Discipleship–We’re All Unworthy

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C); 2-7-16

Is 6:1-8   Ps 138   1 Cor 15:1-11   Lk 5:1-11

Deacon Jim McFadden; Folsom Prison


            One of my spiritual heroes is the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who once wrote that Christianity without discipleship is cheap grace. He walked the talk as he sacrificed his life in his resistance to the Nazi regime during WWII. Bonhoeffer did so because he understood that the essence of Christian spirituality is discipleship: that is, a positive response to the call of Jesus. Remarkably, what all three of our readings remind us that this call is given despite or even because of our personal unworthiness. Today’s readings came help our community at Folsom Prison understand the dynamics of discipleship, while recognizing and accepting our unworthiness, and accepting the call to share in the mission of Jesus.

In the first reading we have the majestic vision of Isaiah, who finds himself in the presence of the Lord. Isaiah is overcome by great awe and a profound sense of his unworthiness. But a seraph, which is a kind of angel, purifies his lips with a burning coal and wipes away his sin. What happens next? Isaiah is “good to go!” Feeling ready to respond to God’s call, Isaiah exclaims, “Here I am, Lord. Send me!” (Is 6:8).

This same succession of feelings is found in our Gospel in the episode of the miraculous catch of fish. Asked by Jesus to cast their nets although they had caught nothing during the night, Simon Peter trusts in Jesus, and he and the other disciples obtain a superabundant catch.

Notice Peter’s reaction, which is similar to that of Isaiah. “When Peter saw this, he fell to his knee and said ‘Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). Peter’s reaction may seem strange at first. We might have expected a simple, “Wow! Do you believe what just happened?” But, he says, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In the face of God’s miraculous action and the presence of God in the flesh in Jesus, Peter acknowledges his own sinfulness and unworthiness to become a follower of Jesus. Well, so what?! That is a given—we’ve all done bad things; we’re all sinners in this chapel. Peter has to just get over it. Brothers, none of us are worthy to be a follower of Jesus. We’re all sinners but it is just this kind of people that are called to be disciples.

Look at the second reading. Paul remembers that he had been a persecutor of the Church. Indeed, he wanted to destroy it. He acknowledges that he is unworthy to be called an apostle, that he is least among all the disciples. Yet, despite his unworthiness and maybe because of it, he recognized that the grace of God had worked wonders in him and despite his limitations, God had entrusted him with the task and honor of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. It is through Paul that Christianity became a universal religion.

So, brothers, I hope you are getting the message. Discipleship is entrusted to weak, limited people like you and me—the only kind of people that there are.

Brothers, notice where Peter encountered the transcendent Christ. In the midst of his fishing. IN HIS ORDINARY EXPERIENCE! People of God at Folsom Prison, we experience God at that everyday, workday level, where we spend our waking hours. God calls us where were are and that means in the fishing, in the unique movement of prison life. That is where you will do your discipleship and sanctify your lives. That is where you will encounter God. And, in so doing, you will recognize your own poverty and inadequacy, your own limitations, your own sinfulness. Yet, in spite of our weakness and brokenness, the Lord, rich in mercy and forgiveness transforms our lives and calls us to follow him.

I encourage you to revisit the humility shown by Isaiah, Paul, and Peter. They have received the gift of a divine vocation and so have you. If you’ve been baptized, you’ve been initiated into the Church, the Body of Christ which means you share in the Mission of Christ. But, I beg you not to focus on your limitations or what you have done in the past. Rather, keep your gaze on the Lord Jesus and on his amazing mercy that he has for each and everyone of us. As you receive his love, your heart will be converted and that you too will do what Peter joyfully did: “to leave everything and follow him” (v. 11).

Let go of your baggage, brothers. Keep in mind that the Lord does not look at what is important to human beings. When Jesus gazes upon you, he does not see an inmate with a number. He sees his beloved brother. “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). That’s what makes people who are poor and weak, but have faith in Jesus to be fearless disciples and heralds of the Good News. Amen.


2 comments on “Discipleship–We’re All Unworthy

  1. The inmates must feel such hope when they hear your homilies. –C.V.; Orangevale, CA

  2. Thank you Deacon. Loved the homily and the underlying message to our brothers and sisters who are in prison. –N.B.; Folsom, CA

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