Weak, Lost and Broken
(Jer.33:14-16; Thess.3:12-4:2; Lk.21:25-28, 34-36)
In 2017, at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, a bomb exploded, killing 22 people and injuring 120.
Who was the first responder on the scene? It was a homeless man, Stephen Jones. He’d been sleeping outside when the bomb went off. But when he heard people screaming, he rushed in to help. He’d had no medical experience, but he soon found himself pulling nails out of arms and faces. [i]
Sometimes God works through the most unlikely people.
Today, if something important needs doing, most of us want someone well qualified to do it. But God is different. Throughout history, he has consistently chosen weak, lost and broken people to do his work.
Abraham, for example, was already old when God asked him to be the father of many nations (Gen.17:1-2). Moses was a murderer and had a bad stutter, but God still asked him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt (Ex.2:12; 4:10).
St Paul had cruelly persecuted Christians (Acts 8:3); St Camillus de Lellis (1550-1614) was a gambler;[ii] and Matthew Talbot (1856-1925) was a drunk. Yet God still used them all to achieve great things.
Why does God choose such unlikely people? It’s because everyone is in some way weak, lost or broken. No-one is perfect.
But that doesn’t matter, because no-one has to be especially well-qualified, or holy, to do God’s work. With God, all things are possible (Mt.19:26).
God knows our flaws (Ps.103:14), but he believes in us. We often think we’re unworthy, but God knows better.
Very often, it’s our weaknesses that initially draw us to God, when we recognise that we’re struggling. But when we do turn to God, and agree to co-operate with him, he turns our weakness into strength (Heb.11:32-34).
In Manchester, Stephen Jones’ weakness was his homelessness. But it became a strength, for he was in the right place at the right time to help the victims. St Paul understands this. That’s why he says, ‘I take pleasure in my weaknesses, for when I’m weak, then I am strong’ (2Cor.12:10).
When we recognise our own weaknesses, we discover that it’s only by God’s grace that we can do anything at all. And if we’re honest, we know we can’t boast because any glory really belongs to God (2Cor.4:7).
In Luke’s Gospel today, Mary is pregnant with Jesus, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country outside Jerusalem. Elizabeth is pregnant, too, with John the Baptist.
Neither of these women is a likely candidate for the job God has for them. Even Mary thinks she’s unsuitable (Lk.1:34), for how can she possibly raise the son of God when she’s not yet married? She’s a poor, illiterate teenager living a hard life in an obscure town. She spends most of her time carrying water, collecting wood, preparing food and washing.
Her cousin Elizabeth is also an unlikely choice (Lk.1:43). She’s childless and elderly, and lives modestly in a tiny village. But God wants her to be the mother of the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist.
The point about these two women is that they didn’t do what so many of us tend to do. They didn’t say no to God; they didn’t tell him to find someone more suitable. Despite their fears, Mary and Elizabeth both said yes and their lives were transformed.
In 1978, in Rome, during the elections for a new pope to replace John Paul I, a young Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, seemed to be winning. He was worried and he turned to his mentor, Cardinal Wyszynski of Warsaw.
Wyszynski reminded him of the story of St Peter in the novel Quo Vadis, where Peter was escaping from danger in Rome and Jesus challenged him to stay.
‘Accept it’, Wyszynski said.
At the end of the ballot, Karol Wojtyla was asked, ‘Do you accept?’ He replied, ‘In the obedience of faith before Christ my Lord, abandoning myself to the Mother of Christ and Church, and conscious of the great difficulties, I accept’.[iii]
That nervous young cardinal became Pope St John Paul II.
A simple ‘yes’ really can change the world.
Every saint who has ever lived has been very human, just like us. [iv] They were all at some stage weak, lost or broken. But they found themselves drawn towards God’s love and they chose to co-operate with him.
God isn’t put off by our flaws. He says to us, as he said to St Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’ (2Cor.12:9).
In these last few days before Christmas, as we wait for Jesus to arrive, what is God asking you to do?
[iii] George Wiegel, Witness to Hope, HarperCollins NY, 1999:253-254.