Reflection for the 5th Sunday on Ordinary Time, Year C. 2019
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
I once watched in amazement as a Pastor preached on our First Reading this Sunday which is taken from Isaiah 6:1-8.
In the passage, Isaiah describes the vision of his calling as prophet beginning with the following words, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….” I guess that Isaiah used the death of the King merely as a means of marking the time of his vision (dating) but the pastor had other ideas. For him, the King Uzziah had been an obstacle that must give way (that must die) for Isaiah to see the Lord (and prosper). So, he led the congregation in explosive prayer session to destroy all the Uzziahs in their lives that hinder their progress. And the elated congregation kept thundering “Amen!” At the end, I felt convinced that indeed we can be our own Uzziahs.
Nonetheless, the calls of Isaiah, Paul and Peter in the three readings of this Sunday all indicate that God can use anybody to do his work.
It is not about our qualifications, expertise or experiences. We are not invited on merit. It is by the grace of God hence it’s all about our willingness to cooperate with that grace.
The three men acknowledged their unworthiness before God. Isaiah declares: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips…!” Paul felt unfit to be called an apostle because he persecuted the church of God. And Peter fell down at Jesus’ feet pleading, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Indeed, anyone who truly comes face to face with God will become aware of their insignificance and shabbiness of life.
However, God qualifies (empowers) us when we accept in faith to work for Him. In the case of Isaiah, an angel touched his lips with a burning coal taken from the altar and said to him, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”.
For Peter, Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people, you will no longer be fisherman but fisher of men”.
And to demonstrate that his qualification for the work of God does not come from him but from God, Paul declares, “It is by the grace of God that I am what I am.” Indeed, initial feeling of personal unworthiness could be a sign that a soul has encountered God as did the three men.
Encounter with God leads us from the shallows to the deep. Jesus tells Peter to launch his net into the deep water for a catch. Often we loiter evasively at the peripheries of life, neither adding dept nor substance. Like children, we build sand castles by the seashore without really stepping into the water.
God wants us to stop playing around and do more. Like Peter, we should take that leap of faith. Being an experienced fisherman, Peter initially protested. He knows the waters inside out. So he responds with some self-confidence, “We (as professionals) spent the whole night fishing in vain….” But when he eventually did, casting his net in the hot afternoon that is unfavourable for fishing, they made such a huge catch.
The catch symbolises the success they and their successors would record in winning souls for Christ. It is an assurance that when we answer God’s call and humbly follow his directives in our lives even when it seems against all common sense, we achieve mind blowing results.
Today, the Lord continues to ask as the Prophet Isaiah heard him ask: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God needs his followers to continue the good work Jesus had started in lifting the poor and the marginalised, healing the sick, standing up for the weak, challenging the powerful, redefining authority as service, standing against oppressive worldviews and practices – actions of one man that changed the world.
Jesus himself had declared that his followers are empowered to do even more than he did. And there is so much to be done. Today, the world is under siege; billions are desperately poor and hungry living on less than £1 a day. More than half a million children under the age of five die daily from water-borne diseases. Nearly two million are trafficked and exploited in sex trade. Eighty-five million children are subjected to child-labour. Wars and conflicts are wreaking havoc. Pandemic diseases are spreading. Ethnic hatred and racism are intensifying. Terrorism is becoming a hydra-headed monster.
We can’t fix all the world’s problems but as Jesus said, if you could give as much as a cup of cold water, it sure makes a world of difference to the one thirsty person.
Remember, God takes no excuses; he didn’t take the excuses of Isaiah, Paul and Peter that they were incompetent. So, if you feel unworthy and incompetent, know that it is only people who feel that way that God uses.
So, take courage and respond like Isaiah, “Here am I; send me!” The Lord himself will empower you for the job. Note that whatever you observe that needs to be done or improved invites you to do something about it. So, stop moaning and start taking action. And let us not forget that we are called to minister with the patience of the fisherman who can stay long without making a catch but yet perseveres.