Imagine receiving a vision of Jesus or of Mary. How would you feel? Afraid? Astonished? Would you wonder what was so special about you that they would choose you to appear to? Would you feel humbled to have been selected by God to receive such a favor?
A young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, was given the incredible grace of receiving eighteen vision of Our Lady. We all know the story of how Mary appeared to her in Lourdes, France to call the world to repentance and faith. Saint Bernadette is part of a select group of people who were blessed in such a way.
Later in her life, wanting to avoid all the fame that the apparitions had brought her, she went to live with the Sisters of Charity. One day, a sister asked her how she kept from being filled with pride knowing that Our Lady had chosen her to appear to. In all honesty, Bernadette replied, “Mary chose me because I am ignorant.”
At the time that she received the visions, Bernadette could neither read nor write. Some villagers even thought she might be mentally ill or have a learning disability. Nonetheless, it was to her and not to more educated people that Our Lady chose to appear. In fact, it was because of her lack of education that her parish priest came to believe her story. When she told him that the woman who appeared to her was the “Immaculate Conception”, a term she could never have come across, he knew that what was taking place in the village was not coming from the imagination of a young girl but from the hand of God.
God chooses those who are weak, those who are uneducated, those who have no status in the world to do His work so that it will be clear that whatever is accomplished comes from Him.
We see this very clearly in the life of Jesus. He did not pick the best and brightest to follow Him. He did not choose the scribes who had the best education. He did not choose Pharisees who were the most religious. He did not choose Sadducees who had power and influence. Rather, He called fishermen, tax collectors, zealots and other outcasts. Furthermore, it was the poor, the needy, the sick, the Samaritans and the lepers who came out to hear Him speak while lawyers and religious leaders were looking for ways to put Him to death.
This is the reason for Jesus’ spontaneous prayer of praise to the Father in today’s gospel. He thanks His Heavenly Father for revealing Himself to the “little ones”, to the merest children. He thanks God that the poor, the sick and the outcasts are coming to Him for comfort. Out of the great love within His heart, He wants to embrace all of them in His arms and give them rest.
Why is it the ignorant and the weak who come out to see Jesus? Why are sinners the ones who seek Him out? Because they know their need for God. Left to themselves, they know they will be lost. In their poverty, they are looking for someone to enrich them. In their weakness, they are looking for someone to strengthen them. And they find just that in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.
All of us who gather here today come to this altar as beggars. There is not one of us who is worthy to stand here on our own. None of us is so holy that Jesus did not have to die for us. None of us is so good that we do not need His forgiveness. None of us is so strong that we can endure temptations, suffering and persecution on our own. None of us is so educated and intelligent that we can fathom all the mysteries of life and the universe. We are here because we need God. We are utterly dependent on Him. Without Him, we can do nothing.
Once we recognize this truth, however, we do not go in the corner and sulk. We do not bow down our heads and cower. Rather, we rejoice as Jesus did. When we know our weakness, then we can tap into His strength. When we know our sinfulness, then we can experience His mercy. When we know that nothing is possible for us on our own, we discover that all things are possible with God. Once we drop our illusions of control, independence and self-reliance, we become free to tap into our Heavenly Father’s wealth of resources. Then we well up with joy because we no longer are burdened with having to figure and work everything out on our own. We can take up Jesus’ gentle yoke and, learning from Him, follow His plan rather than try to draft our own.
God chooses the weak, the sinful and the small. Just look around. Left to ourselves, we do not amount to much. However, once we surrender to God, nothing can stop us. When we realize that we come to God as beggars then the Holy Spirit can begin to use us as Saint Paul teaches us in today’s second reading. Then we can expect the effects to be dramatic for they will come not from our puny efforts but from the hand of God who reveals Himself to the little ones.