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Epiphany 5 | Ordinary Time 5, Cycle C

The calling of Isaiah, the calling of Peter, and (by implication) the calling of each of us dominate the series of texts selected for our use next Sunday. Each is called for a purpose, to carry on a mission, to be commissioned.

Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13)

Prophetic call stories typically reveal much about the life and nature of the person called and about the reception that the message of that prophet received. The call story in Isaiah 6 does this well for the Isaiah 1-39 traditions.

The placing of the call of Isaiah story so far into the Isaiah 1-39 text, as Isaiah 6, is unusual. (Compare the positions of the call of Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1, of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 1-3, and of Moses in Exodus 3:1–4:23.) Perhaps this position was chosen by the editors of the Isaiah traditions so that much of the message of the Isaiah 1-39 traditions could be given prominence before the call of the prophet was described.

This call story emphasizes the overwhelming holiness of the Lord and the glory of the Lord over the entire land. “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, Adonai Sabaoth; melo kal-ha-aretz kevodo!” Three times both for emphasis and for euphony the Lord is acclaimed as holy. And the cry is passed back and forth between the seraphim. The holiness of the Lord overwhelms Isaiah in the call story. Then the burning coal touches his lips, and his sin and guilt are taken away. He is compliant. He is willing to be sent.

This call story suggests that the message of Isaiah will not be understood; the people will not be healed. This will continue until the land is desolate. Hardly a remnant will remain. Isaiah is expected to be obedient to the Lord even when destruction surrounds him on every side. The same is certainly expected of us.

Psalm 138

Although this psalm is not a call story, there are significant connections between Psalm 138 and Isaiah 6. The glory of the Lord is said to be great in Psalm 138:5 and in Isaiah 6:3. The temple of the Lord is the location of each text, and it is written in each that the Lord will fulfill the purpose of the Lord, for the prophet in one and for the psalmist in the other. There is a difference in that the psalmist is said to have called upon the Lord and the Lord responded, whereas in Isaiah 6:8 the Lord asks a question and the prophet responds.

For us as called people of God today, Psalm 138 is an approximate expression of our situation. We too give thanks to God for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness in calling us to fulfill the purposes of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11

The call of Paul to be an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to Paul himself in this text, was the result of an appearance of Jesus as the Christ raised from the dead by God. The message received in the call, Paul wrote, was that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the earlier Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised from the dead on the third day also in accordance with the earlier Scriptures, and that as the Risen Christ he appeared to various disciples and groups of disciples. Like Isaiah in the Isaiah 6 call story, Paul is overwhelmed by the Lord and is not said to have offered resistance to his call. Paul considered his call to be evidence of the grace of God. His response, through the grace of God, was to labor harder than anyone else to proclaim Christ crucified and raised from the dead, a message of hope for both Jewish background and non-Jewish background followers of Jesus.

It is likely that the Lukan writer had access to 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 and used it, together with Galatians 1:11-24, in the composition of the dramatic call of Paul stories in Acts 9:1-22; 22:4-16; and 26:9-18. The simple testimony of Paul himself here in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 about his call provides a much better model for us of our own call to Christian ministry than does the vivid literary drama composed by the writer of Acts 9:1-22 and liked so much by that writer that the Lukan writer repeated it with only slight variations again in what is for us Acts 22:4-16 and 26:9-18.

Luke 5:1-11

Here again the Lukan writer “improved” the Markan account by using Mark 1:16-20 as the basis for an extensive “Call of Peter” composition that was then placed after the Like 4 account of solo activity of Jesus in Jesus’ hometown. The miraculous great catch of fish in Luke 5:1-11 at the command of the Lukan Jesus symbolizes proleptically the great success of the Spirit-filled apostles of Jesus after the Lukan writer’s Pentecost account.

Incidentally, the John 21:1-11 story that is similar in some respects to Luke 5:1-11 depicts “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (the Johannine community) as recognizing Jesus as the Risen Lord before Peter does and then together with Peter hauling in the net filled with 153 huge fish. The Fourth Gospel tradition insists that the one net can hold all of those huge fish without breaking. Therefore, the Petrine communities associated with and using the three Synoptic Gospels and the Johannine community developing its own separate Fourth Gospel can be one, so long as the Johannine community of the Beloved Disciple can be preeminent.

This Luke 5:1-11 call of Peter account with its success orientation contrasts rather sharply with the Isaiah 6:1-13 call of Isaiah story. When these two texts are used together, as they will be by us next Sunday, the conscientious pastors and worship planning committees are faced with several options. Where shall we place the emphasis for our particular time and for our particular place? Prayerful openness to the Spirit of God actualized within each congregation and community must determine the emphasis to be chosen.

It may be that the Isaiah 6:1-13 text will present the greater challenge and will offer the greater long-term help to the People of God today. At least we could — and perhaps we should — start at Isaiah 6:1-13 before moving to the success-oriented Lukan call of Peter account. In our Christian use, the Isaiah 6 text must not be used to promote the idea that Judaism and the Jews have failed while the Church and Christians as portrayed in Luke 5:1-11 have succeeded. In our Christian use, both texts should point to the cross of Christ and to a biblical Theology of the Cross rather than to a non-biblical Theology of Glory before our homilies are concluded next Sunday.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen