One of the most interesting things I have come to discover in my life as a believer is that the roadmap which God has laid out for us to come to him does not require that we be nice people but rather that we be real people. We go to God by being real, accepting who we are; going to him the way we are.
Just look at Peter in the gospel of today. He said,” depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus did not listen to him. Jesus did not depart. He did not even ask Peter to go and clean up himself before he could become his apostle. No. Peter knew he was unworthy, sinful, human and makes mistakes. That is the type of people Jesus wants – fornicators, racists, terrorists, killers, etc.
If you read the story of the prodigal son in the Bible (Luke 15:11-32) and then the story of the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14), you will get to understand how Jesus turns the spirituality of perfection upside down. In both stories, the ones who have done it wrong and are humble about it (the younger son and the tax collector) are the ones who are forgiven, transformed, and rewarded. Those who are proud of how they have done everything right-but also feel superior to others, or feel they are now entitled-are not open to God’s blessing. This is Jesus’ Great Reversal theme. He turns religion on its head.
Peter and his colleague labored all day at the sea and caught nothing. It is not by power or might. But when they encounter Jesus, the story became different. Grace and insight, often, come to us in those moments all our resources, strategies and skills have been expended without any reward. In that moment, life will lead us to the edge of our own resources through such events. We must be led to an experience or situation that we cannot fix or control or understand. That’s where faith begins.
We have to go to God the way we are. He is not even interested in changing us. He just wants to love us unconditionally. It is actually our experience of God’s unconditional love that transforms us. We do not become good that God may love us. No. He loves us so that we can become good. God’s love comes first. That is why it is difficult to have real conversion, if you have not really experienced God’s love.
The story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 captures vividly the whole point. Zacchaeus came into Jericho wanting to see Jesus. He was as short man and had to climb on top of the tree. Jesus asked him to come down and promised to go to his house. But the crowd were critical of Jesus because he is going to the house of a sinner and tax collector. Jesus ignored them. Jesus did not ask Zacchaeus to repent before he could go to his house. No. Jesus went to his house, ate and wined with him. It was then that Zacchaeus could no longer contain the immensity of this divine unconditional love. He stood up and vowed to return everything that he has collected from the poor unjustly. It was then that he repented. So, you see? It was God’s unconditional love that came first, followed by transformation of Zacchaeus and then his confession and repentance.
Jeremiah in the first reading, Paul in the second reading and Peter in the gospel. They all conspire to inspire us to come to God by being real, not hiding whom we are. If Jesus did not depart from Peter, he will not depart from you when you present yourselves to him.