“I’m not worthy. Not worthy to touch his sandal straps.”
Most Americans won’t relate to this statement from the John the Baptist
in today’s gospel reading.
That phrase, I’m not worthy, sounds foreign.
It flies in the face of mental health hygiene…and positive self-esteem.
I am not worthy?
What’s that mean for us here today?
I’m not sure but,
if you’ve been reading the weekday Advent readings
it shows up on a regular basis.
The phrase echoes the words of the Elizabeth
when she greets the pregnant Mary on the doorstep of her house:
“Who am I,” exclaims Elizabeth, “that the mother of my Lord
should come to me?”
Her incredulity resonates with the words that Peter mumbled
at the sight of a miraculous catch of fish
on the day he first encountered the Lord:
He hits the deck and cries out,
“Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
John’s protest of unworthiness in today’s gospel
also mirrors the words of the Roman centurion
whose child was ill:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under the roof of my house….”
Lord, I am not worthy.
Yet, if one steps back from the words
and consider the circumstances in which they occur,
the issue of unworthiness takes on a different tone.
It’s no longer a mental health issue.
It’s no longer an issue of self-esteem.
Rather, it’s about God.
It’s not about you…it’s about God.
And it’s about God coming into your life!
“Who am I… to experience this privilege? This Presence?”
This perspective colors the word, “unworthy,” in shades of joy.
It is the note of incredulity in John’s cry, the bounce of joy in Elizabeth’s womb, the tender hope in the centurion’s heart, the acknowledgement that opens the door to Peter’s transformation.
In each of these settings, Lord, I am not worthy” can also mean:
Am I dreaming? Is this actually happening? This is too good to be true!
When was the last time you experience a power-surge of grace like this?
When you snagged a date with the prettiest girl—or best-looking guy—
in the class?
The day baptismal water flowed through your grandbaby’s beautiful hair?
Or maybe as recently as last evening, when as you gazed at the rose-canted beauty of a West Texas sunset.
Lord, I’m not worthy.
So said John as he surveyed the motley gang of sinners
on the muddy bank of the Jordan.
And so say we all…
when the water of God’s amazing grace
manages to wash away
the scabs of regret on the wounds of our souls:
The mud of prejudice.
The blood of violence.
The slime of gossip.
the grime and grit of infidelity, entitlement, pornography and greed.
Who are we, that the Lord, the God of all history,
should enter into this foul world of ours
to save it,
and transform its mud and muck
of mercy, pardon and peace?
So, let’s get this straight:
“Lord, I am not worthy” does not mean that we are nothing but dirt.
Rather, it means that we are nothing without grace!
God’s magnificent, manifold grace…
breaking through the armor of human pride
…and the bombed out cities of political maneuvering
…and the mangled mess of emotional manipulating
…and the tangled webs of ignorance, fear and hatred.
scattering the darkness
and igniting our world
with the hope of mercy, forgiveness and peace.
Are we worthy?
No. We are not worthy.
But we are worthwhile.
Worthwhile enough for God.
Worthwhile enough for God to send his Son,
his only Son,
to set us free.