All our readings today conspire to bear witness to what is the most fundamental teaching of Christianity, and of its forerunner, Judaism: the sinfulness of man, his need for and calling to redemption.
When the prophet Isaiah had a vision of God seated on His throne of glory, ‘high and lofty’, where the angels before Him cried out continually ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, he said:
Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.’
St. Paul, for his part, when expounding his proclamation of the Gospel, wrote, as you heard:
Christ died for our sins; I am the least of the Apostles.
And In our Gospel reading, Peter glimpsed the majesty of Jesus Who, after having used his boat as a platform from which to teach the crowd on the shore, gave him a miraculous catch of fish, whereupon Peter:
Fell at the knees of Jesus and said: ‘Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’
The Old Testament begins with the story of creation and the fall of man; Jesus began His public ministry proclaiming ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!’; and on the Day of Pentecost when the assembled crowd were in amazement at what they saw and heard:
They were cut to the heart, and they asked Peter and the other apostles, “What are we to do, my brothers?” Peter (said) to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:37s.)
The sovereign majesty of God convinces those spiritually alive to and aware of His presence that they themselves are unworthy of such proximity because their own sinfulness dishonours His sublime holiness. Isaiah, who would speak such wonderful words concerning the Suffering Servant and God’s love for His people, considered himself to be a ‘man of unclean lips’, while Paul, the doctor and teacher of the nations, regarded himself as the least of the Apostles, indeed, ‘not fit to be called an Apostle’. Peter, an expert fisherman on waters he had known and experienced at first hand all his life, sacrificed his own judgment and his own standing before the observing crowd on the shore by putting out into deep water again in broad daylight and doing what they would certainly consider foolish and futile … lowering the nets he had only just made clean once again into the waters at the word of this Holy Man with him.
People of God, anyone who sincerely seeks God, who tries to live in His Presence, instinctively recognizes that they themselves are not what they should be. In His presence such men as Isaiah, Peter and Paul, felt that there was just something wrong with themselves, something from which none but the One they were approaching or better, Who was approaching them, could heal, cleanse, and thus justify, them.
Now, Adam had been created in original integrity, he was ‘just’ before God; but he subsequently sinned and lost that original justice given him by God, he sinned, and thereby became unjust. We, as his children, as his descendants, are therefore born unjust; as such we have not sinned personally but have simply been born into a state God did not intend for us, which is why it is called ‘original’ sin, because it has been passed down to us from our human origins. Only subsequently did we personally become sinners, when we corroborated our unjust state of birth by our own actual sins. Adam, created just -- thanks to God -- became a sinner; we, born unjust -- thanks to Adam -- subsequently become personal sinners. Only Jesus, by His own death and resurrection and by the Gift of His Holy Spirit, can restore us, through faith and baptism, from unjust and sinners, into just -- as originally intended by God -- and holy in Jesus.
The original sin in Adam, was indeed a personal sin whereby he lost his original justice for himself and for all his posterity; ‘original sin’ in us is an inherited ‘lack’, we are born into a state lacking – thanks to Adam -- the original justice God had intended us to have. Now, if we look back to Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, we recall that they too felt themselves ‘lacking’ before God … Isaiah knew himself to be of unclean lips; Paul felt unworthy, the least of Apostles; Peter recognized himself to be a sinful man. What did God make of them? Isaiah had those ‘unclean’ lips touched with fiery altar tongs and was able to proclaim what has been called the Old Testament Gospel of Christ; Paul ‘least of all’ became the Teacher of the Nations; Peter ‘that self-confessed sinful man’ became Head of the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and suffered on a Cross like Jesus, for His people.
Those glorious witnesses are for our consolation. Being born in original sin implies no condemnation, necessitates no failure; but it is a weakness, a ‘lack,’ we take to the Lord Who changed water into wine for the newly-wed couple ‘lacking’ refreshment for their guests. But precisely, that awareness of being lacking, that acknowledged personal need, has ever served to provoke the love and generosity of God and Jesus … it is only when sinners will not acknowledge their need before God, only when they presume themselves to be without sin, when they assert themselves able to look Jesus in the eye without shame, only then do they find themselves having to regard ‘original sin’ as a doctrine to be rejected, denied, and hated. Hated indeed today to such an extent that the very reality of sin is denied: ‘it is a Christian and Jewish invention’, totally unreal, and most harmful to modern sensitivities which, though they can contemplate abortions and suicide being ‘aided and abetted’, are upset and disturbed to hear or think of people invoking God’s mercy for sinners, or praising what they call ‘virtues’ that would condemn human sinfulness.
People of God, you who have been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, you who rely not on yourselves but hope and trust fully in the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in you as God’s Gift, in your humble acknowledgment of sin before God be in no way downcast before men: think back to Isaiah of unclean lips, he became the one who cried out before God, ‘Here I am, send me to proclaim Your word’; think of Paul ‘the least’ who could finally say ‘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’; remember Peter, who from being a fisherman on the waters of Galilee was made into God’s chosen, world-wide, Fisher of Men.
What can God make of you? That is unknown, but we can be certain that your humility before Him makes it possible that He will make something of you: for His glory, for your salvation and joy, and for mankind’s greater and grateful good.