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Spirituality of the Readings
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time C
February 10, 2019
John Foley, SJ
Am I Worthy?

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.

Isn’t the experience of God supposed to lead to peace, forgiveness, and joy instead of shame?
Second, (Second Reading). St. Paul says that Christ appeared to him last of all, as to one born abnormally, “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” He is unworthy but did the grace of God discard him? No, it did not. It appointed him as an Apostle, even though he had never even met Jesus.

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.”

John Foley, SJ
 * This vision happened “in the year King Uzziah died.” According to biblical records Uzziah reigned for 52 years (c. 791-739 BC), but Assyrian records indicate that he reigned for 42 years (c. 783-742). In any case, his latter years were stricken with what the Bible understood as leprosy and therefore he could not rule or worship with others. For the painting by Rembrandt of Uzziah with leprosy, see here.

Father Foley can be reached at:
Fr. John Foley, SJ

Fr. John Foley, SJ, is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
Art by Martin (Steve) Erspamer, OSB
from Religious Clip Art for the Liturgical Year (A, B, and C). This art may be reproduced only by parishes who purchase the collection in book or CD-ROM form. For more information go