5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C – February 6, 2022
IN OUR UNWORTHINESS
We are all human, we have our own shortcomings, failures, and weaknesses. Sometimes we are strong enough to overcome them and other times everything stays the same however there is always room to improve ourselves. God has created everyone with free will and with lots of gifts and talents to have freedom of our own heart and mind (please read Psalm 139). Every day in our faith journey we witness our unworthiness, but we do believe in the love and mercy of God who strengthens and purifies us. How true is it that “God does not call the qualified, but he qualifies the called”? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus always says that we are unworthy servants, and we did what we were ought to do.
This vision narrated by the Founder of Salvation Army, William Booth (1829-1912) “On one of my recent journeys, as I gazed from the coach window, I was led into a train of thought concerning the condition of the multitudes around me. They were living carelessly in the most open and shameless rebellion against God, without a thought for their eternal welfare. As I looked out of the window, I seemed to see them all . . . millions of people all around me given up to their drink and their pleasure, their dancing and their music, their business and their anxieties, their politics, and their troubles. Ignorant – willfully ignorant in many cases – and in other instances knowing all about the truth and not caring at all. But all of them, the whole mass of them, sweeping on and up in their blasphemies and devilries to the Throne of God. While my mind was thus engaged, I had a vision.
I saw a dark and stormy ocean. Over it the black clouds hung heavily; through them every now and then vivid lightening flashed, and loud thunder rolled, while the winds moaned, and the waves rose and foamed, towered, and broke, only to rise and foam, tower, and break again. In that ocean I thought I saw myriads of poor human beings plunging and floating, shouting and shrieking, cursing, and struggling and drowning; and as they cursed and screamed, they rose and shrieked again, and then some sank to rise no more. And I saw out of this dark angry ocean, a mighty rock that rose up with its summit towering high above the black clouds that overhung the stormy sea. And all around the base of this great rock I saw a vast platform. Onto this platform, I saw with delight a number of the poor struggling, drowning wretches continually climbing out of the angry ocean. And I saw that a few of those who were already safe on the platform were helping the poor creatures still in the angry waters to reach the place of safety.
But the thing to me that seemed the most amazing was that those on the platform to whom He called, who heard His voice and felt that they ought to obey it – at least they said they did – those who confessed to love Him much were in full sympathy with Him in the task He had undertaken – who worshipped Him or who professed to do so – were so taken up with their trades and professions, their money saving and pleasures, their families and circles, their religions and arguments about it, and their preparation for going to the mainland, that they did not listen to the cry that came to them from this Wonderful Being who had Himself gone down into the sea. Anyway, if they heard it, they did not heed it. They did not care. And so, the multitude went on right before them struggling and shrieking and drowning in the darkness. And then I saw something that seemed to me even more strange than anything that had gone on before in this strange vision. I saw that some of these people on the platform whom this Wonderful Being had called to, wanting them to come and help Him in His difficult task of saving these perishing creatures, were always praying, and crying out to Him to come to them!
Some wanted Him to come and stay with them and spend His time and strength in making them happier. Others wanted Him to come and take away various doubts and misgivings they had concerning the truth of some letters He had written them. Some wanted Him to come and make them feel more secure on the rock – so secure that they would be quite sure that they should never slip off again into the ocean. So, these people used to meet and get up as high on the rock as they could and looking towards the mainland (where they thought the Great Being was) they would cry out, “Come to us! Come and help us!” And all the while He was down (by His Spirit) among the poor struggling, drowning creatures in the angry deep, with His arms around them trying to drag them out, and looking up – oh! so longingly but all in vain – to those on the rock, crying to them with His voice all hoarse from calling, “Come to Me! Come, and help Me!
And then I understood it all. It was plain enough. The sea was the ocean of life – the sea of real, actual human existence. That lightening was the gleaming of piercing truth coming from Jehovah’s Throne. That thunder was the distant echoing of the wrath of God. Oh, what a black sea it was! And oh, what multitudes of rich and poor, ignorant, and educated were there. They were all so unalike in their outward circumstances and conditions, yet all alike in one thing – all sinners before God – all held by, and holding onto, some iniquity, fascinated by some idol, the slaves of some devilish lust, and ruled by the foul fiend from the bottomless pit! My friends in Christ, you are rescued from the waters, you are on the rock, He is in the dark sea calling on you to come to Him and help Him. Will you go? Look for yourselves. The surging sea of life, crowded with perishing multitudes rolls up to the very spot on which you stand”.
