First Reading Commentary
In all three Readings this coming weekend we see God's call on the lives of individuals: In this Reading, Isaiah; in the Second Reading, Paul; and in the Gospel, Peter. All three individuals imply unworthiness to such a calling. We all have that feeling, don't we? After all, who is worthy of Almighty God? At Mass, we communally express our unworthiness to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. In our own lives we are sometimes in circumstances in which our worthiness is judged by others; and there are times when we sit in the judgment seat and determine the worthiness or unworthiness of others. And, of course, God probably finds our decision making process very amusing.
In Scripture, for example, who would ever consider Peter as the ideal choice to be Chief Shepherd of Christ's Church; or who would've chosen Paul, enemy of Christ that he was, to be an apostle? Scripture has many examples of those called by God who seem unworthy by human standards.
In this Reading we find Isaiah being called by God to be a prophet. The opening verse places this Reading in the year that King Uzziah died. Whenever a story starts out like that, it's natural to assume that the death has already occurred. Saint Jerome, however, offers another possibility; he plants the seed in our minds that this could be Isaiah's first successful prediction and King Uzziah wasn't dead until after Isaiah's calling.
Isaiah saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty Throne. Isaiah's vision of the Lord was probably of the Son, not the Father, as Jesus Himself seems to suggest in Saint John's Gospel when He refers to Himself as the fulfillment of the words spoken by Isaiah; and that Isaiah said those words because he saw the Lord's glory (cf. John 12:38-41).
Seraphim are the first of the nine orders of angels and they cried out: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!" The three-peat of the word "holy" has carried on through to our modern day liturgy. It may also be a clue to what is to be revealed much later, that God is One in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
After Isaiah exclaims his unworthiness because of his unclean lips, one of the Seraphim touched his lips with an ember. An ember is a piece of coal which still has a slight glow to it when a fire is smoldering. The Latin version actually uses a word which translates as "coal" but the Septuagint translates as "carbuncle" which is a gem, when held up to sunlight, has the appearance of a glowing coal. Saint Basil interprets the ember to symbolize "the word of God" while Saint Jerome refers to it as "the spirit of prophecy".
In our own hearts and minds we may deem ourselves unworthy of God's call, but this Reading does show us that when God calls us, He will supply the graces necessary to fulfill that call. As loyal and willing servants of the Lord and each other, the abandonment of our will and our submission to God's will moves our hearts to cry out with Isaiah: "Here I am, send me!"
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul refers to himself as "one born abnormally"; this is the humility of Paul speaking. The point he is making is that Christ appeared to him; and he judges himself to be the least deserving of such a gift. He doesn't consider himself to be in the same league as Cephas, who is Peter, and the other apostles because he admittedly persecuted the Church. And so, he refers to himself as an abnormal birth because of his self-proclaimed unworthiness and also, unlike the original twelve, Paul was called after Christ's death, Resurrection and Ascension. He does say, however, that the grace of God working through him has made him toil harder than the others -- harder, not better -- and why not! It's not that Jesus favored Paul over the others or on the flip-side was punishing Paul by making him work harder because of his former days as a persecutor, but when we consider that Paul was indeed a persecutor of the Church, his extra-effort in laboring for Christ gives him much credibility especially when he is preaching the same message as the other apostles; or as Paul puts it, he is handing on that which he received. Paul acknowledges that God's grace working through him has not been ineffective as he writes in this letter: "So we preach and so you believed."
When God calls us and we respond affirmatively to that call, ineffectiveness is not an option; not because we're so pious that we're God's logical choice, but because no matter who we are or what we used to be by our own doing, God's grace is greater than all of that.
Notice that Saint Luke mentions there are two boats; and Jesus got into the one belonging to Simon Peter. And what did Jesus do when He got into Simon's boat? He sat down and began to teach the crowds. This perhaps is a preview of the Chair of Peter or the office of the papacy. Something else to consider is the lake in which the Chair (boat) is on. The plain of Gennesaret, because of its beauty, has been called "the Paradise of Galilee"; and from the word "paradise" we get a sense of eternal beauty or heaven. Water is a symbol of life and from it the faithful are baptized and given a new life in Christ, a life that is eternal. And so, from this Chair (boat) which rests on these waters of paradise the faithful receive the words of everlasting life.
When Jesus was finished speaking He instructed Simon by saying, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon responds by saying: "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing." After this exchange you can almost visualize Jesus giving Simon a divine stare as if to say: "Do you really doubt Me?" And Simon would then lower his head in embarrassment while mumbling the words, "But at your command I will lower the nets." And, of course, after following Jesus' instructions, so many fish were caught that the nets were tearing.
For certain, a life committed to the Lord is a life of abundance. After all of this, Simon, in astonishment over the amount of fish that were caught, must have felt compelled to somehow explain to his Lord why he questioned His instructions. What he did instead was fall at the knees of Jesus and declare his unworthiness by saying: "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." And what does Simon get for his lack of faith and lack of trust in Jesus? -- Promoted to a fisher of men -- certainly not logical by human standards. Scripture does remind us, however, that God does not see as man sees because the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7). Perhaps what Jesus saw in Simon was a humble heart. Simon, with divine assistance, caught an abundant and overflowing amount of fish; now, answering Jesus' call to be a fisher of men, he would be destined to find in his net innumerable souls.