5th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
Have you ever felt like you are not good enough for God? Like you don’t have what it takes to do what God asks of you? Are you hesitant to share your faith because you don’t think you know enough? Do you put off prayer because you don’t feel worthy enough to talk to God? If so, you are in good company, because that’s just how Isaiah, St. Paul, and St. Peter felt when God called them.
Feeling inadequate before God is certainly understandable. After all, God is God! He is perfectly good, perfectly righteous, and perfectly pure. He is all knowing and all powerful. He is the cause of all creation. We are none of those things. When we imagine ourselves before a being of such power and purity, we can’t help but feel unworthy by comparison.
Humility Before God
This isn’t wrong. It’s a sign of humility to recognize our inadequacy before God. This is why when Isaiah had a vision of the Seraphim angels in heaven crying out to God, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” he said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips…” (Is 6:5). He knew he didn’t belong in heaven.
In like manner, St. Peter was keenly aware of his unworthiness when Jesus demonstrated his divinity by miraculously enabling him to catch so many fish that his nets began to tear. Peter fell down before Jesus and cried out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8).
Peter and Isaiah were correct. Neither one was worthy. Yet God called Isaiah to be a great prophet and he called Peter to lead his Church.
There is an old saying that goes, “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.” Like Peter and Isaiah, we are weak and unclean people. But like Peter and Isaiah, God will enable us to fulfill whatever task he calls us to do.
“Your wickedness is removed”
In Isaiah’s vision, an angel came to him carrying an ember from the altar in a pair of tongs, which he then touched to Isaiah’s mouth, saying, “Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged” (Is 6:7).
Once my oldest son, who is an altar server, was in the sacristy of our parish helping to prepare for Mass. He was lighting the charcoal for the incense, holding it in a pair of tongs. As he watched the charcoal catch fire, he said jokingly, “I wonder if I touch this to my lips if my sins will be purged like Isaiah’s?”
Father Coleman, who overheard his remark, reminded him, “Your sins have already been purged at your baptism — and it didn’t hurt as much!”
The grace of God that is with me
Father reminded my son of an important truth. Like Isaiah and Peter, we are not worthy, but God makes us worthy through his grace. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean a hot coal on the lips! It means participating in the sacraments, especially Baptism and Reconciliation (Confession).
All of the sacraments are tangible means by which God imparts his intangible grace to us. Baptism is that first sacrament that binds us to Christ. By our baptism, we are united to Christ in his death and resurrection, and first receive that sanctifying grace that removes all sin.
For any sin we may commit after our baptism, the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) restores us to union with God through the forgiveness God offers to all who repent and seek his mercy.
These sacraments don’t just purify us of our sins; they strengthen us to do God’s work. If you don’t feel worthy of the task God is calling you to do, that’s good! The danger comes when you do feel worthy, because then you begin to rely on yourself and forget to trust in God. There is a reason God chooses the humble to accomplish his will; because the humble know how to rely on his grace.
St. Paul says in this Sunday’s second reading:
For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of the; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.1 Cor 15:9-10
St. Paul was the greatest evangelizer the world has ever known, and he certainly worked hard at it. But he was only able to succeed by relying on God’s grace.
This is the key: we can’t do God’s work on our own. Nor can we just sit back and be lazy Christians, relying on God to do all the work. The truth lies in the middle: we need to put forth effort, because God wants to work through us and in us, our will cooperating with his.
By virtue of our baptism, Christ dwells in each one of us. We are members of his body! As St. Paul says elsewhere, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This means when we do good works, those works are magnified by God. But we have to do the work. God knows exactly what you are capable of. He knows exactly how strong you are, and how weak you are. He knows your knowledge and your ignorance. He knows your capacities and your limitations. And he says, my grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 2:19). We just need to trust that the God who calls us will provide whatever grace is needed to answer that call. All we need to do is say, like Isaiah, “Here I am” (Is 6:8)
“Lord, I am not worthy…”
There is a moment that comes at every Mass, just before we receive Communion. The priest celebrant holds the consecrated host up before us and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.”
At that moment, like Isaiah and St. Peter, we find ourselves in the presence of divinity. We stand before perfect goodness. And if we feel unworthy before that presence… well, as we say elsewhere in the Mass, it is right and just.
But Jesus is not just the sinless Lamb. He is the Lamb who takes away sins. And so we pray, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” We acknowledge our sins and trust God to forgive us. We acknowledge our weakness and trust God to strengthen us. We have faith that God will accomplish his will through us and in humility we say, “Here I am; send me.”