The National Catholic Review
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), February 4, 2001
By the grace of God, I am what I am (1 Cor. 15:10)

Rarely are the three Lectionary readings so integrated as they are this Sunday. They all portray Gods call, though in diverse and dramatic fashion. Isaiah, the confidant of kings, receives Gods call in an overwhelming vision of the Holy One in the temple and responds simply, Here I am, send me! Paul, the former persecutor and forgiven sinner, becomes an Apostle, affirming, by the grace of God, I am what I am; and the Gospel proclaims Lukes distinctive portrait of the call of the disciples.

The Evangelists often communicate their theology by rearranging traditional material in ways that open up new vistas. In Lukes source, Mark (which is also followed by Matthew), Jesus first public act is to form a band of followers. Luke turns from the rejection of Jesus and narrates the cure of the demoniac and the healing of Simons mother-in-law, though Simon himself has not yet appeared in the Gospel. Luke then recounts the call of the disciples. He does not describe them simply as a group that heeds Jesus call to Follow me (as Mark and Matthew do). He tells the story of Jesus ordering a hesitant Simon to set out on a fishing expedition that results in a sensational catch, followed by Simons plea for forgiveness and the words of Jesus to all the disciples, Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people (my translation).

This sequence of material reflects Lukes theology. Jesus, the rejected prophet, turns like Elijah to outsiders and manifests his healing power. The disciples follow Jesus only after experiencing Gods power, and then they turn their lives around, leaving everything to follow him. This provides the whole pattern for the early church from Pentecost on, when the gift of the Spirit fills people with power, enables them to rejoice even amid persecution and moves the church outward to different peoples.

Each of the three call stories tells of different ways in which the loving presence of God changed peoples lives. Confronted by the massive challenges of life today and a culture often in opposition to the Gospel, the church easily resorts to moralistic preaching. To be a church in witness requires a prior experience of the surprising, forgiving and overwhelming love of God. Only then can we all say, Here I am, send me.

John R. Donahue, S.J., is professor of New Testament studies at the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.

Readings: Isa. 6:1-2a; 3-8; Ps. 138; 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Lk. 5:1-11.
  • In those moments when misunderstanding by one’s family and friends causes great pain, ask Jesus for the strength to move forward.
  • Pray about Paul’s words, “by the grace of God, I am what I am,” thinking of particularly graced times.
  • Pray Paul’s hymn to charity, substituting the name of Christ for the word love.

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