“Here I am, send me”, even with my flaws! – 5th Sunday
News reports have exposed the failures and sins of many influential figures, religious and otherwise. The usual sins and failures have to do with sexual abuse, harassment, cover ups to protect perpetrators, double standards, financial impropriety, and so on.
None of us should be naïve about the sins and crimes that seem so rampant in our world. Despite that knowledge about the trappings of power, people continue to offer themselves for service – whether in the Church, politics, or business.
I have yet to meet a perfect person, in leadership or any walk of life. It doesn’t matter whether we use the language of sin or crime or petty imperfections. None of us can claim perfection or purity.
My experience is that what helps a leader is to acknowledge his imperfection. Obviously, there are some crimes and sins that make one unable to lead with credibility. The abuse of people is a clear example. But, for most of us, the imperfections and sins are just that – imperfections. Perhaps it’s a character flaw, a moral defect, a personality tic, or a minor sin.
One of the leadership traits that is admired in Pope Francis is the humility with which he acknowledges his own sinfulness and imperfection. Other leaders have shown that attitude in their way of leading.
We learn something about that attitude in the Mass readings today. The prophet Isaiah begins his ministry for God. In response to God’s question of who will respond to the need for someone to speak to the nation of Judah, Isaiah says, “Here I am; send me.”
Just before he utters those words, Isaiah acknowledged his imperfections. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” A seraph cleansed Isaiah (Isaiah couldn’t do it himself, another level of humility) and stated, “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Isaiah is now acceptable as a minister of God’s words.
Later, in the Gospel, Peter says, “Go away from me, Lord for I am a sinful man!” Despite that, Jesus still calls him to join his company. As we know from other Gospel accounts, he repeatedly acknowledged his sinfulness and imperfection. Yet, Jesus called him to a significant role.
Saint Paul, of course, is very aware of his imperfections. His past history follows him and drives him on to serve the Risen Lord. Today we hear his reference to being “untimely born.”
He describes himself as unfit to be called an apostle, precisely because he persecuted the church. God used him, in spite of his past and his many imperfections.
Isaiah, Peter, Paul and Pope Francis know their weaknesses. They know their unworthiness. None of us is worthy to be a minister of the Lord, to do God’s work in the world.
Yet, we still have that commission as a result of our Baptism. Perhaps the dangerous turning point is when we see ourselves as worthy, and so often lose the attitude of humility.
I am intimately aware of my many faults and signs of imperfection. Yet I know that God has made use of my gifts. I’m often able to serve, precisely because I am weak. It is then that God shines through.