God does the extraordinary through the most ordinary people

  • January 28, 2016

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Feb. 7 (Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11)

How would we react if we suddenly found ourselves out of our element and where we had no right to be? Fear, embarrassment and a sense of vulnerability all come to mind — and Isaiah experienced them all. No one could be in God’s presence and live to tell the tale — and there Isaiah was, in the midst of the heavenly court. This was a vision, not an actual physical journey, but no less powerful and frightening.

The Seraphs sang the threefold hymn to God’s holiness — now part of our liturgy — and whatever was holy was “totally other,” to be approached with awe and caution. Singled out for a prophetic mission to Israel, Isaiah was conscious of his humanity and sinfulness and how far removed he was from the divine beings in whose presence he stood. It was at this point that a Seraph touched his lips with a burning coal from the brazier, purifying him of sin and rendering him capable of proclaiming God’s word. When the thundering voice of God asked for volunteers to speak on His behalf, Isaiah was able to reply with confidence, “Here I am Lord, send me!”

Would that we all show such eagerness and willingness to serve God! Too often we become overly focused on our own faults and weaknesses. We begin to play the “I’m not worthy” game, which can be a form of selfishness and pride. In effect, we are saying that we will not serve God unless we earn the right and can do it on our own terms. Even the greatest of saints are often flawed people in some respects, but they have the humility and sense to step out of the way and let God run the show. If we leave God’s work to the perfect and flawless, it will never get done. God is stuck with us, but God doesn’t seem to mind — in fact, God rejoices in being able to work with and through us. Our contribution is humility, surrender, gratitude and praise.

Throughout his ministry, Paul carried the disheartening memory of his years as a zealous and ruthless persecutor of the Christian community. There were some in the community that did not like or trust Paul and were eager to remind him of his past. Fortunately for Paul, he had the antidote: he was keenly aware of the significance of Christ’s death. Jesus died for our sins and for our redemption, and all that Paul had been able to accomplish during his ministry was a testimony to the grace and love of Jesus Christ. We continually repeat the theological formula of Christ’s redeeming death. What is sometimes lacking is that we have not fully appropriated this wonderful gift of God on an emotional and existential level. It remains a concept or doctrine rather than a vibrant, life-giving reality.

Perhaps we can remember a time in which our efforts at a task seemed useless. After many failures, we were ready to give up. But then that nagging little voice insisted on “just once more” and we were rewarded with success. What was different about the last effort?

Perhaps nothing — but in some cases, like today’s Gospel, everything. Our own determined efforts to accomplish something can sometimes be the problem. Our ego gets in the way; we close our minds to intuition and inspiration. It is only by “letting go” that a higher power can work in and through us. Peter discovered this when Jesus prodded him into putting down the nets just once more, even after a nighttime of failure. The ensuing success so overwhelmed and frightened Peter that he just wanted Jesus to disappear. He didn’t want to deal with this miracle and its implications or his own weakness and humanity. Jesus brushed aside Peter’s reservations and invited him to a totally new life as His disciple and God’s instrument. From now on he would be fishing for people — bringing in huge “catches” of souls for God.

The dawning of God’s kingdom was not Peter’s show but God’s — egos and insecurities must be left outside. Such was the force of Jesus’ presence and invitation to discipleship that they all left everything to follow Him. God does extraordinary things through very ordinary people.

With God all things are possible and even likely.

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