Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Is. 66:10-14c; Gal. 6:14-18; Lk. 10:1-12, 17-20.
Towards the conclusion of every Eucharist, there is the ritual exchange of a sign of peace.. Some people find it pretty perfunctory and just wave a “v” or give a nod. “Have a good day.” If we ever think of shortening the liturgy, this is a section we could drop.
It is, however, a very integral part of the dynamic of the liturgy. The whole Eucharist is manifesting the action and presence of Christ in the fullness of the Paschal Mystery. The peace we celebrate is the peace realized through his life, death, and resurrection. He is our peace. Our sharing a sign of peace is a response to the peace He has given us. We need to celebrate and share that peace. The impulse to exchange a sign of peace flows from the very nature of peace. It needs to express and expand to be itself. It does not set up boundaries and borders for self-containment. The first words of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection were PEACE. He couldn’t wait to burst though closed doors to share His new life. He breathed the Spirit of the new creation over the chaos of their lives. The new creation is generated through works of peace. The potential harvest is abundant, needing only laborers who go out into the harvest with no thought of their own profit or security.
The ritual of exchanging a sign of peace is the realization of the same commissioning and delegation of authority that is portrayed in the Gospel. What is the source or cause of the peace that we share? It is that the celebration of this Eucharist has unveiled the communion we have with each other as reborn in the peace, forgiveness, and mercy of God. The gift we have received in Christ authorizes us to be bearers and communicators of that peace. Christ entrusts his own mission to us.
Some find the Catholic liturgy to be repetitious and unchanging, unresponsive to a desire for variety and stimulation. However, the repeated forms and rubrical rigor are intended to focus our hearts on what easily eludes us, on what is not comforting to our egos. We are being led and formed to see reality differently, to see it as God sees it. We are not being asked to celebrate our own achievements, but to proclaim what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do. It is God’s work that we proclaim and celebrate. He comes knocking at our doors to see if there is a person of peace at home. He doesn’t force Himself if He is not welcome. If we let Him cross the threshold, we find our vision and convictions being gradually changed.
The world does not, at first blush, look like an abundant harvest waiting to be gathered in. It is a place of struggle and conflict, where the powers of Satan have not abdicated their control. It is a place where we need to be fortified with the world’s valid credentials: our credit cards, lap tops, the name we have made for ourselves. The powerful reap where they have not sown, skim profits from the loss and work of others. Instead of equipping us to do battle on a level playing field, Christ strips us of all but the essentials. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. The bearers of his message of peace, those who proclaim the work of God will act in His name. They may even become next to invisible. They are laborers, not managers. Simplicity, single-mindedness, and willing dependency will be the marks of those who carry the message of peace of Him who is simple, single-minded, and willingly dependent.
He remains willingly dependent on His Father, on his disciples, and even those who reject Him. He is our peace. This is a vision and habits of the heart that we learn in the liturgy and can’t wait to offer in open hands to others.
Go on your way, says Jesus. Our way is still filled with hesitations, failures, contradictions, and struggles. In going, we become agents of the new creation which rests on the peace and reconciliation infused in our world through the mystery of Christ. The Kingdom of God is at hand already in our world. We know it as an inner force giving us new eyes and hope to be laborers in the one work which ultimately matters: gathering all together in the peace of Christ. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God and their names are written in heaven.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Scripture Readings: Ez 2:2-5, 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6
There’s a story about President Roosevelt patiently enduring long reception lines at the White House. He complained that people didn’t listen to what he actually said when he greeted them. One day he tried an experiment. When each person came forward to shake his hand he said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” One person replied, “Marvelous, keep up the good work.” Another said, “We’re proud of you. God bless you, Mr. President.” Yet another answered, “It’s just what the country needed.” Finally, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, he found someone who really listened. After hearing the President say, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the ambassador stepped backwards, looked a little shocked, and then he leaned forward and whispered, “Mr. President, I’m sure she had it coming.” Respect for the presidency predetermined people’s expectations and responses.
