ordinary time The Sánchez Archives

Year C

Patricia Datchuck Sánchez

The Three Rs

ISAIAH 6:1-2, 3-8
LUKE 5:1-11

This week, the gathered assembly is invited to consider the spiritual odysseys of three of the great ones within our Judaeo-Christian tradition, Isaiah, Paul and Peter. Each of the readings details the special call or vocation of these three men as a life-changing event. While considering the vocational experiences of these, our ancestors in the faith, believers are also challenged to examine their own personal calls to conversion and discipleship.

Although the circumstances of each vocation are unique, there are some discernable characteristics which seem to be common to all vocations. Because these characteristics are so rudimentary, perhaps they could be referred to as “the three Rs”, i.e., Realization, Repentance, and Readiness.

When a divine overture is initially recognized, the person to whom it has been proffered enters into a process of realization whereby he/she becomes aware of God as all holy, all good, all loving and all giving. By the same token and as a result of realizing who God is, the believer also becomes aware of himself/herself before God, as a person fully undeserving and yet totally in need of all that God is. This self-realization issues forth in a spirit of repentance that looks to God for a healing that will bring both holiness and wholeness to the believer. The third characteristic of the vocational experience flows quite naturally from the first two. In full realization of God and of self and in full recognition that his/her need for repentance, will always be met and answered, the believer stands in readiness to be and to do all that his/her vocation will require.

In the first reading, Isaiah has shared the particulars of his vocation to prophesy in God’s name. Already a priest ministering in the temple, Isaiah suddenly became especially aware that he was in the presence of God. His realization of the infinity of God, affirmed by the seraphim (Holy, Holy, Holy!) also made him aware of himself as finite and flawed. Repentant, he confessed his sinfulness and that of his people (“I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips!”). Forgiven and healed by God, he declared his readiness to serve. . . “Here I am, send me!”

Paul described his call from God to the Corinthians by means of an oblique reference to his Damascus experience. While assuring his readers that the gospel, as he had preached it while among them, was authentic and worthy of their faith, Paul referred to the several appearances Jesus made after his death and resurrection. A proud recipient of one of those appearances, Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus forever changed the direction of his Life. Realizing that he had met the Lord, Paul also became aware that his persecution of Jesus’ followers was a direct assault on the body of Christ which is the church. Turned toward God in repentance, Paul lived thereafter in a constant state of readiness to build up the church by his apostolic preaching and teaching.

Peter’s fishing expedition as prompted by Jesus and narrated by Luke, also exhibits the three Rs or rudiments of the vocational experience. Astonished at the great catch of fish, Peter became aware that the power of God was at work in Jesus. The dual realization of Jesus, and of himself before Jesus, led him to repent, “Leave me Lord. I am a sinful man.” Peter’s awareness of his need for repentance would return to visit him each time he failed and particularly when he denied even knowing Jesus. However, his readiness to follow Jesus as his disciple was evidenced in the fact that Peter “left everything” when Jesus called.

Isaiah, Paul, and Peter’s vocational encounters are probably more dramatic than those of most of us. Nevertheless, the characteristic three Rs can be easily discerned within the ongoing spiritual experiences of every believer. And just as the original three Rs (“Reading”, “Writing”, “’Rithmetic”) form a sound and necessary basis for all future-learning, so do the three Rs (“Realization”, “Repentance”, “Readiness”) from the framework within which a holy and wholesome faith-filled relationship between God and the believer will grow.

ISAIAH 6:1-2, 3-8

Did Isaiah know what he was doing when he so blithely acquiesced to God’s call? “Here I am, send me!” With these words he accepted to be the minister of God’s word and bearer of what Daniel Berrigan (Isaiah, Spirit of Courage, Gifts of Tears, Fortress Press, Minneapolis: 1996) has called unwelcome news. He was to act as a kind of father confessor, holding his people to a public repentance. He was to enlarge upon the specific of their sin: injustice, militarism, greed, aping the nations, making the covenant a dead letter. He was also to tell the other nations of God’s generous and passionate love for them. Isaiah’s vision of the holy One had its price; it would require the complete gift of himself to a cause that, by human reckoning, appeared impossible or at least improbable. But, like all the other prophets, Isaiah’s mission originated in and was directed by God, because of this, his words continue to speak, challenging the recalcitrant and comforting the contrite.

Called by God “in the year King Uzziah died” (v. 1) or ca. 742 B.C.E., Isaiah’s prophetic ministry was exercised over a forty year period, during which: (1) Syria allied with Israel to invade Judah in order to force its participation in a coalition against Assyria; (2) Assyria conquered Israel; (3) Judah became a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-9); (4) Egypt prompted Judah to revolt against Assyria with a promise of help; (5) a revolt during Hezekiah’s reign was crushed by Assyria causing Judah to suffer devastating consequences (2 Kings 18:13-16).

Through all the political conflict, Isaiah remained the faithful champion of the word of God, interpreting each tragedy as deserved punishment for sin and each triumph as God’s merciful answer to the repentant. Surely, his inaugural vision of God was revisited on many occasions as the prophet sought the strength and courage required for his continuing efforts. Surely the seraphim’s song of the holiness and glory of God echoed in his heart as he encountered the utter lack of holiness and glory in his contemporaries.

As Joseph Jensen (“Isaiah 1-39,” The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliff: 1990) has pointed out, the controlling principle of much of what Isaiah taught was his conviction concerning the holiness and glorious power of God, both of which he experienced at the time of his calling in the temple. “Holy One of Israel” was the prophet’s favorite title for God whose glory did not merely abide in Jerusalem but filled the whole earth (v. 3). Isaiah believed that human sin, particularly the sins of oppression and injustice against the weaker, poorer members of society were an affront to the very holiness of God. For that reason, he championed the cause of the oppressed and the victimized; he challenged his people (both then and now) toward a renewed realization of the holiness of God and of their own sin; to sincere repentance; and to a new readiness to hear, to keep and to live in accord with the living word of God.


