February 10, 2019 – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
“…God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
Have you noticed how often it occurs in scripture that the Lord chooses the youngest, the smallest, the least able, to be the instrument of his workings? Jacob is the youngest, yet he is chosen to receive his father’s blessing. Joseph is the youngest, yet he is chosen to be lord over his brothers. Moses does not speak with authority, yet he is chosen to lead the people out of Egypt. David is the youngest, yet he is chosen to be king. Mary is a simple maiden, yet she is chosen to be the mother of our Lord. Paul has a physical disability and persecutes the Christians, yet he is chosen to be the chief apostle.
In our Old Testament lesson for today we hear the call of Isaiah. Isaiah viewed himself as lowly and unworthy yet God chooses him to serve as the prophet who will help turn salvation history around. God chooses someone who is, by himself, completely unable to do a task. And he uses that person to accomplish something huge. The lesson is taught: without the grace of God this event could not have happened. Had God repeatedly chosen the strong to accomplish his purpose, we would only be taught to rely on our strength. But God repeatedly chooses the weak so that we may learn to rely on God’s strength rather than our own.
That is one reason why the vast majority of Christendom baptizes infants. As the priest holds an infant in his arms and claims the child as a member of the kingdom of God, it is clear that the child is not capable of accomplishing this himself. God is sweeping up the child into the arms of his mercy. He is choosing the weak and the young so that any boasting we do must be of the Lord and not ourselves. Baptism emphasizes God’s great strength, not our own. In the renewal of our own baptisms, we remember: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).
In the gospel lesson we read of the call of Simon Peter. Simon himself is none too strong, yet he is chosen to be the rock who leads the Church. He himself denies the Christ three times, yet Christ appears to him after the resurrection to claim him again and send him out. Here is the beginning of that relationship, where Christ’s power is shown and his call upon Peter to be a fisher of men proclaimed.
These lessons of call, where the Lord chooses the weak and the lowly to accomplish his purpose, are also lessons of blessing. In each of the stories mentioned, there is the chosen person, an obvious lack of ability, and then an accomplished purpose. The overall point is really not so much what is accomplished as the grace and blessing which is behind the accomplishment. We tend to approach blessings as positive outcomes or accomplishments which satisfy us. The matter of blessing, though, is really more about the overall process. The ultimate blessing is not that we get our way or gain a victory; the ultimate blessing is that we realize that we are being swept into the arms of God’s mercy. The blessing very much involves our experience of not being able to accomplish something ourselves. Blessing is not just about the joyous outcome; blessing also involves the hardship which forms the arena in which God’s strength is revealed. We may see mercy only as God rescuing us from the dire circumstances, yet the mercy of God has to do with the dire circumstances as well.
Simon Peter has been fishing all night and his nets are empty. Jesus tells him to let down his nets for a catch. Simon replies, “We’ve already tried that. It didn’t work.” And then he says, “But if you say so, I’ll try it again.” The victory is then apparent: two boats full of fish. But the blessing is not just the victory. Jesus doesn’t just want him to have a bunch of fish; he wants him to know where they came from; he wants him to have a memory of emptiness. The empty nets leading to the bursting nets, that is the blessing. It’s not just the outcome but the process. Simon’s own questions as well as his assent are both part of his calling. His statement, “We’ve already tried that” is as important as his statement, “But at your word I will let down the nets.” His doubt is his own empty net; his assent the full net. Both form his call and blessing.
In our every day lives there are our doubts and our trust, our questions and our glimpses, our times of willfullness and willingness. And while we quickly divide our experiences into blessings and curses, it is important to remember that we are ever walking in God’s sight. Our times of anger at God do not chase him away. He uses those places to form huge victories of trust. Our deepest emptiness forms places of God’s abundance. It’s not that I am in grace when I choose well and know happiness, out of grace when I make mistakes or am miserable. Always I am in God’s grace. Grace is there whether I see it or not. And perhaps we can learn to recognize our emptiness as hints of a fullness to come.
What we celebrate this day is not a self-help technique which will make us happy. What we celebrate is the huge and sweeping net of God’s grace. It gathers us in and claims us, it invites us to know whose hands have hold of us. It promises us great victory but also allows us to look only for our own victory. You have been bought with a price. You have been claimed. You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Now whose will you be?