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God's Word on Sunday: The humble are God’s most effective tools

  • January 30, 2022

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

Isaiah was terror stricken, for he found himself where he should not be — in the very presence of God. Never had he felt the vast gulf between humanity and divinity so acutely as he did when he witnessed and felt God’s glory and power within the divine throne room. He did not expect to survive the encounter.

Isaiah had not gone anywhere physically — his feet were still on solid ground. He described an interior vision and experience that was no less real, and it changed him forever.

This is the basis of the Sanctus (holy) in the liturgy, and it is meant, as it was in the text, to praise God and to acknowledge the divine power and glory throughout all creation. Isaiah was overcome by his own lack of holiness and perfection in comparison to the divine figures in the vision. He was conscious of human weakness and sinfulness and did not feel worthy to be in the divine presence. This was the initial reaction of most of the Old Testament prophets to their call and most resisted at first.

In the vision, a seraph took a burning coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and touched it to Isaiah’s mouth — not exactly the standard approach to moral and spiritual improvement. This symbolized the spiritual renewal and transformation that was granted by God. His sins were washed away, but it was not something that Isaiah earned or achieved through his own efforts. This foreshadowed the transformation that believers in Jesus receive through faith and reception of the Spirit — it is a divine gift.

God’s call and transforming touch are given for love, mission and service. When Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord asking who would be willing to go on God’s behalf to prophesy to Israel, Isaiah gave the response that is expected from all when we are called: Here I am, Lord, send me!

Paul also received a shocking and unexpected call from the Lord, along with an outpouring of grace. He reminded the community at Corinth of the faith to which they had first given allegiance and urged them to stand fast in it. Christ died, was buried, rose from the dead and appeared to Cephas, the twelve, more than 500 believers, James and then to the other apostles. Paul finally adds that last of all, Christ appeared to him, the least deserving. He recalled with dismay his history of persecuting and tormenting the Church. But grace was given, and Paul ran with it, outdoing everyone else in hard work and zeal (at least according to his lights!).

Jesus chose an unlikely bunch to be His apostles. From a human point of view, they were a collection of faults and weaknesses, among them cowardice, thick-headedness and ambition. But that was the point: these were the individuals Jesus wanted — real, ordinary people. He not only could see the fish lurking below the surface of the water, but He could also see into human hearts and souls.

After a teaching session to the crowds from the vantage point of the boat, He told the fishermen to put down their nets in the deeper water. They made a huge haul of fish, almost too much for their nets. Peter was overwhelmed, for he knew that he was in the presence of a miracle wrought by a man from God. Just like Isaiah, he felt deeply — too deeply — his humanity and weakness. Kneeling before Jesus, he begged the Lord to go away. It was too much to be in His presence. But Jesus would not hear of it and told him not to be afraid, because he would be fishing for people.

Fishing nets are a symbol for end-time activity, the drawing in of all souls to God. This would be the work of Peter and the other apostles. Jesus was well aware of Peter’s weaknesses, but He was also aware of his humility in recognizing his need for God’s grace. Those who are humble and open to change and transformation are the most effective tools in God’s hands. Peter and the others would draw many to God in their fishing for souls, and we are the ones whom God has designated to continue their work.

Are we humble enough to accept God’s call and grace?