Am I Worthy?
We are now well into Jesus’ Galilean ministry, the one he began in Nazareth.
But this Sunday contains a surprise development. The Church’s Fifth Sunday finds three of the greatest witnesses in the Bible—Isaiah, Paul and Peter—expressing their own worthlessness. They are worthless.
What is your attitude toward worthiness? Do you agree with today’s 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 these three witnesses and see if they are worth it.
First, Isaiah receives a vision of heaven itself (First Reading). The Lord is seated on a high and lofty throne. The Seraphim angel choir is crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”*
Isaiah’s reacts with shame, or so it seems. “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 to cleanse his lips!!!! He is doomed, alright, but doomed to be made clean through suffering, to be made able to speak of God.
Second, St. Paul says that Christ appeared to him last of all, as to one born abnormally (Second Reading). “For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Unworthy but did the grace of God discard him? No, it appointed him an Apostle even though he had never even met Jesus.
Then there is the famous Gospel story. 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 are bloated with fish. Peter cries out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
So we have a problem here. Isn’t the experience of God supposed to lead to peace, forgiveness, and joy instead of shame?
Make a distinction. The real reaction of all three figures is not really shame, which means concluding that they are each worthless. Instead we could see that they are finding their real place in reality. They are expressing a kind of humility
How? Each of these men is forced to compare himself directly with the presence of God. But when people meet the holiness of God head-on, they are able to see humanness in themselves. It is as full of holes as a sponge. None of them could pretend that they shone like the stars because they saw the real star bursting with light.
An experience of God lets them understand that they are far, far less than God. This is not bad, it is good. Our own elegance cannot make us holy but God 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.”
Fr. John Foley, S. J.