Thirty years ago, David Stanley published an article on the gospels (“Contemplation of the Gospels, Ignatius Loyola and the Contemporary Christian,” Theological Studies, Vol. 29: 1968) in which he set forth four theses concerning the presence of the risen Lord. In the first thesis, Stanley stated, “Jesus Christ, through his exaltation to the Father’s right hand has not been removed to some mythical existence beyond the furthest galaxy, but is actually more dynamically present in the world than ever he was when he walked the hills of Galilee.” Second, Stanley insisted that “All the mysteries of Jesus’ earthly history, from the cradle to the grave, have been mysteriously endowed in his glorified humanity with a totally new and enduring reality.” The third and fourth theses flow from the second, viz., Contemplating Jesus’ earthly history is a way of relating to him here and now, not simply a calling to mind of a past event. Finally, it is precisely by a prayerful and faith filled consideration of Jesus’ human history that believers will be able to repeat in their own lives the redeeming experiences of Jesus’ own existence and to participate personally in the paschal mystery. Within less than thirty years after Jesus’ saving mission, Paul had already arrived at such an appreciation of the resurrection and of the abiding presence of the risen Jesus. The early apostle’s understanding is clearly evident in this excerpt from his correspondence with the Corinthian church.

Notice Paul’s exhortation to remember (or to contemplate) the gospel (v. 1) and his brief review of the kerygma, or good news about Jesus, which had been summarized into a succinct and fixed oral tradition as early as 35 C.E. An outline of this tradition is discernible in the credal formula quoted in verses 3-4, viz., “Christ died for our sins in accord with the Scriptures; he was buried and, in accord with the Scriptures, rose on the third day. . .” Like his Jewish Christian colleagues, Paul believed that Jesus’ death and rising had been divinely planned and, as Kevin Quast (Reading the Corinthian Correspondence, Paulist Press, New York: 1994) has noted, that “the world received hints about it hundreds of years ahead of time” (see Psalm 16:8-11; Hosea 6:2; Isaiah 53:10-11). But the Hebrew Scriptures were not the only witnesses to the resurrection. Paul also drew upon the testimonies of hundreds of eyewitnesses (vv. 5-8) in different places, at different times, all of whom had experienced the risen Jesus as “more dynamically present. . . than ever he was when he walked the hills of Galilee.”

Paul counted himself as the least among those to have witnessed the resurrected Christ (vv. 8-9) because he had been instrumental in trying to rid Judaism of believers in Jesus. As he did elsewhere in his writings, Paul did not deny or diminish his faults but rather saw his weakness as a venue in which God’s favor (charis) or grace was at work. Having turned away from his former way of life, Paul appropriated the gift of God’s favor and allowed it to transform him. Saul, the persecutor, became Paul, the preacher of the good news. Paul had experienced in his own life the dying and rising of Jesus. Like Jesus, Paul lived and died in such a way that others were able to repeat in their own lives the redeeming experiences of Jesus’ own existence and to participate personally in the paschal mystery which is the very heart of our faith.

LUKE 5:1-11

Surprising as it may seem, given the fact that they depended on fishing for their livelihood, the first disciples of Jesus rarely caught anything except when he was with them, directing their efforts, guiding their way. Therefore, it would appear that the great catch of fish should be understood as a secondary motif, serving as a backdrop for Luke’s original purpose in this gospel narrative, viz., to illustrate the vocation and special role of Simon Peter within the community of the faithful.

Before meeting with Jesus, Peter had spent his nights trolling the lake in Galilee, dragging his nets through its water, hauling the fish to shore, selling his catch and then mending the tears in the nets. But, because of his vocational encounter with the Lord, Peter’s life would be forever altered; he would spend the rest of his days catching men and women (v. 10). Joseph A. Fitzmyer (The Gospel According to Luke, Doubleday and Co., New York: 1984) has observed that it has often been noted how strange and even inappropriate this metaphor seems to be because the mission of the disciples was to be one of rescuing people and bringing them to salvation. What fishermen and women do to fish, however, is far from salutary. Perhaps Jesus’ call to be catchers or netters of humanity can be better appreciated if readers realize that the Greek term is literally rendered “you will be taking them alive.” The implication is that those “caught” or “netted” by Peter et al. would be saved from death, preserved for life and gathered into the kingdom.

Before he became an active participant in drawing all people into the saving embrace of God, Peter himself was gathered personally into the sphere of Jesus’ mighty power. In that experience, he became conscious (realization) of his own sinfulness and need and he repented (“Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man”). Strengthened by the call of Jesus, he and those with him stood ready for the task that lay ahead, viz., extending Jesus’ invitation to salvation to others.

Due to the striking similarities between this gospel and one of the Johannine resurrection appearances (John 21:1-11), some scholars believe that Luke has shifted this narrative from its original post-resurrection setting to the ministry of Jesus. This would explain Peter’s attitude toward Jesus. In verse eight, he addresses Jesus as Lord (a title usually reserved for the risen Christ) and refers to himself as a sinner. As Joseph Fitzmyer (op.cit.) has correctly observed, this is a response that more plausibly suits one who has denied his Lord. Moreover, Peter’s reaction to the great haul of fish seems strange; readers might expect a word of awe or gratitude toward the great wonder rather than a confession of guilt.

Like Isaiah and Paul (in the first two readings), Peter teaches us that even the greatest ones among us stand in need of conversion. The thrice holy God who calls us, also cures us and commissions us for service; it is ours to realize, repent, and remain in readiness to hear, to do and to live accordingly.

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Illustration prepared by Julie Lonneman.

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