Sunday, 7 February 2016

Week 5 Sunday (Year C) -- 7 February 2016

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 137; 1 Corinthians 15:1-22; Luke 5:1-11

There is nothing wrong about feeling unworthy in the presence of God. In fact it seems like a healthy reaction. Which of us, faced with the glory of God’s perfect love, would feel able to stand? Isaiah experienced that glory in a vision he had in the Temple at Jerusalem, and felt unworthy. Peter experienced it in his encounter with Jesus, and felt sinful. They fell to their knees, dismayed by their poverty.

That Peter reacted to Jesus as Isaiah did in the Temple reminds us of something central to the New Testament. God’s dwelling is not now a religious building in a particular place: God’s dwelling is Jesus Christ. The glory experienced by Isaiah is hidden within Jesus. Our dealings with God, and God’s dealings with us, take place now through the body of Jesus Christ. It is because we have been made members of that body through baptism that we have access to the Father when we pray in the name of the Son. But Peter has not yet learned all this. For the moment all he knows is that the power of God is working through Jesus and he is not worthy to stand in its presence.

Saint Catherine of Siena, a great mystic of the 14th century, quotes God saying to her ‘I am He who is and you are she who is not’. Saint Paul puts it like this in the second reading today: ‘by grace I am what I am’. If he worked harder than any of the other apostles, it was ‘not I but the grace of God that is with me’. This is a lesson that is learned only with great difficulty. Isaiah has a burning coal placed against his lips: thus purified he can speak the Word of God to the people. Peter has many trials and difficulties to undergo in following Christ. Paul too gained his wisdom through much suffering. And of course Jesus himself, although he was Son, learned obedience through what he suffered. 

Like Peter we are invited to ‘put out into the deep’, to be courageous and generous in our efforts at following Christ. We will fail often, and perhaps seriously, as Peter did. But we are in good company, for so many have walked this path before us, the path to our true identity: ‘by grace I am what I am’.

First published in The Pastoral Review, January-February 2007

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