In today's three lessons, obviously we have three examples of God's call to people to carry on God's work, especially the prophetic ministry to proclaim God's message. In the case of Jesus, we call it the Good News, the Gospel. Each of these calls are distinctive and yet very similar. Isaiah was in the temple praying. Obviously, he was a man who was holy, committed to God already. During his prayer he has this extraordinary experience of God's presence.
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
He hears the seraphim, angels crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory." Isaiah was overwhelmed. The word "holy" means separate, apart, other, transcendent. God is totally "other" and Isaiah feels his total unworthiness to be in this presence of God. He proclaims, "I am a man of unclean lips and come from unclean people, sinners."
But he's reassured, and one of the angels takes a coal and touches his lips to purify him, cleanse him of his sinfulness. At that point Isaiah then hears God saying, "Whom shall I send?" Isaiah is now ready. "Here I am Lord. Send me." It is a beautiful account of a conversion, of a call, and of a readiness to do God's work. The second lesson doesn't give it in detail, but we know the story. Paul adverts to his conversion. He had been one who had persecuted the Christian community, the disciples of Jesus. He was trying to destroy them.
But as we recall, as he was on his way to Damascus to take Christians and bring them back for trial and imprisonment, he was knocked to the ground and experienced the presence of Jesus saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who?" Saul says. "It is I, Jesus, whom you persecute." Paul realized that Jesus was present in that community of disciples. Jesus is alive, he's in their midst, and Jesus is calling him.
So Paul gets up and his whole life is changed. He begins to be a disciple of Jesus, one who proclaims the message of Jesus, carries on as a witness to testify to Jesus. In the Gospel lesson again, these ordinary fishermen doing their ordinary work. Jesus borrows one of their boats and teaches. But then afterwards, asks them to push out into the deep water and let down their nets. As Peter says, "We've done that all night and there's nothing."
But because Jesus had asked it, he said, "I'll do it." Then there is this overwhelming abundance of fish. Peter is stunned. Scripture commentators tell us that this event probably was a post-resurrection experience of Jesus. Peter has this deep awareness now that is being confirmed over and over again after the resurrection that Jesus is the Son of God. Like Isaiah -- "Depart from me. I'm a sinner." Jesus says, "No, I want you to follow me." Again, asking Peter and the others to carry on the prophetic work of Jesus to proclaim God's message, God's good news.
Here too, Peter, James, John, and the others leave everything and follow Jesus. We might ask ourselves, does God still call people like this? Is God still calling people, perhaps me to be a disciple, to carry on the prophetic work of Jesus, to proclaim the Good News, to try to change the minds, hearts, and understanding of people to follow the way of Jesus in order to bring about a transformation of our world so that it becomes the reign of God? Is God calling?
The answer of course is, yes. In fact, all of us who are baptized have been called. Jesus, present in the church, called us at the moment of our baptism through a representative of the church. You may remember, and if you don't, the next time you attend a baptism, notice at one point the minister anoints the person being baptized and says, "As Jesus was anointed priest, prophet, and king, so may you be anointed, filled with the life of Jesus." In other words, you become the priest, the prophet, and the ruler.
The prophetic call is given to everyone who is baptized. As Jesus was anointed priest, prophet and king, so are you anointed as a member of his body unto everlasting life. So, God does still call. God has called each of us. What is our response? Isaiah -- "Here I am Lord. Send me." Paul immediately changes his whole life once he understands, hears the call of Jesus, and becomes the prophetic voice of Jesus proclaiming the Good News. Simon Peter, James, John -- the other disciples leave everything and follow Jesus. Jesus has called us.
Are we ready to change our lives and follow him, take up that ministry of proclaiming the Good News, become the prophets of Jesus today in our world? This Sunday is a very good Sunday for these lessons to be given to us to reflect upon because on Wednesday of this week we begin the season of Lent. We must remind ourselves that Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate the resurrection, the new life of Jesus, but also to celebrate our immersion into that new life through our baptism.
On Holy Saturday night, Easter Sunday we rejoice in the risen Lord, but we rejoice also that the risen Lord has poured forth his life through his spirit into our spirits and we are called. If we say "yes", then we become that prophetic voice of Jesus spreading the good news of God's love. Perhaps we have not thought of our baptism so clearly before as a moment when we are called to be a disciple, to become the priest, prophet, and ruler as a member of the body of Jesus, carrying on his work, his work to proclaim that Good News -- the reign of God is at hand. The reign of God is ready to break forth as people follow the message of Jesus, as we follow it and by our lives, witness to it and spread that good news.
I hope that as we reflect on today's Scripture readings and the call of those different disciples and their response, we will renew our own understanding of what our call is and to commit ourselves now to the time of Lent -- these six weeks of prayer, penance, almsgiving, and good works -- to renew ourselves in that spirit life of Jesus and to begin, during this season of Lent to, by our lives, witness to the way of Jesus. Over the six weeks period, we can think of the ways that we can carry on the message of Jesus, his message of love and forgiveness, his message of raising up the poor and oppressed, his message of healing the brokenhearted, giving hospitality to the stranger, taking in the immigrant, the refugee.
We can begin to figure out how we will better live and witness to Jesus, live his way, witness to his way, follow his way so that, as we celebrate Easter, we renew our commitment and we say from the depths of our being, "Here I am Lord. Send me. I'm ready to, in an even better way, a more complete way, carry on your work, proclaim your Good News by the witness of my life and through that, to carry on your work to gradually transform our world into the reign of God, the time of fullness of life, peace and joy for all people, for all creation. Here I am Lord. Send me."
[Homily given at St. Charles Lwanga Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]