Homily for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7, 2010
St. Martin dePorres, Cincinnati
(Based on Isaiah 6:1-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)
With today’s reading the church invites us to participate in three great vocation stories. The players are three giants from the story of God’s people: Isaiah, the greatest of the Old Testament prophets; Peter, the leader of the apostles; and Paul, the prophet to the Gentiles.
Given that they are such imposing figures, it would be easy to imagine that they have nothing to do with us. We’re just the small fry, certainly not in the same league with people like that. We might look up at them in wonder, but surely our lives are not lived on such lofty stages.
And that would be a serious mistake. Because the vocation story of each of them is the story of the call of each one of us, without exception.
The story begins with an acknowledgment of sinfulness. As each of them looks at himself before the all-holy Lord, he is appalled at the distance separating himself from the world of the divine.
Isaiah is overwhelmed by the dramatic image of God on a lofty throne and cries out, “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, among a people of unclean lips.” Paul reflects on his role as one who ravaged the Lord’s people, dragging them from their homes violently, and he says, “I’m not fit to be called an apostle; I persecuted the church of God.” And Peter, on realizing who had brought the great catch of fish, falls on his knees saying, “Depart from me! For I am a sinful man.”
But then in every one of the stories a wondrous thing happens. The Lord refuses to accept their protests.
In every case the Lord, in one way or another, does not accept that response. Isaiah is told, “This burning ember has touched your lips. Your wickedness is removed.” Paul is told, “My grace in you has not been ineffective.” And Jesus stops Peter short: “Don’t be afraid! You will be catching people.” He won’t let them off the hook. Saying that I am a sinner won’t cut it, it’s too easy.
Notice that the Lord doesn’t pretend that the one he is calling wasn’t a sinner. It’s as if the Lord is saying to each one of them, “I know all that. Of course you are a sinner. But that’s not what is important! What is important is that I love you. I have a place for you in my work. I need you, I’m giving you a mission. Don’t use your energies concentrating on your sinfulness. That only keeps the focus on you and not on my love and grace.
The reality is that focusing on our sinfulness is a way of avoiding our calling and our dignity – and our responsibility. It’s a way of ignoring who we have become in Christ. You and I are blessed by the Lord. We have been called and transformed at our Baptism and given Christian adulthood by our Confirmation. Beating our breasts and proclaiming that of course we couldn’t be called to greatness because of our great sinfulness is a form of phony humility. “Oh, I’m a great sinner. The Lord couldn’t possibly be calling me to that. . . .” That keeps it all about us. It throws the gift of our vocation and mission back in God’s face.
It might help to recall another dramatic moment in the story of Peter. The apostles were out on the lake being tossed about by the angry waters when they saw Jesus coming to them on the water. Peter sees Jesus. He hears himself called to come to Jesus. And he begins to walk on the water!
Until he takes his eyes off the Lord.
He looks down and gets frightened. That’s when he finds himself sinking. He cries out in panic. And Jesus gives him his hand and says, “Why were you afraid, you of little faith?”
For his part, the apostle Paul eventually grows into one of the central insights in his preaching. “The Lord said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He realizes his dignity and empowerment: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me!”
So let’s pray that we may claim the power of our Baptism. That we may hold our heads high and stand on our dignity as the Lord’s chosen ones. We need to ask Jesus tp take away all our fear. Remember what he said to the leader of the synagogue whose servant was ill? “Fear is useless!”
We are each sinners, there’s no news in that. We are each weak. That for sure. But we are each called, we are each empowered to do the works of the kingdom. We each have a mission and it is a mission we are empowered to carry out. If we keep our eyes on Jesus.
Just think of what he told us. They are perhaps the most amazing words in all of Scripture. “The things I have done, you will do. And greater than these will you do.!” Greater than what Jesus did? I can’t imagine what such deeds might be, but that is what he promised.
All we need to do is to respond and not hide in false humility, not hide our light under a bushel basket, not yield to unholy fear.
As we process to the altar to receive Communion we say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” And of course it’s true; none of us is worthy of union with the Lord. But we can’t forget the words that follow: “Only say the word and I shall be healed.” And the reality is that the Lord has ‘said the word.’ We have been given the power of freedom. We have been empowered to do the things he did. And greater than these.
The only appropriate response is to come before the Lord and say boldly, “Here I am, Lord; take me.”