Christian spirituality is discipleship, that is, a positive response to the call of Jesus, despite or even because of our personal unworthiness. In answering this call we have the examples of Simon Peter and other biblical figures, like Isaiah and Paul, who are led by the Holy Spirit. Today’s readings can help us to explore the dynamics of discipleship in terms of revelation, recognizing and confessing one’s unworthiness and accepting the call to share in Jesus’ mission.
All four Gospels describe Jesus’ call to his first disciples from among fishermen in Galilee. Luke’s account is different from the others in two respects: he focuses almost entirely on Peter, and he tells about a miraculous catch of fish (compare John 21:1-14). Everything in Luke’s account leads up to Jesus’ final saying, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men [and women].” The peculiar Greek word zogrein, translated “catching,” actually conveys the idea of giving people life and keeping them alive (as opposed to what usually happens when fish are caught). In this way Jesus invites Peter (and us) to join his mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom and inviting women and men to eternal life.
The first step in the dynamics of discipleship is a revelation. In Luke 5 the revelation occurs in the miraculous catch of fish. Peter and his companions were professional fishermen, but on their own they were catching nothing. When Jesus appears and tells them what to do, they catch a huge number of fish. This surprising, even miraculous, catch was to them a sign or revelation of Jesus’ identity as the one sent from God.
The second step is the recognition and confession of one’s unworthiness and inadequacy. Peter’s reaction may seem strange at first. We might expect a simple “Wow!” But he says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In the face of God’s miraculous action in Jesus and in the presence of Jesus as the agent and vehicle of the Holy Spirit, Peter acknowledges his own sinfulness and unworthiness to become a follower of Jesus.
The third step involves a word of reassurance from Jesus and a call to share in his life-giving mission. Peter, who earned a good living by catching and selling fish, is now called to bring life—eternal life—to women and men. The choice that Peter was invited to make was not easy. It meant leaving behind a stable, profitable business at the Sea of Galilee. It also meant leaving his family, a difficult move in a society in which family ties were very important. The story ends with the notice that “when they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
The same pattern of revelation, confession and mission appears in the account of the call of Isaiah the prophet. In the Jerusalem Temple Isaiah is granted a vision of the glory of God expressed in a remarkably vivid way. His response is a recognition and confession of his sinfulness and unworthiness to be God’s prophet. Then God assures Isaiah and sends him on a mission to proclaim God’s word to Israel. Isaiah responds now without hesitation, “Here I am; send me!”
Christian spirituality is first of all the life of discipleship, and it begins with a response to the call of Christ. It is easy to find the pattern of revelation, confession and mission also in the case of Paul the apostle. On the Damascus road Paul encountered the risen Christ. He repeatedly acknowledged with regret his former life as a persecutor of the Christian movement. And he poured all his energy and talent into spreading the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean world.
The core of Paul’s Gospel was the saving significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians 15 lays the foundation for what Paul is going to say about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for us. He begins by quoting the traditional confession of faith about Jesus’ death and resurrection that he received and in turn handed on to the Christians in Corinth. This summary statement brings us back to the earliest stages of Christian faith. It affirms that Jesus really died, that his tomb was found empty on Easter morning and that he appeared alive to many people who knew him well. It also affirms that these revelations of the risen Christ transformed people—like Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus and fled from him—into fearless preachers of the Gospel and made Paul, the former persecutor of the church, into its most enthusiastic supporter. For Paul the foundation of Christian faith was the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s mission was to share that good news with others and so lead them to eternal life.