Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
The vision and call of Isaiah form one of the most familiar parts of the Old Testament. Isaiah describes his vision of YHWH in heaven with imagery derived from the earthly temple at Jerusalem, in which his experience takes place—the underlying conviction is that the Jerusalem temple is an external expression of the heavenly temple.
One is led to suppose that the Sanctus was likewise part of the liturgy of the earthly temple, just as it in turn passed into the Christian liturgy.
The primary emphasis today, however, is not on the vision but on the call, which parallels the call of Peter in today’s gospel.
The vision of God’s holiness, the mysterium tremendum, leads Isaiah to confess his sense of utter unworthiness. His call thus comes to him as a sheer miracle of grace.
The prophet first receives forgiveness for his sin, is then called to “go for us,” and responds by accepting the call. Note the contrast between his initial diffidence in reaction to the vision and the confidence with which he finally accepts the call.
Responsorial Psalm: 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
This is a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, following appropriately upon Isaiah’s vision. It should be noted that whereas the combination of the Old Testament reading and the gospel highlights the call, the psalm highlights Isaiah’s vision, as indicated by the refrain and the third line of the first stanza.
Reading II: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 or 15:3-8, 11
This is one of the most important passages in the New Testament. Paul has to deal with the Corinthians’ uncertainty and doubt about the resurrection of the dead.
The older view was that the Corinthians held the Greek belief in the immortality of the soul as opposed to the Jewish-Christian belief in the resurrection of the body.
More recently it has been supposed that as gnosticizers they believed that through the sacraments they were already raised and therefore did not require a further resurrection of the body.
In order to correct the Corinthians, Paul recalls the Gospel that he had preached to them (about A.D. 50; 1 Corinthians was written a few years later).
This Gospel was encapsulated in a traditional formula, or more likely a series of formulas, which, Paul claims, he had received from those who were Christians before him.
Since he mentions Cephas (Peter) and James (the brother of the Lord) by name, and since he met these two men at Jerusalem on his first post-conversion visit there about the year 35, a substantial part of these formulas must be very ancient, taking us back to within five years or so of the events alluded to.
The formulas embrace: (1) the death of Christ as a saving event; (2) his burial; (3) his resurrection as a saving event; (4) a list of appearances, including the appearance to Paul himself, in which he received his apostolic call (which, following Acts, we usually refer to as his conversion).
The longer reading emphasizes the grace-character of Paul’s apostolic call. The shorter reading follows the summary of the traditions with Paul’s claim that his own kerygma and that of his predecessors were identical.
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
The history of the tradition here is very similar to that of the Gospel readings of the previous two Sundays. Luke again shifts the position of the Marcan pericope.
This time the call of the first disciples is moved to a later point in the narrative. Again, too, Luke combines it with another tradition from his special material. This special tradition consists of the miraculous draught of fishes, a story found in a post-resurrection setting in John 21.
It is much disputed whether this was originally a post-resurrection story later retrojected into the earthly life of Jesus or vice versa, and the weight of the arguments on both sides is about equal.
By combining this tradition with his Marcan source, Luke psychologizes the call of Simon Peter (the other disciples are only background survivals from the Marcan source).
The call does not come like a bolt out of the blue, as in Mark. Simon had already witnessed the healing of his mother-in-law, and now he experiences the miraculous haul of fish. This creates in him a feeling of unworthiness: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Those who think that the post-resurrection setting was original can explain this as a reaction to the Lord’s appearance after Peter’s threefold denial. In Luke’s narrative, however, it is a reaction to the mysterium tremendum of the miracle (cf. Isaiah’s vision).
The call comes in the metaphorical words about “catching men,” as in Mark, but the wording is different, thus suggesting that it comes not from Mark but from Luke’s special material.
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University