This weekend, we have the beautiful readings in our first reading from Isaiah and the account of Jesus calling Peter to be a “fisher of men” in the Gospel of Luke. Both readings involve faithful people who encounter God in a powerful way and both react very similarly.
In the first reading, our faithful man is in the Temple area praying and suddenly a smoke begins to fill the room. This smoke, also known as the “shekinah”, was widely known by the Jewish people as the presence of God. You can see it throughout the Old Testament, but most notably with Moses’ relationship with God. When Moses’ would meet with God in his tent while the Israelites were wandering the desert for 40 years, the area was covered in the “shekinah”. When Moses would go up the mountain for the 10 Commandments or at other times, the mountain would be covered in the “shekinah”. It was known to be the presence of God himself. But the rules for being in the presence of this holy smoke or cloud were very strict for the Jewish people. You needed explicit permission from Jewish leadership in order to be in God's presence. If you looked at God’s presence without permission, you were killed by God instantly. Hence, when our faithful Jew in our first reading from Isaiah comes into contact with the “shekinah”, he fears for his life. He says,
‘Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’
He humbled himself immediately because he did not have explicit permission to be in the presence of God and did not want to be killed. It is this exact humility that we see from St. Peter in our Gospel as well, but, as well will see, the “shekinah” is no longer in the form of a cloud, rather, the presence of God is now in the form of the second person of the Blessed Trinity - our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus, just meeting Peter, but undoubtedly knowing what was about to happen, tells the seasoned fisherman to cast his nets into the Sea of Galilee in the morning right after Peter and his fellow fisherman have been fishing all night with no success. Peter had to have thought, “Who is this carpenter to come and tell me to cast my nets again???” Yet, Peter does. He has heard of this man who is doing miraculous deeds and so he casts his nets again. They have a hard time pulling in their nets because of the miraculous number of fish they have just caught. And this is where it becomes incredibly important for us - Peter’s change of heart from seeing Jesus from being a popular prophet or healer or miracle worker to God - to the presence of God - to the “shekinah”. Peter’s response to catching all these fish says as much, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’. Jesus tells him not to fear for his life for being in His presence because now he will be doing God’s work.
These encounters with God, both in the Old and the New Testament, elicit a fearful and humbling response from those coming in contact with God. And in the Old Testament, you had a very serious reason to be fearful. Encountering God, whether that be through acts of kindness from another, a moment of love between a father and son or mother and daughter, or from some other beautiful gift of God, always touches our soul on a level that humbles us and brings us to gratitude. Fear of the Lord, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, means that we are in awe of the greatness of our God and realize how small we are compared to His greatness. It is a great gift. Fear of the Lord and humility always deepens our relationship with God and puts us in the right relationship with others. But it always begins with an encounter. And make no mistake - God is constantly, constantly extending invitations to us in our daily life for encounters. Let us pray this week to be able to first see these invitations of our Lord and then be able to respond with great humility, awe, and gratitude.
May the Lord give you His peace,