5th Sunday in Ordinary Time B

We are the baptized evangelizing people of God.  Indeed, the moment the baptismal water hit our heads we were commissioned to go and share the good news of Jesus Christ, to tell the story of God’s overwhelming mercy.  It has always been so.  From the beginning, baptism and evangelization have been linked.  At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus tells his apostles, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit.” Those who have heard God’s word are to let others know it as well.  Yet, if God asked each of us, are you ready for this mission, would we raise our hands on high or cautiously, secretly lightly lift a hand and pull it back before it was seen?  For I think we all hesitate when it comes to saying yes to the awesome task of telling God’s story.  We simply believe we are too weak, too sinful and too unworthy.

I think there is always some time to grow comfortable with the call, to grow into the idea that we were meant for what we meant for.   I have heard from parents how terrified they were when bringing home their oldest child from the hospital to begin parenting for real.  My best friends looked around in amazement that it seemed ok to everyone that they got to take a baby home without supervision.  I share in that feeling.  I remember my first mass, when we got to the epiclesis, when the Holy Spirit is invoked about the bread and the wine so that they might become the body and blood of Christ.  I too looked around, gathered my arms to place over the gifts and thought, “Well, let’s see what happens.”  Of course it did happen, as it happens for almost all frightened parents, but we can only grow more effective in our missions by believing we were meant for them.

Certainly, we see that in each of the readings today.  People are stunned that they would be the ones chosen and are quite amazed at God’s curious selection process.  As God chooses Isaiah to be a prophet to Israel, he cries out in protest, “Woe is me, I am doomed!  For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” But an angel touches his lips to purge his sinfulness so that he might proclaim God’s message.  St. Paul, in recounting the story of Christ, calls himself, “The least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle,” for he deeply persecuted the Church, breathing murderous threats until confronted by the grace of Jesus and submitting to his charge to be the apostle to the gentiles.  Finally, St. Peter’s reaction to hearing Jesus teach and witnessing the miraculous catch of fish is to tell Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Instead Jesus chooses to make his most dynamic follower “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” In each case, God called, people resisted and God found a way for them to succeed.  Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

God never seems to call perfect people.  Perhaps that is why he made so few of them.  After all, what would a perfect person have to say to someone brokenhearted if here heart had never been broken?  How could they help someone struggling if they have never struggled?  How can they help the lost find their way if they have never wandered into the woods themselves?  That is the story of the saints. They are not perfect; they are faithful.  Mother Theresa had a short period of time in her prayer when she deeply felt the consolation of Christ.  With that energy she started the Missionaries of Charity and the wonderful mission of her life.  But for decades she thirsted to experience that nearness of God again without ever finding it.  Does that make her less of a saint?  Of course not, because she still worked every day of her life for the Lord.  Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker gave up her agnostic common law husband because he would not get married in the church, but she loved him and missed him every day of her life.

God has a habit of calling the imperfect, wounded people.  People who can relate, who can share stories of hurt, shame, sinfulness and failure.  And they can still speak to the idea that God was and is there for them.  I never knew where this concept came from that the bad things in the world make people turn away from Christ.  It is blaming him for a promise he never made.  He never said we would never be hurt, he only promised that he would be there to lift us up; that he would accompany when we suffered for he knew the cross; that he would not even let death allow us to be parted from him.  That is why we his evangelists tell similar stories of hurt, betrayal and failure and how Christ was their friend, companion and hope.

It seems to me that Jesus Christ is looking for a few good sinners; and I believe that we have quite a few right here.  People who can listen with compassion, with empathy, with love.  People who are willing to go into the hole for a friend because we have been there before and we know the way out.  People who were surrounded by the darkness, but found their way to the light of Christ.

So let us hear Christ’s call resolutely in our ears.    We are the baptized evangelizing people of God.  Let us not hesitate to lift high our hands for God has looked past our unworthiness yet again to see our effectiveness.  Let us say yes to the call of our Good Shepherd.  Let us say with Isaiah, “Here I am…send me!”

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