We are now well into Jesus’ Galilean ministry, the one he began in Nazareth in Galilee.
This Sunday contains a surprise development. Sunday finds three of the greatest witnesses in the Bible—Isaiah, Paul and Peter—expressing their own worthlessness!
Well. What is your attitude toward worthiness? Do you agree with the current psychologized sentiment that, “I AM worthy,” or “I’M ok, YOU’RE ok,” or “I buy this product because I’M WORTH it”?
Let’s look at Isaiah, Paul and Peter and see if they would utter such sentiments.
First, (First Reading), Isaiah receives a vision of heaven itself. The Lord is seated on a high and lofty throne and the Seraphim angel choir is crying out, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”*
But Isaiah reacts with shame! He says,
Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!
In response an angel swoops down with a burning coal and begins to cleanse his lips!!!! He is doomed, alright, but doomed to be made clean through suffering, to be made able to speak of God.
Third, Gospel. This week’s famous story is where Jesus tells Peter James and John to fish in the deep water (where they had been fishing and fishing and fishing all night with no result). Without warning their nets become bloated with fishes. Peter cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
We have a problem here. Isn’t the experience of God supposed to lead to peace, forgiveness, and joy instead of shame?
So, make a distinction. The reaction of all three figures is not really shame, which would mean concluding that every one of them is worthless. Instead they are finding their place in reality. They are expressing a kind of humility. How?
Each of these persons is forced to compare himself directly to the presence of God. But when people meet the holiness of God head-on, they become able to see humanness in in great relief, truly full of holes like a sponge. None of these—except Jesus—could pretend that he or she shone like the stars, since they saw the real star bursting with light. Jesus translated that light into human living.
Experience of God lets us understand that we are far, far less than God. This is not bad, it is good. Our own being cannot make us holy but God’s can. We can be proud to be unworthy, if reception of God’s love is the result.
So at Mass we echo the Roman centurion: “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” When we react with shame, God does not say in return, “I reject you,” but “I love you dearly. Come be with me, you fine human being.”