We Are Called By God’s Grace, Not Our Own Merit

We Are Called By God’s Grace, Not Our Own Merit

Articles, Scripture Wisdom


Reflection on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

In this reflection, the Scripture readings for The Fifth Sunday In Ordinary Time:
Is 6:1-2a, 3-8;Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8;1 Cor 15:1-11;Lk 5:1-11

It is a rare thing in our Lectionary (the book of readings we use each Mass) that all three readings touch the same theme, but this week they do, as they talk about the question of worthiness.

In the first reading, Isaiah proclaims, “For I am a man of unclean lips.” In the second reading, Paul tells the Corinthians, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle.” And in Luke’s Gospel, Peter joins in saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Isaiah, Paul, and Peter do not struggle with poor self-esteem but are focused on their unworthiness in being called to see or serve God.

These expressions resonate with the first response of Pope Francis, when asked after being elected Pope, “Who is Pope Francis?” to which he responded, “I am a sinner.” I remember thinking that is an odd response, you were just elected pope, you are the holiest person in our Church! I was expecting to hear details about his life, like, “I am an Argentinian of Italian descent, our family was working class,” and maybe something about his spirituality. Yet he answered, like the protagonists today, “I am a sinner.”

The beautiful message for us is that in the middle of our sinfulness, God calls us as he did with Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. God does not ask us to be perfect, he only asks for us to be holy. The problem so many times in the spiritual journey is that we equate holy with being perfect, but that is not what God is saying.

Holiness or hagios in the New Testament means “set apart.” We are called to holiness, we are called to be set apart. God set apart Isaiah, Paul, and Peter not because they were more worthy than anyone else, but because we are made in the image and likeness of God, who alone is holy and lets us share in that holiness. Saint Paul says it in this way in his letter to the Corinthians, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” We are called by God’s grace, not by our own merit.

We grow in holiness as we grow in the sacraments, especially Holy Matrimony and Holy Orders. In the former, a couple sets themselves apart from all others, especially in the fidelity of chaste love. In the latter, deacons, priests, bishops, and popes set themselves apart to help the people of God to grow in holiness. Holiness then does not bring us to superiority over others, it leads us to our uniqueness of who we are, and how we use this uniqueness for others, not ourselves, is what we call our vocation in life. We will never know our purpose/vocation, until we learn that we are set apart for God. This is what Peter discovers in the Gospel today.

How is God asking you to set yourself apart for him? Through marriage or religious life/Holy Orders? As a much-needed youth minister? Or one who cares for the poor? Or abandoned animals? God calls each of us in a different way and no one is unworthy of God’s calling, because it is “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

Claretian Fr. Smith is the Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Springfield