Reactions to Jesus were also predetermined by his neighbor’s expectations. He was not a famous rabbi like Gamaliel. Nor one of the great teachers like the gentle Pharisee Hillel or his colleague, the severe Shammai, who presided over the Sanhedrin together. Jesus didn’t grow up in one of the great cities like Jerusalem, Tiberias or Caesarea. He was from Nazareth, Galilee’s poorest town. And he was a manual laborer, an ordinary craftsman in wood and stone. His neighbors didn’t expect him to say or do anything worth noting, and when he did, they couldn’t process it.
Not only that, but they called him the son of Mary, Barmiriam, a name they gave not to honor but to shame him. It was the custom to call a son by his father’s name, not by his mother’s, even after the father died. Unless, perhaps, his neighbors knew that Jesus was not the son of Joseph. They, like Joseph, must have noticed that Mary was pregnant when she returned from her three months visit with Elizabeth. They wouldn’t expect any good to come from the ignoble beginnings of such a child. And when he astonished them, they took offence at him.
How many kids dream of greatness only to be laughed at by their own kith and kin? No one believed the Wright brothers would get their flying machine off the ground, including their father who was a minister. He said, “If God wanted people to fly he would have given them wings.” Lawrence Welk dreamed of music. He worked hard on his father’s farm to earn enough money to buy his first accordion. When he did no one paid any attention to him, much less any money for his music. Failing to get an audience in his hometown, he decided to go on the road. His father said, “You won’t last six weeks.” But the Hotsy Totsy Boys of the 1920’s became the Champagne Music Makers on the Lawrence Welk Show who were still popular fifty years later. Beethoven’s teacher labeled him hopeless as a composer. Einstein was described as mentally slow and unsociable. Louisa May Alcott’s family wanted her to stop writing foolish children’s stories and find decent work as a seamstress or house-servant. Young Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor who complained he lacked creative ideas. Yet each of these neighborhood kids had extraordinary gifts and went on to greatness. But the story of Jesus did not end like theirs. For he was crucified.
The rejection of Jesus by his own neighbors foreshadowed the harsher rejection that followed in Jerusalem. The life of Jesus is about love crucified and risen. In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky describes an encounter between a woman of little faith and the holy monk, Father Zosima. She suffers from doubts about the existence of God. Father Zosima tells her that the more she succeeds in loving others, the more convinced she will be of the existence of God. So, she thinks about giving up all she has and becoming a sister of mercy, but then she says, “I wouldn’t be able to handle the ingratitude of those I serve.” Father Zosima replies, “The love found in dreams thirsts for action with everyone watching. Such love will even sacrifice one’s life provided it does not take too long and everyone is looking on and praising you. No,” he says, “real love perseveres through the harsh and dreadful.” The story of Jesus is about love that is repaid with crucifixion. Sometimes our love will also be met with ingratitude and we will be treated shamefully. When that happens let us be real Christians, following Jesus and sharing in his love, to willingly suffer for the salvation of others.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Ez 2:2-5; 2 Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6]
Among the happier memories I carry in my heart, are those of family gatherings in the dining room of the Family Guesthouse at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers Georgia where I lived for eighteen years. The Family Guesthouse was where my family stayed when they came to visit me as a young monk and in the dining room there was a huge table around which mom, and dad, my brothers and sisters and me a monk, would all gather along with a diverse group of friends from Atlanta, and I mean, a very diverse group: Andre and Dini, who were a Jewish couple; Martin and Julie Halburg, who were committed Southern Baptists; Bonnie who was single and some kind of New Age mystic; Paul and Marie, devout Catholics; my Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bob who I was named after, and who practiced no religion at all.
