This Sunday, the Mass readings revolve around the theme of being called and sent. God calls Isaiah in the first reading, Paul in the second, and Peter in the Gospel. As I reread the readings, both fairly familiar stories, I was struck by a detail: all were unworthy for the mission, and all recognized their unworthiness.
Discipleship is a buzz word in the Church these days. There are a dozen ministries popping up, all touting to help dioceses and parishes form disciples. There are books and articles and blog posts and podcasts. Disciples – how to make them, how to be one, what discipleship means, what it looks like.
It is a mission we receive at baptism, straight from the Scriptures. Our baptismal calling is to follow Christ and call others to do the same. But when was the last time we stopped to realize it is a mission of which we aren’t worthy?
I am a woman of unclean lips. Who am I to proclaim the Word to a fellow human being? I am a sinful woman. Who I am to not only follow Christ, but also call others to do the same?
We are all unworthy of the mission that Christ has placed on our shoulders. And yet He places it there just the same. We see in the readings that once these men recognize their sinfulness, He purifies, forgives, and raises them up, content to place the mission in their hands despite their unworthiness.
Paul reminds us, “by the grace of God I am what I am.” God works through our unworthiness. In fact, perhaps it is our unworthiness that makes us the perfect missionaries. If Christ wanted perfect instruments for the proclamation of the Gospel, he would have entrusted the mission to angels. Newman reminds us of this in his brilliant essay, Men, not Angels, the Priests of Gospel (worth reading in its entirety):
“Had Angels been your Priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathised with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you, who have been led on themselves as you are to be led, who know well your difficulties, who have had experience, at least of your temptations, who know the strength of the flesh and the wiles of the devil, even though they have baffled them, who are already disposed to take your part, and be indulgent towards you, and can advise you most practically, and warn you most seasonably and prudently.”
We should never take our mission for granted. As baptized Christians, God has entrusted us with the greatest responsibility of all: to bring Christ into the world and be the instrument to bring all people into His flock. We want every soul to go to Heaven. That is our mission, and one we must never take lightly.
At the same time, we must never feel that we are worthy of the mission. We are earthen vessels, fragile instruments, who proclaim not our news, but the news of Jesus Christ. It is Good News because it is from Him. It is a joyful mission because it is His. If we have success in our mission, it is because of Him. We must keep our eyes on that reality if we are truly going to proclaim the Gospel.
“For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.” (2 Cor. 4:15)