Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 10, 2019
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8; Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
Probably the number one thing I see as a priest, the number one problem, or doubt, or issue, or whatever you want to call it, is a lack of belief and understanding and trust in the merciful love (hesed) of the Lord, of Jesus Christ himself. Of course, we all know that God is merciful, we know that he forgives us. But we don’t really believe it or think that it’s for some people but not for us, at least, not in any tangible way. But what we see time and time again throughout scripture is the life-changing, life-altering, empowering, transforming power of God’s merciful love. Lives are changed, truly changed by it.
In our first reading, we hear the call of Isaiah. Isaiah has this vision of the Lord, seated on his throne, the angels crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” And at this, Isaiah senses and perceives and feels his own unworthiness. He cries out, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips!” Isaiah perceives his own sinfulness and unworthiness. He doesn’t have the courage or strength to be sent by the Lord. But then, when the burning coal touches his lips, a symbol of the purging fire of God’s mercy, he is changed; he immediately feels the power to go out and prophesy to the nations.
In our Gospel, after this miraculous catch of fish, Peter is so astonished and amazed that the first thing he realizes—just like Isaiah—is his own unworthiness. He cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” And yet, with the calming and merciful words of the Lord, Jesus says to Peter: “Do not be afraid.” And Peter’s life is changed. One moment he is telling the Lord to depart from him, but the next he is abandoning everything in order to follow him.
With Paul in our second reading, Paul writes of his unworthiness. He says, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church.” Paul has a deep recognition of his unworthiness. He went about killing Christians, killing innocent people, throwing them in prison. Imagine having to live with that! And yet, with great confidence, with an awareness of the change brought about by the merciful love of God, Paul tells the people, “His grace in me has not been ineffective.” The grace and mercy of God has caused a true change in him.
In all of them, with Isaiah, with Peter, with Paul—in all of them, what do we see? We see that their lives are changed; something perceivable, something they can point to has happened. It is not just a nice, “Well, God said I’m forgiven, but life goes on.” No, it is a true change. And there is a confidence that comes with it, a boldness, a new direction in their life.
In each of our lives, I’m sure there are things we have done that we are not proud of, things we are ashamed of, things that (to be honest) eat away at us inside. And we think, “Well, the Lord really doesn’t want anything to do with me anymore.” And we kind of resolve to just live with it. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about! We all can say we know about God’s mercy and love and forgiveness, but when push comes to shove, at the end of the day, we can live like it doesn’t matter, like it doesn’t really change anything. We show-up here, to mass, to confession, because we have to, but we don’t really expect anything to happen, or to experience any real difference in our life. There’s this deep and creeping doubt that sneaks in, or just an outright belief that this is not worth the time.
So how do we fix it? How can we experience this? How can we allow the merciful love of the Lord to truly change us?
First and foremost we have to make a fundamental change: we have to allow the Lord into our lives. Again, look at Isaiah and Peter and Paul. The Lord appeared to Isaiah in a vision. The Lord just got into Peter’s boat without asking. The Lord knocked Paul down on the road to Damascus. The Lord is desperately trying to break into your life. But Isaiah could have ignored the vision. Peter could have told Jesus to get out of the boat. And Paul could easily have pretended he was hallucinating. So yeah, first and foremost you have to allow the Lord into your life. You have to show up to mass, you have to give him time in prayer each day, you have to make room for him in your life.
Secondly, we have to do the hardest thing which is to acknowledge that we are a sinner. How often have you heard, “Well, I’m a good person. It’s not like I go around killing people.” Well, if that’s your bar for “not being a sinner,” then your bar is desperately too low. No, acknowledging you’re a sinner has to go much deeper. You have to take an honest look at yourself. And then, the hard part, you have to go to confession. Confession is hard—a good, honest, and thorough confession is hard—because when you confess your sins, really what you’re doing is admitting to yourself that you know what you did was wrong, and that you know you have to change. That’s the hard part. God will always forgive us, God is not the issue. The issue is us. It’s always been us.
Finally, this all means that we’re going to have to admit that our life is not about us. I know. Hard to swallow. I know that in the United States we’ve been fed a steady diet of “life is about me, myself and I,” we’ve been asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” But that’s where we get off on the wrong foot from the get-go. Life is not about us. Think about the happiest times in your life. Were you alone or with others? Were you living only for yourself, or for others? Was life all about you, or was life about someone else? Maybe I’m wrong, but the happiest moments in my life have come when I stop worrying so much about myself and recklessly live for others.
This weekend we celebrate World Marriage Day. And these same three elements must be present in marriage. With marriage, you have to allow one another into your lives, you have to make room for each other, time for each other. What’s more, you have to acknowledge that you’re not perfect and that your spouse isn’t perfect—usually, that’s the easy part. But the hard part is to love them even in their sinfulness, because that is how the Lord loves us. And finally, a good marriage means that you acknowledge that life is not about you. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but it is not an easy vocation. Marriage is difficult, it involves sacrifice. But all of the greatest things in life involve sacrifice.
We’ve all seen a good marriage like this! We’ve all seen how life changing and life altering it is when a couple lives in this way. It is the same for each of us with God’s merciful love for each one of us, our relationship with him. When we allow the Lord into our life in a real way, when we acknowledge our own sinfulness, when we realize that our life is not about us and start living this way, then our lives are truly able to be changed and made new by the merciful love of the Lord. Like Isaiah and Peter and Paul, our lives are truly changed and renewed and transformed. Nothing that we have done in the past can separate us from God’s love. There is nothing we could ever do to make God stop loving us. It’s not a God problem, it’s an us problem. It’s us, it has always been us.
And so we take that prayer before communion very seriously: Lord, I am not worthy, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.