This was the early eighties. The Catholic Church was still basking in the sunshine of the renewal initiated by Vatican II. The windows of the Catholic church had been thrown wide open to the world, and so it was no big deal to have, in the Guesthouse of a Trappist monastery, a group of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and atheists, all sitting around a dinner table perfectly at ease, and thoroughly enjoying each other's company. The line I heard over and over again was: “Wow, we thought you monks were loners: serious, and somber, who never talk and just pray all day, but you guys are great! You're just like us!” My family and friends seemed delighted to discover that monks are just like everybody else, and I was delighted that they were enjoying themselves at the monastery. Everyone seemed so open and pleasant and to be getting along so well. In those days it was easy to be a Catholic. It felt natural. And why shouldn't it, I said to myself, I am after all, named after the “catholica”, that mystery by which all humanity comes from one origin and are all making our way together toward one single destiny; the truth of our origin and destiny revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
Looking around the table at my very diverse array of guests, it looked like the communion of saints might be coming into view before my eyes, and it was all so easy! Like Jesus, in today's gospel, I cherished that circle of people who came from my “home town” my “native place.” These were the people who formed me as a child. They were part of me; an extension of my family and I never imagined a future without them. That was almost thirty years ago. Today, the world looks very different. In light of all that is happening in our world today, I am having to face the possibility that those very dear people gathered around that table, whose company I so enjoyed, are not my family and were never my family. I'm not certain anymore if I have a family or what that word means in our topsy-turvy post-modern world. I'm not entirely sure I have a native place, or any place I could call “my home town.” Everyone in my hometown was so different from each other and so invested in their divergent world-views and beliefs and life-styles, and our dispersion is becoming more and more evident to all of us as we grow older.
In the wake of the recent Supreme Court decision to provide Constitutional protection to so-called “same sex marriages,” I wonder if I were to assemble this same group of family around a supper table today, what kind of visit we would have. What would we talk about? What would we need to take great care not to talk about? And if the subject of the Supreme Court decision came up, would my guests be likely to say when supper was over: “You Catholics are great! You're just like us?”
Brothers and sisters, all of us here who are over 50 years of age remember what it was like to be at that big happy meal, that easy-going friendly and free-flowing colloquium, where being a Catholic was easy, acceptable, intellectually stimulating, and fun. I am not one who foresees the Catholic Church being persecuted in America. It is hard for me to imagine today's post-modern “seekers” having a strong enough conviction about the truth of anything, or working together to a degree sufficient to pull off an actual persecution of the Catholic Church. More likely, I think, they will just stop inviting us to the table. As prophets of God's word, our rejection by our hometown will be largely unexpressed, more a being over-looked and ignored than persecuted. I imagine our future something like what Jesus experienced in today's gospel: the heartbreaking discovery that we no longer have a seat at that big table and in fact are less and less understood, less and less welcome by those in our native place. Who then is my family? Jesus asked himself this question and answered it. All who do the will of God, are brother, and sister and mother and father to me. Brothers and sisters, so long as God is one God and three Persons, you and I will never be without a family. But we might have to learn to live with little support from members of our family or longtime friends whom we think of as family, and that could be hard. When it feels hard, we need to turn off the T.V., turn off the Internet, go to a place alone, and listen for the voice of Jesus speaking to our heart. If you listen, I think you will hear his voice say to you: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Follow me.”
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 66:10-14c; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12, 17-20 ]
“Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Some years ago, Fr. Anthony Williams, who was a missionary priest in Africa for seventeen years, began suffering stomach pains. A doctor diagnosed cancer. Fr. Tony was a gracious and kind person with a good sense of humor whom people loved wherever he went. So there were many who grieved when it was evident he was dying.
