoke. The prophet could not bear the sight; he feared for his life. He, a sinful man of unclean lips, had beheld God. Surely he was about to drop dead.
One of the seraphim darted at him with a burning coal. The coal seared the prophet’s lips, purging him of sin.
From somewhere in that brilliance, song and smoke, the voice of the Lord asked “Whom shall I send?” And Isaiah said, “Send me!”
Now, we see differently.
Now, the Holy One has become flesh, and dwells among us.
He is not in the temple at the moment. He walks by the Lake of Gennesaret, where the fishermen dock their boats. The fishermen go out when it’s still dark to catch the fish, and they come back after daybreak to sell their catch and wash their nets. Fishermen are laboring people; they are not important. They are not educated. They smell, if you get close enough, which of course you don’t. You could walk past the Lake of Gennesaret day after day and never give them a second look.
These particular fishermen are failures. They’ve been in the boats all night long and not had a single catch. There’s nothing but dirty water soaking the nets they’re washing. They’ve wasted hours and hours of work. They don’t have anything to sell or feed their families. It’s a terrible morning.
The Holy One goes down and walks among the fishermen. He walks right past where they’re washing their nets, down to the shore, and into one of their boats. Then he asks Simon the fisherman to put out from shore so he can preach to all these people more easily, without crowding.
Simon, who’s been up all night with nothing to show for it, meekly does as he’s told. Maybe he’s drawn to the Holy One already. Maybe he’s just curious to hear what the itinerant preacher has to say. Or, maybe he’s only putting off going home to his family and telling them about his failure. At any rate, he gets back in the boat and shoves off. They go out a distance from the shore. The Holy One begins to speak. He teaches everyone who stops to listen: the learned and the ignorant, the rich and the poor, but particularly the poor people who make their living on the lake, the ones you don’t give a second look.
After He gives His teaching, the Holy One turns to Simon. “Put out in deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon must have been annoyed with this itinerant preacher. He’s been fishing his whole life, and he knows how it works. The fish come close at night when it’s cool and quiet. During the day, they swim to the depths where it’s safe and you can’t catch them. That’s why fishermen go out so terribly early. If they couldn’t get any fish in the dark, they’re not going to get any now that it’s dawn and a man has been sitting in a boat on the water yelling a sermon at the crowds for an hour. But for whatever reason, he obeys. He rows out to the middle of the lake. He casts the nets.
The nets fill up like magic. They fill with so many fish that they’re in danger of tearing. He calls for the other boat to help him and the fish keep coming, until the boat is so full it’s about to sink.
The temple of Isaiah’s vision was filled with the glory of the Lord until the walls shook, and here Simon’s boat is filled with the bounty of the lake until it’s ready to capsize.
Right there, on the water, in a sinking boat heaped impossibly high with dead fish, Simon realizes what is happening.
He falls to his knees. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
And no seraph comes to burn him. Nothing like that happens.
There is only the Holy One, a man, sitting there smiling at Simon among the torn nets and comically large catch, onboard a sinking boat.
“Do not be afraid,” says the Holy One, forgiving everything that’s come before. “From now on you will be catching men.”
Simon follows. His partners, the sons of Zebedee, go with him. They leave the nets, the boat, the marvelous bounty of fish. Presumably the people who came to listen to the preaching get a free lunch. The fishermen leave everything and go where the Holy One leads, to learn how to catch men.
All around, the Seraphim exalt in their never-ending canticle of wonder and awe. But Simon cannot hear them, not yet.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
Steel Magnificat operates almost entirely on tips. To tip the author, visit our donate page.