Trouble and Grace: Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
Again, I’d like to look more closely at the passage we heard from the Old Testament – this week from Isaiah 6. It is a bit reminiscent of a “good news, bad news” joke about a conversation between a lawyer and her client. She told him, “I have some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?” Her client replied, “Give me the bad news first.” “The bad news is that the DNA tests showed that the police found your blood all over the crime scene.” “Oh, no,” her client mourned, “What could possibly be good about that?” “The good news is that your cholesterol is down to 130!”
If we’re listening carefully, we know that the Scriptures contain both bad news and good news, sometimes referred to as both “trouble” and “grace”. Even most specific texts contain elements of both. So, when we hear God’s word, we need to be listening carefully to find, discern and pray about both. The Scriptures’ good news, after all, makes little sense until we recognize their bad news.
Today’s bad news is that when the living God graciously stoops to meet us, we realize that we’re sinners. Some believe that “human history is the history of sin.” Surely a quick look at the stories contained in any news source demonstrates that. And it seems to me that sin has no favorites – priests – politicians – parents – the famous and the private – lawyers – lovers – leaders – no matter what category of life we fall into – we are all sinners. Even Pope Francis said about himself, “I am a sinner, I am sure of this.” It’s the common trait that we all share, as much as the blood in our very veins.
But is the bad news that is the doctrine of human sin really so self-evident? People can, after all, almost always identify someone who’s worse than we are, whose done worse than we have. Not many of those who hear the words of Isaiah 6 have committed mass murder or greedily triggered a financial meltdown, but all of us who hear God’s word today know that we always have room to improve.
In this week’s Old Testament passage, a young Isaiah is in church, perhaps in a worship service, not so unlike all of us here this morning and those tuning in. In the midst of great national turmoil, God gives the prophet a vision that even now has the power to blow our minds.
After all, it’s almost as if God tugs the curtain between heaven and earth open just far enough so that the prophet can peek into the heavenly realm. In it he sees “the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted”, whom he also calls “the King, the Lord Almighty”. Isaiah also hears heaven’s angels crying out to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory”. The prophet reports that it’s all enough to shake the temple almost to its foundations.
How does Isaiah respond? Isaiah’s vision of heaven overwhelms him with a sense of his own sinfulness and that of his contemporaries. When the prophet catches a glimpse of God, he sees himself as well as all people for what we really are: those whose sin has put our lives in danger. He, in other words, sees the bad news.
It might be helpful for us reflect on similar experiences. While I have never had a glimpse of heaven, like Isaiah, I have been exposed to people and situations that have so deeply touched me that they shake me to do better, to be better, to serve better. And I’m sure you have experienced the same.
One of those experiences I had recently was when I attended a session hosted by the New Jersey Prisoner Re-entry program, who invited Sr Normal Pimentel to speak.
Norma Pimentel is a Sister with the Missionaries of Jesus