To see the goodness in us as God sees it, can be a struggle. It can be really difficult and might even next to impossible for others. We might recognize the innate goodness in us but we might also forget about it and so fall again into self-pity, guilt and shame.
Time and again, these feelings of shame, guilt and fear may struck us and we will realize how broken and unworthy we are. God has been so good to us and yet, we are sinners, unfaithful to God. This is how we encounter ourselves and so encounter God also.
But such encounter with the Lord would reveal to us that each of us, do not earn God’s favor and grace. I cannot and will not earn God’s mercy because God grants it freely and generously to you and to me. Moreover, it is from this mercy that we are also being transformed by God, healed and reconciled.
This reminds me of Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord and experiencing “the touch of God’s mercy.”
(Isaiah 6: 1-8)
In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they hovered.
One cried out to the other: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it. “See,” he said, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me!”
Isaiah had a vision that he was before the throne of God. While near the throne, Isaiah realized how unclean, weak and sinful he was before God. He was ashamed of himself because God is so good. Yet, Isaiah’s unworthiness became the reason for God to get closer to Isaiah. God touched the lips of Isaiah and removed his guilt and forgave his sins. God cleansed and strengthened the weak and sinful Isaiah. And then, it was through the weakness of Isaiah that the Lord called him. Isaiah responded in generosity, “Here I am, send me!”
St. Paul also had his own realization. Paul said, 1 Cor 15:8-10.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.
For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me.
As Jesus revealed himself to Paul whose name was Saul at the beginning, Paul saw his own shadows. Paul was in fact in disgrace because as a Jew, he felt so righteous and persecuted those who believed in the risen Christ. He brought many Christians to prison and even to their death. But his encounter with Jesus turned his life upside down. This encounter with Jesus brought him to see how wrong he was. However, Jesus did not condemn him but remained merciful to Paul. That encounter led Paul to commit himself to the risen Christ to be an apostle.
Simon Peter had his story of encounter also with Jesus in Luke 5: 4-10.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
This encounter made Simon to realize his own sinfulness. Simon was told by Jesus to “put out into the deep waters and lower his nets” even though they had been fishing all night and caught nothing. This tells us that Jesus invited Simon Peter to dwell deeper into his own life and to lower down his comforts, to leave behind his uncertainties and anxieties, fears and guilt. Indeed, when Simon did all those, what he found was God’s goodness and tremendous love and generosity symbolized by the great catch of fish.
This has moved Simon to beg Jesus to depart from him because Simon had become aware of his sins, failures, fears and insecurities. However, this realization became the entry point of Jesus to transform Simon. This was how Simon gained another name, Peter, or Rock because he was commissioned by Jesus for a mission.
However, Simon Peter who was an impulsive man also stumbled along the way. During the Passion of the Lord, we recall how Simon Peter denied three times Jesus. This brought deep sorrow to Peter. Because of his fears, he denied the Lord and refused to be with Jesus in those painful and traumatic moments.
Thus, with his leadership after the death of Jesus, Peter and the other disciples hid themselves because of their fear of the Jews. They were terrified because the same fate might also happen to them. However, most of all, they were frustrated and very disappointed with what happened to Jesus. They believed that Jesus would liberate Israel from oppression and suffering from the Roman invaders. Many disciples must have expected that Jesus will raise an army and start a revolution. They could have dreamed that one day they will be seating on a golden throne near their master. However, all those dreams and desires were shattered because Jesus was condemned by his fellow Jews and was crucified by the Roman soldiers.
Peter and the other disciples left their old life to follow Jesus. But Jesus was condemned to death, what will happen to them now? Peter surely also asked this question. “What will happen now?” Jesus is dead and they have no one else to follow.
Thus, this failure that caused them so much frustrations and fears moved them to go back to fishing – to their old self, to their old habits, and not stepping forward because their dreams were shattered, expectations broken and hope was taken away.
Nevertheless, God has his own way of calling us back again. Let us remember how Jesus called back his disciples after they retreated to their old selves.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea.
We were told in the Gospel that Jesus appeared on the shore but the disciples did not recognize him. That night they caught nothing. The Gospel tells us that when we succumbed into darkness and sin then we will surely lose our way. But God does not easily give up on us. He waits for us as Jesus waited for his disciples on the shore.
What was interesting was on how the beloved disciple recognized Jesus. In fact, it was him who first recognized Jesus and told Peter about it. This tells us too that once we have become intimate with Jesus, our heart will always desire for Jesus. This beloved disciple of Jesus, who had become so familiar with the Lord, recognized Jesus with joy.
This inspired Peter to respond immediately and to come near to Jesus. Again, this was symbolically done. Peter let go again of his boat, that is, his old self. He jumped confidently into the sea of his past failures and frustrations because he knew that Jesus was waiting for him on the shore. This was how Peter showed us that there is indeed “grace beyond our failures and God’s mercy beyond our sins.” Peter grabbed that grace joyfully by encountering Jesus on the shore.
Yet, it is in this moment of openness and honesty that we find God more merciful and forgiving to us. Once we lay down our guards and open our “closets filled with skeletons” that God comes to us to transform us – to free and liberate us from whatever shackles and chains that burden us.
Thus, these are the invitations for us now.
First, we are called to be fully aware of our own sinfulness and failures, to take responsibility of our sins. Thus, stop blaming others. This, certainly, needs an amount of humility and honesty from us.
Second, we are invited to allow the Lord to transform us through his mercy and forgiveness. We can seek God’s mercy and affection then, by our constant devotion to the Eucharist, in receiving his grace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and by reflecting and seeking wisdom from the Bible.
Third, we are called to let God to empower us by allowing God to make us His own instruments of mercy and reconciliation. God calls us and empowers us in the way we live our life now. We are called to become God’s witnesses as parents, as professionals, as leaders in our community, as workers or vendors, as children and friends, as students and as young persons.