All the gospels narrate, at the beginning of Jesus’ public life, the call of his first disciples. Each gospel reports this event in its own way: for instance, Mark and Matthew put it immediately after Jesus started his preaching. Luke instead tells us that Jesus began his ministry at Nazareth, where he was rejected; and then he went to Capernaum, where, on the contrary, he was welcomed, his preaching was followed by the crowds, and he was able to perform several miracles. It is exactly after one of these that the call of the first disciples took place. In this way it appears more credible: Simon, James and John left everything and followed Jesus because they had already listened to his preaching and witnessed his miracles.
Let us take Simon: he had already received Jesus into his house; and Jesus had healed his mother-in-law; but he had continued his life and his job. He had certainly heard Jesus preach; otherwise we could not understand his answer when Jesus says to him: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” How could he obey Jesus after a night of fruitless work? And yet he replies: “At your command I will lower the nets.” Evidently, he had experienced the authority and power of Jesus’ word; by then, he knew he could rely on him.
But he would have never expected a so fruitful catch: after a night without a fish, now their nets were tearing. He realized that that catch was not the result of his work, but just the consequence of the presence of Jesus in his boat. He understood that his personal efforts were totally vain without Jesus. He perceived that from that time onwards his life would have made no sense without him. But, at the same time, he felt a sense of unworthiness: “He fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’” When we find ourselves in front of greatness, we feel little; when we are in front of God, inevitably we feel sinners, because that is our condition. We have found the same reaction in the other readings. When Isaiah witnesses the manifestation of God’s glory in the temple, he says: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” When Paul sees the risen Lord, he is perfectly aware of his unworthiness: he considers himself as “one born abnormally” (literally, “an abortion”), “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God.”
And yet this unworthiness does not prevent God’s choice: he is perfectly aware that his instruments are imperfect, but he knows how to use them. He makes them fit for the mission he entrusts to them. Were Isaiah’s lips unclean? Well, one of the Seraphim touches his lips with an ember: “See, now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” And so, when the Lord asks “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?” he can respond: “Here I am; send me!”
Was Paul not fit to be called an apostle? Yes, but he became an apostle all the same, maybe the least of the apostles, but anyway he was an apostle not inferior to others. How come? “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder then all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”
Likewise, Peter, after acknowledging his sinfulness, is not rejected by Jesus. Jesus does not say to him: “I’m sorry; I was mistaken; I thought you were better. Never mind, I’ll look for someone holier than you.” No, Jesus says: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Apparently, Peter’s sin is not an impediment, but a requirement for becoming a fisher of men: Are you a sinner? Well, you are in a position to be chosen. Why? Because, in this way, you are aware that, if you catch people, you are without merit; I am the only one responsible for that. Just like the catch of fish you have just made: it did not depend on you, but only on me. So, do not worry, follow me; I will make of you a fisher of men. Trust me! You just put out into deep water and lower your nets. As for the rest, I’ll see to it!