Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 7th, 2016
Many years ago, while hearing confessions on a Saturday afternoon, I gave a penitent a simple penance: When you attend Mass tomorrow, you are to receive communion. I don’t know where the idea came from, as there had not really been anything in the confession that would point in that direction, but there it was! Immediately, with a shocked look on her face, the woman asked: “Father, do you know what you are asking?” My reply was that I didn’t really know what I was asking or why I was giving this particular penance, as I had never done that before, but I still wanted her to do that as her penance.
The next day after Mass, the woman came to me in tears, asking if she could speak with me. In the conversation, she shared that for many years she had not received communion because she felt she was unworthy, even though she celebrated Reconciliation on a very regular basis. As she received that day, for the first time in about 20 years, she experienced a tremendous peace and joy, and knew in her heart that God loved her and that she was worthy of receiving this gift.
We see somewhat the same situation in the readings today. Isaiah is called to be a prophet and Peter is called to be a disciple. Both have great reasons why this cannot be. They, in their own way are asking God: do you know what you are asking? Isaiah’s excuse is that he is a man of unclean lips and lives among a people of unclean lips. In other words, he is not worthy to speak God’s Word to Israel. How could God be possibly asking him to speak the Word
Before Peter has an inkling of who Jesus might be, he protests Jesus’ instruction to put out their nets – it is daytime, they normally fish only at night, and although they fished all night, there were no fish to be found! But Peter humours Jesus and puts down the nets. As realization dawns, Peter uses much the same argument as Isaiah did: Go away from me, for I am a sinful man!
Jesus calls us to be disciples, apostles, to continue his mission of proclaiming the Good News and building God’s Kingdom in our world. Jesus reminds us over and over again that we are loved unconditionally by God, and that nothing we do will ever cause God to withhold that love. And yet how often are we like the penitent, like Isaiah and Peter? How often do we say to God: “Do you know what you are asking? Can you really be entrusting me with the Good News? Are you really asking me to love my neighbor? Are you really asking me to forgive my enemy, to feed the hungry, to visit the sick, to welcome immigrants and strangers, to love those who are different than I am, to reach out to those on the margins of society or church, to welcome those who are different than me? The list can go on rather indefinitely.
No matter our questions, God continues to call us to build the Kingdom, to proclaim the Good News. As in the case of the penitent, Isaiah and Peter, God deals with our hesitations, with our excuses and reminds us over and over again, in many different ways, that we are loved and cherished by God, that we have been gifted to continue the mission. Jesus also promised that we would be given whatever gifts are necessary to live our mission and to be faithful to the relationship into which God has called us.
The liturgy today offers us a definite challenge – to accept and live out our call to discipleship. We are challenged to avoid the excuses when God invites us to live out the Gospel in a particular way, and instead to ask God how we are to do that, to ask God to show us the way. The ministry of prophet and apostle is given to each of us at our baptism – how do we live today in our daily encounters with the people around us? How often do we say yes to the call, and then trust in God’s gifts to live it out? The lesson from Isaiah and Peter is that no matter how impossible the call might seem, God gives what is needed to accomplish what is asked.