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Thursday, 4 February 2016

Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp

Isaiah 6:1-8,                         1 Cor. 15:1-11,         Luke 5:1-11

On the Gospel – Unworthy Ministers 

In a certain church there was a man in the choir who couldn't sing very well. The choir director suggested that he should leave the choir. Others felt he should be given more time to improve. The choir director then decided to go to the pastor and complain. "You've got to get that man out of the choir or else I'm going to resign." So the pastor went to the man and said to him, "Perhaps you should leave the choir." "Why should I leave the choir?" the man asked. "Well," said the pastor, "four or five people have told me you can't sing." "That's nothing," the man replied, "forty or fifty people have told me you can't preach!" Today's readings show us how God can make use of the most unlikely people to fulfil the divine purpose.

The first reading is on the call of Isaiah, the second on the call of Paul, and the Gospel on the call of Peter and his coworkers. How did these people feel when they realized that they were in the presence of God. They all felt unworthy of God. Isaiah said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5). Paul felt himself unfit to be called an apostle, because he persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9). And Peter fell down at Jesus' feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8). Initial feeling of personal unworthiness could be a sign that a soul has seen God. That is why humility is said to be the first and primary virtue in authentic spirituality. The feeling of personal worthiness and competence, not to talk of the feeling of self-righteousness and spiritual superiority, could be a sign that the soul has neither seen nor known God.

When the soul confesses its sinfulness and inadequacy before God, God reaches out and absolves the sinner and renders him or her competent to serve Him. In the case of Isaiah, one of the seraphs touched his lips with a burning coal taken from the altar of the temple and said to him, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out” (Isaiah 6:7). In the case of Simon Peter, Jesus said to him, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (Luke 5:10). We see that their qualification for the work of God does not come from them but from God. It is not their personal achievement; it is God's grace. That is why Paul could say, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

Beyond the feeling of personal unworthiness, there is another quality that the three people who are called to do God's work in today's readings have in common, and that is the availability to do God's will and the readiness to follow His directives. As soon as Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” his immediate response was: “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). In the case of Peter and his partners, we are told that “they left everything and followed him” (Luke 15:11) without looking back. And Paul threw himself with so much zeal into God's work that he worked harder than all those who were called before him, though as he is quick to points out, “it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Merely feeling unworthy and incompetent does not make us into people that God can work with. We must add to that the availability and willingness to go out there and do as the Lord directs.

When we follow the guidance of the Lord in our lives, we achieve results that will blow our minds. This is what we see in Peter's miraculous catch of fish. He and his men toiled all night long and caught nothing. They were relying on their own competence as seasoned fishermen and following their own minds as to where and how to throw the net. The result, in one word, was failure. But when they followed the Lord's guidance which, humanly speaking, did not make much sense (fishermen did not set the net in broad daylight), the result was a resounding success.

Today, as always, the good Lord continues to ask: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The Lord still needs messengers, men and women who, like Isaiah, will proclaim the Good News of God's love in the temple, or who, like Paul, will announce it in foreign lands to the ends of the earth, or who, like Peter, will speak up for God in the workplace and bring their coworkers and business partners to know and follow the Lord. If we feel unworthy and incompetent for the work of God, know that it is only people who feel that way that God can use. All that remains is for you to take the risk and say, “Here am I; send me!” The Lord himself will see to it that He renders you fit for the job He wants you to do for Him, as He did with Isaiah, with Paul, and with Peter.

On the Epistle – Passing on the Message

Children love playing “telephone.” You know the game. Children stand in a circle and one of them whispers something to the next person in line, who then whispers it to the next person, and so on. By the time the message gets back to the beginning of the circle, it has invariably changed beyond recognition. Why does the message change? Two reasons: either people did not clearly hear what was said to them or they did not clearly pass on what they heard.

In today’s second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul reflects on his role as an apostle of Christ. Even though Paul did not meet Jesus face-to-face in his lifetime, Paul was sure that he was passing on the authentic teaching of Christ. Paul’s certitude is based not on the many visions of Christ that he enjoyed but on the teaching that he received from those who were apostles before him. “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received” (1 Corinthians 15:3). In other words, Paul understood his ministry as essentially that of passing on the message. To succeed in doing this, two things are most important: how one receives the tradition, and how one passes it on. Using the analogy of playing the “telephone,” in order to transmit the message faithfully down the line, each person in the chain must endeavour to hear correctly what is being passed on to him or her, and then make sure that he or she passes it on faithfully to the next person.

Are we faithfully passing on the message of Christ to our people today? To answer this question we need first to ask ourselves (a) how faithful are we in hearing the message of Christ? and (b) how effective are we in passing it on to others?

To hear faithfully the message of Christ means to do everything possible to improve our understanding of the Good News that Jesus brought to the world. Here the Bible is of supreme importance. We need to do all we can to improve our Bible reading habits and skills. Parish Bible study groups are very helpful in this regard. The ability to read and understand the Bible is of supreme importance because, as St Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

The teaching of the Church, which is a distillation of the teachings of Christ passed on from one generation to the next by living witnesses, is equally an important channel for hearing the message of Christ. As Jesus himself said to his messengers, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Yet we must hear the messenger with discernment, for as the word of God travels down the line through various times and cultures, it takes on the embellishment of those cultures. We must, therefore, try to discern what is the word of God and what the cultural clothing it has donned in its journey through various cultures. We must distinguish between the unchangeable word of God and the changeable traditions in which the word has been clothed and transmitted.

Having understood the essential message of Christ, we then take on the second phase of our duty as faithful messengers, namely, passing on the message. The unchangeable word of God is always expressed and celebrated in changeable traditions. Hence the need to understand the cultural situation of those with whom we want to share the message. Missionaries to foreign lands know the need to learn the language and culture of a people before they can share the word of God with them effectively. Similarly, in our bid to pass on the message to young people today, me must understand that they live in a different sub-culture. To effectively pass on the message of Christ to them we must use the vernacular, the art-forms, and the values that they can identify with. In so doing we do not change the message of Christ, we only change the medium through which it is expressed and transmitted.

Like St Paul, we are called to hear the word of God and to share it with others. Our duty is to ensure that we hear it correctly and pass it on without any distortions as the kids do when they play “telephone.” Let us resolve today to take steps to learn to hear and understand the word of God better, and faithfully to pass it on to those coming after us.

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