FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
First Reading (Is 6:1-8):
The Prophet Isaiah was called
“When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”(Lk 5:8)
“Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.”(1Cor15: 8-1-10)
Peter and Paul are two of the great apostles of the church, like two great pillars of the Church. Every year on 29 June the Church celebrates their feast together. But as we see in today's Scripture readings, what surprises us most is that they both showed such reverence, obedience, simplicity, humility and openness.
After Peter had seen Jesus work the miracle of the net of fish almost bursting, he suddenly perceived Jesus' greatness and how his majesty and holiness were so clearly revealed. Peter became acutely aware of how in comparison he was so little and inconsequential. Before such holiness he was ashamed and became conscious of his own sinfulness. He recognized that no matter what else, he was totally unworthy to be a companion of Jesus.
Paul had been completely converted, had received many, many graces from God and had been a witness for the Lord and performed innumerable good works. In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians he listed in detail the many hardships he had endured for God. However, throughout his life he did not recall or record his merits but rather his ‘unworthiness.’
The two great apostles had extraordinary abilities and unbelievable endurance, even to giving up their lives for the sake of righteousness. With great courage and love they sacrificed everything for the Lord but most of all, they both had deep humility.
What is this deep humility? Why is it that so often the greater the person, the more deeply humble he/she is? Why do those who are the least boast about themselves the most and are so arrogant that they think no one is as important as themselves?
Before some people whom we admire greatly we sometimes have such reverence and high regard that we feel we are not worthy to be their friend.
The first time I passed through the high precipices of the Yangzi River's Three Gorges or saw the miraculous carvings on the great caves in Guangsi Province, or the first time I ever came near to the thunderous bells of Niagara Falls, and the first time I saw the glittering gold of the Gate of Peace at the Imperial Palace reaching up to the blue sky like a giant lying on the great land of China,---- I too felt that same kind of awe and wonder rising in my heart.
I am in awe of God's handiwork. I recall the long history of our nation. I remember the struggles our ancestors underwent, the blood and tears they shed and their many times of glory.
These sentiments were also those of Confucius' disciples and students.
For them to look at Confucius was “like beholding a high mountain (a
great man) with awe.”(1)
In the year Hong Kong returned to China, at the ceremony for the Opening of the Legal Year the traditional religious rite was withdrawn. This may have been based on the principle that all religions are equal and it would be inappropriate to choose only the Christian ceremony. But some of the judges and members of the legal profession on their own initiative requested that a Mass be celebrated in order to express their faith and sentiments.
Their sentiments were that though they had the responsibility to judge right and wrong, ultimately they were human beings with limitations, judging other human beings who also had limitations. What they were called to do was almost a work only God could do. Therefore these judges and lawyers felt deeply their own unworthiness and inadequacies. They wanted very much to kneel humbly before God in a religious service and ask for the qualities of wisdom, competency and fairness in order to make up for their own innate insufficiencies.
Jia Yi was a famous writer and political commentator in the Han Dynasty. Unfortunately his abilities were not appreciated and he died feeling depressed. Su Dong Bo felt deeply about this and said, “Ancient sages all have abilities which can be used. That they die without having their abilities recognized may not be the fault of the reigning king. It may be their own fault.”(2)
In other words, some 'sages' really had great capabilities but were unable to fulfill their ideals and ambitions during their lifetime. The problem might not be that others were unable to recognize their abilities. Actually, they themselves bore a great part of the responsibility.
Su Dong Bo felt that Jia Yi was himself in part responsible and that he was not sufficiently humble. His criticism was: “One may have great ambition but be very narrow-minded. Abilities are in excess but insight is inadequate.”(3) Lack of a great mind and insufficient foresight clearly showed a lack of humility and open-mindedness.
Scripture says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”(Mt 5:3). The most important aspect of being poor in spirit is detachment from everything and awareness that one has and is nothing of oneself, unequal to all others in comparison. Only then can we let God fill our emptiness.
Peter and Paul each was that kind of person. Though they had great capabilities each was deeply humble. That is a kind of self-repentance and admission of their own limitations, and at the same time a sign of their unremitting faith, their reverence and reliance on God.