How true it is to reflect on our own unworthiness and letting God purify us with the Fire of Holy Spirit? Today’s Word of God speaks about the same spirit of our unworthiness and his power to purify us and protect us.
In the First Prophet Isaiah not only shares the vision he is having of Seraphim who crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” and praising God but also, he acknowledges his own unworthiness to be called and sent out as a prophet. As I said earlier, we all have our own weakness and shortcomings, but God knows who we are and purifies us as He did to Isaiah. He is purified with the fire. We all are familiar what fire does when silver and gold is purified (Please read Malachi 3, Zachariah 13 & 1 Peter 1:7-17).
Let me share a story by unknown author before I reflect on the Gospel today. I do believe that we are like a boy in the story and St. Peter won’t be exception either. I will explain how after the story…
In the city of Chicago, one cold, dark night, a blizzard was setting in. A little boy was selling newspapers on the corner. The people were in and out of the cold. The little boy was so cold that he wasn’t trying to sell many papers.
He walked up to a policeman and said, “Mister, you wouldn’t happen to know where a poor boy could find a warm place to sleep tonight would you? You see, I sleep in a box up around the corner there and down the alley and it’s awful cold in there for tonight. Sure, would be nice to have a warm place to stay.” The policeman looked down at the little boy and said, “You go down the street to that big white house and you knock on the door. When they come to the door you just say John 3:16, and they will let you in.” So, he did. He walked up the steps and knocked on the door, and a lady answered.
He looked up and said, “John 3:16.” The lady said, “Come on in son.” She took him in and she sat him down in a split bottom rocker in front of a great big old fireplace, and she went off. The boy sat there for a while and thought to himself: John 3:16… I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a cold boy warm. Later, she came back and asked him, “Are you hungry? “He said, “Well, just a little. I haven’t eaten in a couple of days, and I guess I could stand a little bit of food.” The lady took him in the kitchen and sat him down to a table full of wonderful food. He ate and ate until he couldn’t eat any more. Then he thought to himself: John 3:16… boy, I sure don’t understand it but it sure makes a hungry boy full.
She took him upstairs to a bathroom to a huge bathtub filled with warm water, and he sat there and soaked for a while. As he soaked, he thought to himself: John 3:16… I sure don’t understand it, but it sure does make a dirty boy clean. You know, I’ve not had a real bath in my whole life. The only bath I ever had was when I stood in front of that big old fire hydrant as they flushed it out. The lady came in and got him. She took him to a room, tucked him into a big old feather bed, pulled the covers up around his neck, kissed him goodnight and turned out the lights. As he lay in the darkness and looked out the window, at the snow coming down on that cold night, he thought to himself: John 3:16… I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a tired boy rested.
The next morning, the lady came back up and took him down again to that same table full of food. After he ate, she took him down again to that same big old split bottom rocker in front of the fireplace and picked up a big old Bible. She sat down in front of him and looked into his young face.
“Do you understand John 3:16?” she asked gently. He replied, “No ma’am, I don’t. The first time I ever heard it was last night when the policeman told me to use it.” She opened the Bible to John 3:16 and began to explain to him about Jesus. Right there, in front of that big old fireplace, he gave his heart and life to Jesus. He sat there and thought: John 3:16. I don’t understand it, but it sure makes a lost boy feel safe.
You know, I have to confess I don’t understand it either, how God was willing to send His Son to die for me, and how Jesus would agree to do such a thing. I don’t understand the agony of the Father and every angel in Heaven as they watched Jesus suffer and die. I don’t understand the intense love for ME that kept Jesus on the cross till the end. I don’t understand it, but it sure does make life worth living. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. If you aren’t ashamed to do this, please follow the directions. Pass this on only if you mean it. Then sit back and watch the power of God work.
