In some ways, all three of our Scripture readings speak of humility when confronted by the presence of God, and the healing that occurs in those encounters.
In our first reading from Isaiah, the prophet sees God, and becomes afraid: “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!” For many Israelites, the belief was that anyone who looked on God would be dead. The exception to this was Moses. Confronted with the presence of God, Isaiah recognizes his own sinfulness, and is scared about what will happen to him. Perhaps when we have prayed at the foot of the Cross, or been taken up by Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, or had some kind of significant spiritual experience in or outside of church, we too, have been awed by the majesty and power and love of God, and like Isaiah, become aware of our own sinfulness.
The same thing happens to Simon Peter in our Gospel reading from Luke. After Jesus uses Simon Peter’s fishing boat to teach the crowds at the shore, Jesus tells Him to cast his nets out for a catch. When the catch is nothing short of miraculous, Peter knows he is in the presence of God, and is made aware of his own sinfulness, and says to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Our second reading is from 1 Corinthians. When I read the letters of St. Paul, I don’t often think of him as being humble. In many of his letters he is not afraid to attest to his own credentials in proclaiming the gospel, and we see this somewhat in our reading today. But, in handing down what was given to him concerning Jesus, and then attesting to his own encounter with Him, St. Paul demonstrates that he, too, like Isaiah and Peter, was confronted with his own sin: “Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
What these three readings show is that being confronted with one’s sins does not lead to God’s destruction of anyone. Nor does it need to lead us sinners to despair. Rather, what can happen is healing and reconciliation. An angel comes to Isaiah and touches his lips with a hot ember: “See, … now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” In the Gospel reading, Jesus reassures Peter: “Do not be afraid.” And in our second reading st. Paul is able to say: “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”
But, as one old hymn says, this “is not the end of the story.” Having been reconciled and healed, the three persons we hear about in our readings are given a commission. When God asks, “Who will go for us?” Isaiah answers, “Here I am, send me!” After Peter tries to push Jesus away, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. ; from now on you will be catching [people].” And Paul says, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have worked harder than all of them (see what I mean); not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”
We are invited to come closer to God and not be afraid to confront our sins. We are not called to despair, but instead to trust in God’s love, and let God deeper into our hearts and be healed. And then, we listen and go where God leads us to go. I know that the way I am presenting this makes it look like a straightforward linear progression. It’s not. We go through a continuous process of repentance and healing and helping others. If we wait for perfection before we start our service, we will never begin. But at every moment, at every stage, God is with us and continues to love us. May we respond, as Isaiah did, and say to God, “Here I am, send me!”
Fr. Phil, CP