One evening as he was lying sick in bed, trying to pray and finding it very hard, he gazed at a crucifix on the wall. It drew him into the scene on Mount Calvary at the precise moment when the soldiers were hammering nails into Christ's hands and feet. When Fr. Tony looked at the soldiers he was shocked to see his own face on one of them. Deeply sorry for his sins, he asked the Lord, “Have I been so terrible? Have my sins been crucifying you? Am I that evil and bad?” Christ looked up and said with great love, “Tony, all your sins are forgiven. My peace I give to you.” Then Fr. Anthony saw his face on the soldier disappear, and he was back in his own room. An enormous peace enveloped him. When his time to die drew near, relatives and friends gathered to say goodbye. They were struck by his tremendous sense of peace. He said to them, “I have one dying wish for all of you: that you may experience the peace that comes from Jesus who loves you with such an incredible forgiving love.” Then he closed his eyes and died with a smile on his face.1
Christ gives us his peace, No one else can give it or do what he does. Like the man who walked into a talent agent's office to see if there were any openings for his specialty act. “What do you do?” the agent asked? The man said, “I imitate birds.” The agent replied, “We can't use you, bird imitations are a dime a dozen. You're wasting my time, Get out of here.” Whereupon the man flapped his arms and flew out the window. The peace Christ offers is unlike anything the world can give. He sets us free from Satan's bondage and makes us sharers in God's divinity. In Psalm 123 (124) we bless the Lord, saying, “Our life, like a bird, has escaped from the snare of the fowler, indeed the snare has been broken and we have escaped!” Christ not only rises from the dead, he promises that we will, too. And like the seventy-two disciples we also have a mission to be witnesses to the whole world of this divinizing peace that only Christ can give: freedom from our sins and the power of death, and the promise of resurrection and heaven.
In one episode of Peanuts, Snoopy is sitting on top of his doghouse with his friend, a little bird named Woodstock. Snoopy asks, “What are you doing here, Woodstock? You're supposed to be out somewhere sitting on a branch chirping. That's your job. When people wake up in the morning they expect to hear birds chirping.” With that Woodstock flies off to a nearby branch, makes a single chirp, and then flies back to the doghouse. Snoopy says, “You chirped only once. You can't brighten someone's day with one chirp.” So Woodstock flies back to the branch and sings six more chirps. When he returns Snoopy smiles and says, “There now! Didn't that give you a real feeling of satisfaction? Well, you're supposed to do that every morning for the rest of your life.” Hearing this daunting task, Woodstock faints and falls off the roof of the doghouse. Our task as Christians is also daunting: to be witnesses every day by the way we live that we are a new creation, that heaven is our homeland. Are we doing our job?
Today priests are constantly being put to shame in the news because of those who have greatly sinned by abusing children. I feel uneasy going on a journey outside the monastery wearing clerical clothes, of being exposed to the reproachful stares and cold shoulders of rightfully angry people, whose trust has been betrayed. It is no longer common to see priests and religious wearing their Roman collars or their habits in public like it used to be. In secular clothes we blend in and look like everyone else. Times have changed, and that's accepted now, but are we missing something beautiful, announcing the bright morning song of Christ's presence to the world even by the way we dress?
I want to share with you three experiences that have encouraged me to be a witness even by what I wear. Two of them happened in Chicago's O'Hare Airport where you rarely see a roman collar or a religious habit anymore. I was dressed as a priest when a young couple holding a baby stepped boldly in front of me. I was uneasy until they said, “Father, would you bless our daughter?” I felt honored and grateful. The second incident happened as I was buying a hamburger while waiting for my next flight. The teenage girl behind the counter looked intently at me and asked, “Are you a reverend?” “Yes,” I replied, “I'm a Catholic priest.” She said, “Oh, I want to thank you for all the good things you do for others.” Her spontaneous kindness touched my heart and filled me with wonder at her goodness.
The last experience happened when I was visiting my brother, Dan, who was dying of cancer in San Diego. My sister-in-law, Janie, asked me to go shopping for food with her. I was wearing my religious habit. After we left the supermarket, an Hispanic man stopped me on the sidewalk and asked if I was a religious. “Yes,” I replied, “I'm a Trappist monk.” He said, “Seventeen years ago I immigrated to the United States. This is the first time since then that I've seen any religious in a public place. I have missed them so much.” He told me his name so I introduced myself, saying , “My name is Fr. Stephen Verbest,” and then pointing to Janie I teased him by saying, “And this is Mrs. Verbest!” A look of shock crossed his face, so I quickly added, “She's my sister-in-law.” He laughed with relief, shook my hand, and asked for a blessing.
