Those who look for "canonizable" saints in Scripture are in for a long search. Our Sacred Authors are almost always more interested in helping us reflect on our ancestors' uneven efforts to follow God than in presenting us with impeccable models to imitate.

For some of us modern folk, Scripture's gallery of famous persons is far too realistic. The writers never seem inspired to touch up their portraits. God's people march before us with all their warts, blemishes and failings in full view.

But before we feign scandal at such true-to-life pictures, we must remember that the Bible was never intended to be a handbook for saints. Its authors planned it as a way for sinners to reflect on their attempts to put faith in their lives. Since they believed no one completely takes such an important step all at once, they were willing to tolerate and weigh the imperfections and contradictions that all of us experience in our quest for faith-filled lives. They not only tell it the way it should be; they frequently tell it the way it is.

God and us

Third-Isaiah, for instance, accurately describes Yahweh's importance for the Chosen People (Is 63:16-17,19; 64:2-7). "No ear has ever heard," the prophet proclaims, "no eye ever seen any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait on Him." Yahweh isn't like the pagan gods who stand outside the history of their people, gods who are conveniently detached from what happens on earth. Our God's existence is completely interwoven with our existence. Our God's life revolves around our life.

Yet our life is almost always flawed. Even our good actions contain imperfect aspects. "We are sinful," the prophet admits; "all of us are unclean, all our good deeds are like polluted rags; we have all withered like leaves, and our guilt carries us away like the wind."

We constantly struggle to put as much good in our lives as possible, even while evil remains a part of us. But no matter how bad things are, we can always join in Third-Isaiah's belief that, "You, O Lord, are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands." In other words, we're not perfect, but we're all you have.

Paul found the same blemishes in his Corinthian community (I Cor 1:3-9). Though there don't appear to be any problems in the list of God-given gifts he enumerates in Sunday's second reading, we must remember that Paul gives this list only to remind the Corinthians that they're using their gifts in the wrong way. Christ's favor, the speech and knowledge they possess, and the spiritual gifts in which they glory are all useless unless used for the good of the community. And, as anyone who has read all 16 chapters of I Corinthians knows, many of Paul's converts have used their gifts to tear the community apart instead of building it up. What should have been an asset has become a detriment.

Because their short-term living of the faith has been plagued with so many problems, Paul can only pray for the eventual conversion of his community. "He (Jesus) will strengthen you to the end," the Apostle writes, "so that you will be blameless on the day of Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, and it was He who called you to fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord."

Watch out

Marks reminds us that Jesus is also very realistic about His followers (Mk 13:33-37). Those who commit their lives to Him still have to live in the same world in which they lived before their conversion. Faith isn't a matter of once and for all becoming a new person. It's much more a case of the same person looking in a new direction. Jesus' disciples always need to be alert, watchful of the forces that can lead them away from Him, conscious of the many ways in which He enters their lives.

That's why Jesus warns His followers, "Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not now when the appointed time will come."

Of course, the "appointed time" refers to more than just the Lord's Second Coming in the Parousia. It pertains to any situation in which the needs of others creates the presence of Jesus. It's at those times and in those places that the Lord most calls upon us to go beyond our failings. And it's especially in those instances that we "uncanonizable" folks are most deeply following God.