In the Gospel I believe St. Peter didn’t know who Jesus was neither did he understand why he was obeying the stranger who had no knowledge of fishing but still he did. Holy Pope Francis reflecting on the Gospel says “The event takes place in the context of everyday life: there are several fishermen on the shore of the lake of Galilee, who, after working all night and catching nothing, are washing and arranging their nets. When he is finished speaking, he tells them to put out into the deep and cast the nets. Therefore, he responds: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets”. And this faith of his did not disappoint indeed, the nets filled with so many fish that they nearly broke. It is an episode that reminds us of the other miraculous catch of fish, which took place after the Resurrection, when Jesus asked His disciples if they had anything to eat. In both cases, there is an anointing of Peter: first as a fisher of men, then as a pastor. Jesus then changes his name from Simon to Peter; and, as a good Israelite, Peter knows that a change of name signifies a change of mission. Peter felt proud because he truly loved Jesus, and this miraculous catch represents a step forward in his life. Facing this extraordinary event, the fishermen are greatly astonished. Simon Peter throws himself at Jesus’ feet, saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”. That prodigious sign convinces him that Jesus is not only a formidable master whose word is true and powerful, but he is the Lord, he is the manifestation of God. For Peter this close presence brings about a strong sense of his own pettiness and unworthiness. From a human point of view, he thinks that there should be distance between the sinner and the Holy One. In truth, his very condition as a sinner requires that the Lord not distance Himself from him, in the same way that a doctor cannot distance himself from those who are sick”.
Jesus’ response to Simon Peter is reassuring and decisive: “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be fisher of men”. Once again, the fisherman of Galilee, placing his trust in this word, leaves everything and follows the one who has become his Lord and Master. Simon’s workmates, James, and John, do the same. This is the logic that guides Jesus’ mission and the mission of the Church: go in search, “fish” for men and women, not to preach, but to restore full dignity and freedom to all, through the forgiveness of sins as St. Paul says “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing this so that they may be applied in my case. Indeed, I would rather die than that no one will deprive me of my ground for boasting! If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:15-18).
This is the essential point of Christianity: to spread the free and regenerative love of God, with a welcoming and merciful attitude toward everyone, so that each person can encounter God’s tenderness and have the fullness of life. Remember everyone who was called by the Lord were not perfect. They had their own weaknesses and somewhere they did feel unworthy to continue the work of God but still God called them to be chosen instrument of preaching his Word and spread his love, mercy, compassion, and protection. We need to say like Prophet Isaiah “Here I am Lord, send me”. Nothing in the world is unworthy which is created by God but everything and everyone is unique and precious. Let me conclude my reflection with an amazing story of “Unworthy Tree” which was saved by the woman.
Once upon a time there was a tree. Most people did not notice this tree. One person did notice. Every day before work he would look up at the tree and into the sky beyond and tell if it was raining. He often said to his wife, you know if they take down that tree, I won’t be able to find out if it is raining because I can’t hear it on the roof, but I can see it against the dark pine tree.
One day his wife discovered the house and section where the tree lived was to be sold for development. She knew her husband would be upset if he found out, so she went immediately to the council to see if the tree could be saved.
When she explained about the tree, they just laughed, saying the tree didn’t measure up, it wasn’t worthy: It was not native, It was not special, It did not qualify as the kind of tree the council would protect. It was not networked and had no connections and so had no power.
Fortunately for the tree, and the local area, she did not give up.
Luckily, she lived in a community that was becoming quite well connected. It had gone from being a suburb of people living separate lives in their suburban houses, towards being a connected community with an increasing sense of itself and what it had and what it wanted.
The community had its own media – a community magazine, and an electronic bulletin board which was to develop as an interactive community website. As with the villages of the past, people here still had face-to-face conversations, but now communication was also enhanced by electronic communication. These electronic communication tools enabled the community to be very well-connected. They now had somewhere they could communicate together around a shared text. Anyone could ask questions like, “Can anyone help?” “Does anyone know …?” There was now space and opportunity for any, or many, to respond where they could and were willing to help.
With respect to the tree and the land it was on, help was sought to save the tree, and the tree became connected to networks of people, like the old-boys’ network only different. This network was more inclusive and diverse – for instance many local people came together to help – local children presented their submission (in the form of pictures), local people who understood council processes gave advice, people with skills, such as inclusive community development, ensured effective participation, local people with skills, such as landscape artists, photographers and writers all helped. The council made a decision to save the tree by buying the land for a local park … exactly how they did it is another story, but the tree – Well, the tree had become connected, and so became worthy.
This week we have two challenges to achieve: “Do we know how to truly trust in the Word of the Lord?” And “Do we let ourselves become discouraged by our failures?”
Other Sermons In This Series
December 23, 2022
December 02, 2022
March 18, 2022