Like the seventy-two disciples in today's gospel, we rejoice because our names are written in heaven. And like them, you and I have a mission to spread this joy, to be witnesses of Christ's presence by our lives every day. If the world decides to put you or me on trial for being Christians, let us make sure it has plenty of evidence to convict us.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Ezek. 2: 2-5; 2Cor. 12: 7-10; Mk. 6: 1-6]
Given the time and money our society devotes to education and acquiring intellectual skills at various levels, there can be little doubt about the high value we place on knowledge. Accumulation of knowledge, both individual and collective, has given the majority of our society access to the highest standard of living in the world. The most frequent complaint that I have heard in regard to knowledge has to do with the information explosion. There is simply too much knowledge for any one individual to handle. Any one of us can be quite knowledgeable in one area, but quite ignorant in other important areas. Integrating our knowledge so that it becomes wisdom can be problematical. A second characteristic of knowledge that does not get the same attention as the information explosion is the simple fact any new knowledge we acquire is filtered through what we already know. On the positive side this allows us to build our knowledge into a relatively coherent whole. However, the knowledge we have acquired can also be a hindrance to taking a fresh look at ourselves and our friends and neighbors, and taking a truly new approach to life.
In this morning's gospel Jesus' friends and neighbors knew who he was and knew his family. At first glance this could be expected to gain Jesus a positive hearing for his message. However, Jesus' words and behavior went far beyond what those who knew him expected. They were not able to break out of their expectations and hear the good news that Jesus announced and receive the healing that he brought.
As a result of our experience in living our faith and the level of catechesis we have received we have our preconceived ideas about who Jesus is and how he should act in our lives. So far so good. We don't approach new knowledge with blank minds. If we did we would only have a jumble of unrelated facts in our heads. However, does the knowledge we have acquired prevent us from recognizing new ways that Jesus comes into our lives? It is characteristic of the Holy Spirit to act in new and unexpected ways, so the work of the Holy Spirit always calls for discernment. What is new is not necessarily the work of the Holy Spirit. Something new may simply be novel and entertaining. Conversely what is old is not necessarily a value from the tradition. It may simply be familiar and comfortable. In either case in order to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we need to be willing to take an objective look at our stereotypes and let go of them when we are being called to allow Jesus Christ to be present in our lives in new and unexpected ways.
We also have our preconceived ideas about our own capabilities and the capabilities of those we live and work with. Again this can be a good thing. If we had to start each day forming our relationships from scratch, life would be intolerable. Nevertheless we can easily put others into set categories and not allow them the freedom to grow beyond our expectations. Similarly we need some stability in our self-knowledge. Nevertheless St. Paul learned from painful experience that God's power is completed in weakness. Can we look beyond the weaknesses in ourselves and in others with which we are all too familiar and look at the behavior and listen to the words to discern if they are from God?
Every day is an opportunity to encounter Christ present in our lives and to grow in faith, hope and love. Our challenge is to find a middle position between running after every new Idea that comes our way on the one hand, and on the other hand being so rigid in our thinking that we fail to recognize Christ as he comes to us in new and surprising ways.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Ezek. 2: 2-5; 2Cor. 12: 7-10; Mk. 6: 6-1]
Contrary to a tendency to simplify life by categorizing experiences into either good or bad, it seems to me that most situations have both positive and negative aspects. Ordinary and routine events are an example. It is reassuring to have some degree of predictability in our lives. Few of us want to reinvent the wheel and everything else along with it each morning when we start out on our day. It is not simply a matter of personal comfort. Most of us perform our tasks better and relate to people better if we are familiar with our situations. The negative side is that an unwillingness to let go of what is familiar can blind us to what would be a new and positive enhancement of our lives.
With a few exceptions God comes to us in the ordinary and familiar routines of our lives. True, St. Paul was knocked off his horse and there are still exceptional encounters with the divine; but God acts more subtly in the lives of most of us. Although we might think we would benefit from a more extraordinary experience, St. Paul reminds us that extraordinary experiences often come with a thorn in the flesh to keep us humble. The more usual temptation for us is that of Jesus’ neighbors in this morning’s gospel. We put people including ourselves into familiar categories and we don’t expect anything really new; either from our friends and acquaintances, or from ourselves. God may be calling to us, but because we don’t recognize his presence in those we meet, we cannot respond to his call.
