How often have you been to an office, requiring help, only to be faced with what seems to be a ‘mountain’ of ‘red tape’? Whether a government service or within the business world, it seems that we often make things so complicated that even the most apparently minor task becomes some kind of monumental effort. We hear things like, ‘that’s impossible’ or ‘it doesn’t work that way’ when quite often, solutions to problems seem very simple and straightforward.
Sometimes we are the ones who present these types of answers to others. At times the reason is, frankly, we don’t want to render the help that is being asked because it is inconvenient. Other times, we find excuses not to take care of the problem because we don’t think we are capable of completing what is being asked. We aren’t ‘up to the challenge’ or we don’t feel we have the abilities necessary to see the job through. We’re afraid we will make a mistake. We are afraid we are unfit or unworthy.
We see this notion of ‘fear’ and ‘unworthiness’ repeated in all three of our readings this Sunday.
In the first reading, we hear from the prophet Isaiah who recounts a vision in which he received a call from God to be His prophet: and Isaiah’s response is, “ I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips;”
St. Paul, in the first letter to the Corinthians, identifies himself this way;
“I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.”
In our Gospel from St. Luke, St. Peter is just as direct and blunt when, after a miraculous catch of fish, he says to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Too often we diminish or belittle the possibility that God is calling us directly to act on His behalf – both in great things and in small things. Too often we dismiss the stirrings to be prophets, ambassadors or messengers for Christ because we get caught up in this mentality that ‘it is only through big and great things’ that the presence of Jesus is made known.
And it’s easy to avoid doing what He asks of us each day if we convince ourselves that it is something well beyond our reach or our capabilities.
We can take comfort in our own ‘inability’ because the greatness of living out and sharing the Gospel is just too much for our smallness. We’re afraid.
That fear becomes an easy way to avoid any responsibility for living out lives of holiness, or participating in the work of the Church.
The truth is, Jesus asks us to make His presence known to those around us in everything we do; in the way we speak to each other, the way we treat each other, the way we serve and suffer with one another. These in and of themselves may not seem like ‘monumental tasks’ or ‘great things’.
But each one of them contributes to the building up of the Kingdom of God, and that makes them great.
These three readings from Scripture also hold a key to reinforcing our own abilities to carry out these things in life that God asks of us. The three people whose stories we are presented with today – Isaiah of the unclean lips, Paul the persecutor of the Church, and Peter the sinful man – all have a direct communication from God telling them that those ‘barriers’ to responding to God’s call have been removed! They have no excuses left.
With Isaiah it is the angel with the purifying coal touching his lips; with Paul it is a vision of Christ telling him that he, Paul, is to be an ambassador in the world for Christ; with Peter, it is Jesus himself saying ‘do not be afraid,’ and inviting Peter to follow Him.
We might say, ‘well it would be easier for me to follow what God wants me to do if I saw angels, or visions, or had Jesus Himself standing before me telling me exactly what I should do.”
But the truth is, that happens all the time; in the Sacred Scriptures, in the Church, in those around us – God speaks to us all the time, calling us to be near Him and to draw those around us closer to Him.
Remember, the abilities we are so quick to dismiss were given to us by God, to share with each other. If those gifts were given to us by God to serve His purpose, then those gifts will most certainly be sufficient for what He asks. He is there, accompanying us as we walk along with Him, continually urging us through His Church, through Scripture, and through others, to use those gifts and abilities, no matter how great or small, for His glory.
We have no excuses.
“Do not be afraid.”
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!