Why Did Jesus Call the Unworthy to Do His Work?

Our Sunday readings make us wonder:  Why does God pick the unworthy to do His work in the world?

Gospel (Read Lk 5:1-11)

St. Luke tells us that one day, Jesus was teaching an enormous crowd of people by “the Lake of Gennesaret,” also called the Sea of Galilee.  He saw two empty boats, and He decided that it would be easier to address the people from one of them, if it were “put out a short distance from the shore.”  He chose the boat that belonged to Simon, one the fishermen who were cleaning their nets.  Simon and his partners, James and John, had to be impressed by the effect Jesus had on all these people, drawing them to Himself in droves.  Surely they listened to what the Teacher had to say as they worked on their nets.  Could Simon have imagined that when Jesus was done speaking to the crowd, He would speak to him?  

“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  

Simon’s response to this surprising directive was quite restrained: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing.”  Simon didn’t want to scoff outright.  Was he amused that the Teacher suddenly considered Himself a fishing expert?  Perhaps Simon wanted to let Him down gently, preparing Him to see that seasoned fishermen knew their own waters better than He did: “…but at Your command I will lower the nets.”  Out of respect for the Teacher, not from conviction, Simon was willing to obey Jesus’ command.

The fishermen could never have guessed what happened next.  Their nets brought up so many fish that a second boat had to be brought out.  Both boats were in danger of sinking from the incredible catch of fish.  We know from Simon’s reaction that the men fully understood that they had witnessed a bona fide miracle.  This haul of fish could not be explained any other way.  Simon Peter fully recognized that Jesus was no ordinary Teacher: “…he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’”  Simon knew he was in the presence of Someone touched by the Divine.  The miraculous nature of what he witnessed made him feel the weight of his own unworthiness.  He shrank away from offending Jesus; he felt fully exposed in his sin.  If Jesus could see fish in deep waters, what could He see in a man’s soul?  Simon’s desire to hide reminds us of Adam and Eve’s reaction to God’s presence in Eden after they had sinned; they, too, wanted to hide from holiness.

Jesus, however, knew that now Simon was ready to be His true follower.  His conviction of his own unworthiness, his humility, fully prepared him to become a co-worker with Jesus.  Only a man who knows that divine work is the work of the Divine, not himself, can work the mission Jesus gave to Simon and the others: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”  Paradoxically, it was the deep conviction of sin that opened Simon to a new life: “They left everything and followed Him.”

Simon thought his sin ought to separate him from Jesus.  When he confessed it, he found out the truth was exactly the opposite.  Perhaps that “astonished” him even more than the boats sinking from so many fish.  It’s still astonishing, isn’t it?

Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me be honest about my failures and confess them. When I stay small, there is room for You.

First Reading (Read Isa 6:1-2a, 3-8)

Isaiah, the prophet (who lived about 700 B.C.), had a vision of heaven in which he “saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne.”  He also heard seraphic angels crying out, “Holy, holy, holy!”  This vision of God’s glory was so overwhelming that Isaiah was undone: “Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.”  Isaiah’s reaction to Divine holiness was similar to Simon Peter’s—he had a profound conviction of his sin, as well as the sin of his people.  

In answer, one of the angels flew to him with a burning ember from the Divine altar, a symbol of God’s fiery love, which can be both frightening and yet merciful.  When the angel touched Isaiah’s lips with the ember, he pronounced him clean: “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”  This is the same sequence we saw in the Gospel.  A man is confronted with the holiness of God and is struck to his core with conviction of sin.  That humility leads to purification and readiness to participate in God’s work on earth.  When the Lord asked Isaiah, “Whom shall I send?  Who will go for us?”, he was able to answer, “Here I am…send me!”

Possible response: Heavenly Father, help me not to fear Your fiery love.  I know Your touch will heal me.

Psalm (Read Ps 138:1-5, 7-8)

We see in this psalm a great desire to worship God.  Why?  The psalmist tells us that when he called out to God, “[He] answered me and built up strength within me.”  The psalmist is very aware of how God has worked in him to make him a fit witness to His glory and majesty.  He knows that, because of this kindness from God, he can proclaim: “In the sight of the angels, I will sing Your praises, Lord.”  Again we see that it is God Who makes a man ready to be His servant.  The psalmist is quite confident of this: “The Lord will complete what He has done for me.”  God’s goodness makes the unfit fit.

Possible response: The psalm is, itself, a response to our other readings. Read it again prayerfully to make it your own.

Second Reading (Read 1 Cor 15:1-11)

St. Paul is perhaps one of the most outstanding examples of the theme we are following in our other readings.  He persecuted the Church and tried to destroy it, but “by the grace of God” his life was turned inside out when Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road.  St. Paul was fully aware of his unworthiness: “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.”  God’s grace changed all that.  In fact, the graciousness of God’s grace is never clearer than when we see Him call someone who is spectacularly unfit into His service.  St. Paul’s gratitude made him zealous with energy to toil “harder than all of them” (the rest of the apostles).  He wasn’t boasting; he was simply acknowledging that those who seem very far from God are, when they are touched by His grace, boundless in their joy over God’s mercy.  St. Paul understood that even this greater zeal was not his own doing: “[it is] not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Why does God pick the unworthy to do His work in the world?  Surely it is because of something the Lord said to St. Paul when, at one point in his life, he cried to Him over his “thorn in the flesh”: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).  

So that’s it!

Possible response: Lord Jesus, help me learn not to hate my weaknesses; instead, teach me to open them up to Your power.

image: Fresco depicting Jesus calling of Saint Peter and Andrew, in the Collegiata of San Gimignano (Italy), photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Gayle Somers is a member of St. Thomas the Apostle parish in Phoenix and has been writing and leading parish Bible studies since 1996. She is the author of three bible studies, Galatians: A New Kind of Freedom Defended (Basilica Press), Genesis: God and His Creation, and Genesis: God and His Family (Emmaus Road Publishing). Her latest book, Whispers of Mary: What Twelve Old Testament Women Teach Us About Mary is available from Ascension Press. Gayle and her husband Gary reside in Phoenix and have three grown children.

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