The loss goes beyond our personal lives. In his book What Is the Point of Being A Christian? Timothy Radcliffe asks if the lives of Christians show forth anything different than the lives of everyone else. If they don’t, then what is the point of being a Christian? When others see us do they see joy and hope and God’s good news for the world, or do they just see life as usual, perhaps with some religious trappings? We often think of an atheist as a rationalist intellectual arguing against the existence of God. I agree with those theologians who are saying that modern atheism is characterized more by indifference. Many people simply don’t care enough about God or religion to argue. Since we all have a role in bringing the gospel to the world, that presents us with a challenge.
I don’t think our response should be to put on a spectacular show of our religion. For most of us that would be a temptation to vainglory and pride, and God usually works in subtle and ordinary ways. The question we need to answer is, do people see joy and hope and God’s good news as we go about our day to day routines? The answer to that question can be yes only if we ourselves see joy and hope and God’s good news in our daily lives. Jesus came to his neighbors as the incarnate Word of God. They saw, or a least heard about his works. They recognized his teaching as new and distinctive. But they couldn’t recognize God in someone so ordinary and someone they knew so well. Can we recognize God’s presence in the ordinary people we know so well?
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Zech. 9: 9-10; Rom. 8: 9, 11-13; Mt. 11: 25-30]
Even a shallow familiarity with the news reveals that we are living in a world longing for peace. International relations are marred by escalating violence and counter violence. There is concern about increasing polarization and its accompanying animosity in society and within the Church. There is violence at the workplace and within the family. Constant exposure can become discouraging to the point of depression, and for many people this has happened. Escapes range from the diversions of entertainment to addiction to alcohol and drugs.
Yet it is into this situation that the Church is called to proclaim good news and Zachariah calls us to rejoice and shout for joy. Certainly the skeptical and those who are wise in the ways of the world would dismiss this as more misguided pietism, if not outright delusion. And if we take this morning’s readings seriously, it cannot be denied that they contradict conventional wisdom. The Son of God has come proclaiming peace to the nations, but he has come in the way of gentleness and humility to confront the ways of power and violence. And he calls us to follow him in the way of gentleness and humility. What is to be our response?
Since international and national affairs are beyond my sphere of influence and I assume yours also, I suggest that the beginning of an answer is to look into our own hearts and at our own behavior. Is my longing for peace only wishful thinking, or is it the basis for a true conversion of heart and action? Am I willing to take up Christ’s yoke and follow him in the way of humility and gentleness when common sense and conventional wisdom say I could get my own way by using at least verbal if not physical force? Am I willing to listen with compassion and understanding to someone who disagrees with me rather than just bide my time until I can jump in and make my point? Am I willing to help someone who gets on my nerves rather than turn in the other direction or answer with a sarcastic remark? I am sure each of you could also come up with a list of practices of the flesh that St. Paul calls us to put to death so that we can live in the Spirit of Christ.
True, when I think of the extent of hostility and violence in the world anything that I might do seems trivial and inconsequential. And it will be as long as I look only at my effort. But as Paul reminds us we are in the Spirit not in the flesh. Am I willing to plant a small seed and allow God to bring it to growth into a large plant, or even a tree? When the Corinthians tried to drive a wedge of contention between Paul and Apollos, Paul told them that he planted, Apollos watered, but God gives the growth. In a given situation our role may be to plant a seed, or it may be to nourish what someone else has planted. In either case, are we willing to make a contribution however small to the work of the Spirit? If we are, then we will have work in Christ’s Spirit, which is the way of humility and gentleness.
Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Is 66:10-14c; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-12, 17-20]
Part of the role of management and leadership is the art and skill of delegating authority. It is a rare skill, as evidenced by the recent resignations of public officials who were held responsible for the activities of their subordinates. This past week here in Dubuque, we read of the rejection of the plans of the Holy Family School Board. “We have done about five years of work and it is undone by one feel swoop of the Archdiocesean Board of Education” said Mike Sullivan. It sounds as if some of the principles of delegating authority were ignored. These principles include clarity about goals and expectations, adequate means and tools, an adequate time-frame, etc. But beyond the materialities of this delegation, there is the more intangible personal dimension. Does the one delegated have sufficient competence, creativity, flexibility and responsibility to assume the role of the one who is delegating? There is a real element of risk when one person acts in the name of another.
