February 7, 2016 — Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
You might say today’s Scripture readings are filled with three important facets of stewardship — humility, discipleship, and the grace and presence of God. Holy Scripture has messages and meaning for us at every Mass, but we need to take particular note of the implications in today’s readings.
The First Reading from the prophet Isaiah relates how Isaiah personally responded to the calling he received from God. His initial reaction was one of unworthiness and humility: “I am a man of unclean lips.” In other words, Isaiah is saying, “I cannot serve you God for I am a sinner.” However, when the Lord calls someone, that call is accompanied by the strength and presence of God to allow that sinner, including all of us who are sinners as well, to carry out the Lord’s will. God tells Isaiah, “Your wickedness is removed; your sin purged.”
Isaiah responds in the same way we are expected to answer: “Here I am; send me.” Are we prepared in our humility and knowledge of our own weaknesses to take a similar risk, to trust in God?
St. Paul seems to reflect the same reticence found in Isaiah, when Paul says in the Second Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians, “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” Those of us who have become familiar with Paul throughout our lives because of his wonderful letters, which we hear most often in the Second Readings, probably have a similar reaction to Paul’s sense of being undeserving. We know how worthy Paul really is nonetheless.
However, just as Isaiah comes to a revelation relating to his calling, Paul, too, recognizes from where his strength can be drawn. Paul exclaims, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” St. Paul was converted; he was a changed man, forgiven, cleansed, and full of love which at one time was hate. Paul knew this was not his own accomplishment, but it was owing to the presence of God within him.
There is a line in an old hymn which goes, “You ask me how I know He lives; He lives; He lives inside my heart.” Once we reach that same conclusion, we can be prepared to look past our own value to the power and resolve God makes available to each of us.
Of course, the feeling that someone is of no value is equally telling in the words of St. Peter in today’s Gospel from St. Luke: “Depart from me Lord for I am a sinful man.” Jesus reacts to Peter’s exclamation by saying “Do not be afraid.” As is normally the case with Holy Scripture and with things the Lord says and does, there is a significant meaning here we may miss. Jesus is trying to inform Peter and us that He wants to relate to us on the principle of love, not the principle of fear.
Our conclusion is that though we are not worthy, the Lord loves us. Though we think we may be unable to properly respond to Jesus’ call to us, the truth is that with God’s help not only can we take positive action, but that we can know that God will not let us fail. The Lord will show us the way, but we must be willing to take those first steps ourselves.