The Gospel scene today is clearly one in which Jesus is delegating his authority to his disciples. They return reporting what they have done in His name. This scene represents the on-going commissioning of the church by Jesus, the delegation he shares with us today. It is an amazing mystery that the Father entrusts with the mission of His Son. His own being and nature is to be manifested in our actions and lives. The Church’s preaching, liturgy, and service is not about God. It is God Himself acting in and through us. We can become so focused on the problems, abuses, scandals and incompetence of some of the church’s members that we ignore this deeper reality.
Is Jesus good at delegating his authority? We have to first wonder if the task is “do-able.” “The harvest is abundant; laborers are few.” There is a sense that the task is overwhelming and incommensurate to our abilities and capacities. The time is short. “The kingdom is at hand.” When a harvest is ready, you have to reap it before it rots in the field. We are being sent out as lambs among wolves. Where is the military escort? It appears to be set up as a no-win situation. And we are called “laborers.” Not foremen, managers, or executives, but laborers. This means an active engagement on perhaps some menial and mundane levels. Labor can seem endless and unrewarding. We are expected to be consumed by the work, wholly devoted to the task. Yet, implicit in this description is the image of Christ Himself. He is the laborer wholly consumed by his mission, the one among us as He who serves. Those delegated are called to assume an identification with the one who is delegating them. They are called to SERVICE and SELF-FORGETFULNESS. We are offered a deep an intimate collaboration with God, even to the point of being formed by his desire in praying that He send laborers into the harvest.
Jesus sends his disciples out stripped down to the essentials. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” We don’t seem to be provided with sufficient equipment and tools. No credit card or lap top. None of those possessions which give us security and comfort. The Roman soldiers used to call their baggage “impedimenta” — it made walking difficult, an impediment to easy travel. Jesus has the same understanding that possessions and security can be impediments to our mobility and freedom,. They keep us from attending to what is most important, from whole-hearted devotion to what is central and essential in our lives. We tend to labor and strain at what is peripheral, to exhaust ourselves in kicking up dust and spinning our wheels on minor and passing issues. Poverty and simplicity can help us to know what is most deeply at issue in our lives. The injunction against greeting others on the road is a call to examine the time and effort we give to formal and forced relationships, communication which doesn’t communicate anything except our unacknowledged anxieties and obsessions. The disciple of Christ will be marked by SIMPLICITY and SINGLE-MINDEDNESS.
The one who is to share the authority of Jesus should not move from house to house, but eat what is set before him. This counters our usual desire to seek increasing sensory stimulation, the gnawing need to keep improving and moving to higher economic and social levels, to have mobility and loose bonds in case a better prospect should appear on the horizon. There is a Christian principle of “autarky” or self-sufficiency which St. Paul alludes to in his letter to the Philippians: “I know how to be full and how to be empty, how to have plenty and how to have nothing,”. It is the freeing capacity to live out of your own being, to LIVE OUT OF YOUR OWN DEEP SENSE OF YOUR SELF. You are not defined by the circumstances in which you find yourself. You can allow your own inner nature to appear.
At the beginning of this delegation of his mission to his disciples, Jesus says “Go on your way.” The origins of our mission lie in this divine imperative, in this creative word which cuts through all our hesitation , cowardice, and doubt. This word is addressed to us and it needs to be listened to beyond all the noises and chattering that can fill our heads. We can live our lives, formed by the word of God. When Jesus tells us to rejoice because our names are written in heaven, He is not suggesting that we will find some solace from being listed in volume 3,447 of a celestial phone book. The real source of our joy is in knowing that we are personally known by God and that the stories of our lives bear an eternal significance, totally incommensurate with our ability to understand or appreciate now.