The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s Not About Me

Today’s readings

Today I want to reflect on what I consider to be one of the most important principles of the spiritual life.  That principle is completely summed up in one short sentence: “It’s not about me.”

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been able to take a look at the various people who have been called to ministry throughout history.  Last week, Ezekiel was told that whatever he did, his ministry would be mostly unsuccessful.  Paul, the great teacher of our faith, was afflicted with a “thorn in the flesh” – whatever that was – and no amount of prayer could make it go away.  In today’s first reading, Amos, who is told that he is not welcome to prophesy in Israel, confesses that he is nothing but a simple shepherd and dresser of sycamores – completely ill-qualified for the role of a prophet, but nonetheless called to be one.  In today’s Gospel, the Twelve are sent out on mission to do the works that Christ himself did, and they were only to take with them the knowledge of Jesus’ teachings and their memory of what he had done among them.  They were simple men, called from their simple lives, not one of them qualified for the role they were to play, with the possible exception of Judas, and we know how that worked out, don’t we?

The point is, when we are called by our God, – and we are all called by God – it’s not about who we are or who we know or how slick our presentation is.  It’s not about what we have in our bag of tricks, or how much stuff we have.  It’s not about how developed we may think our faith life is, or how much we’ve studied theology.  Because it’s not about us at all.

I know many people, who when asked if they would become involved in some ministry or another, would say, “Oh, no, I could never do that.  I’m not qualified to do it.” There are people who always feel that others could do the job better than they can, and so others should do it and they should stay out of it.  But if we are to learn anything from the Scriptures today, we must hear that that kind of thinking is nothing but false humility.  And false humility is absolutely not virtuous!  I’m not saying we have to say “yes” to everything we’re asked to do, but I am saying that we must always prayerfully consider every opportunity, and then do what the Lord wants us to do.

So in what ways have you been called?  In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends his chosen Twelve out on mission.  They were chosen not for their spectacular abilities or any particular quality, really.  But they were chosen, called and gifted to do the work of God in the world.  So are we all.  Just as the Twelve were sent out to preach repentance, dispel demons, and cure the sick, we too are called to do those very same things.  I know you’re thinking, “really, preach, dispel demons, cure the sick – me?”  Bear with me.

You may not think of yourself as a preacher.  But you are prophetic and a preacher of repentance when you forgive a hurt or wrong, when you confess your sins and make necessary changes in your life, when you become a member of a 12-step group to deal with an addiction, or when you leave a lucrative job with a company whose business practices make you feel uncomfortable.  You are a preacher of repentance when you correct poor behavior in your children rather than place the blame on the teacher or the school.  You are a preacher of repentance when you accept constructive criticism in a spirit of humility and pray for the grace to change your life.  Preaching repentance very often does not involve words so much as actions, and we can all do that, even though it very often hurts a little.

Who are you to drive out demons? How is that even possible?  But I am here to tell you that volunteering as a catechist or a mentor in a school or a homework helper is a way to drive out the demons of ignorance.  Going to a Protecting God’s Children workshop so that children in our schools and religious educations programs will be safe is a way to drive out the demons of abuse.  When you speak out to protect the environment, you help to drive out the demons of neglect and waste.  Volunteering to be part of a pro-life group helps to drive out the demons of death and promote a culture of life, protecting the unborn and the aged and the infirm.  Working at a soup kitchen or a food pantry drives out the demons of hunger and poverty.  Helping at shelters for battered families drives out the demons of violence and isolation.  The demons at work in our world are legion, and every one of us is called to drive them out, not like “The Exorcist,” but more by our simple time and talent according to our gifts.

So how is it possible for you to cure the sick?  Every act of care for the sick is part of the Church’s ministry of healing.  You heal the sick every time you remember them in prayer, or visit them in the hospital or at home.  You heal the sick when you volunteer as a minister of care.  You heal the sick when you bring a casserole to provide dinner for a family who are so busy with sick relatives that they have little time to prepare a meal.  You heal the sick when you drive an elderly friend or neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or to do the grocery shopping, or pick them up on the way to Mass.  Healing involves so much more than just making a disease or injury go away, and all of us can be a part of healing in so many everyday ways.

We absolutely must get from today’s Scriptures that God calls everyday people to minister to others in everyday ways.  If people are to know about God’s Kingdom, we have to be the ones to proclaim it.  If people are to reform their lives, we have to be the ones to model repentance.  If people are to be released from their demons, we have to be the ones to drive them out.  And if people are to be healed from their infirmities, it is all of us who have to reach out to them with the healing power of Christ.  We who are called to live as disciples do not have the luxury of indulging ourselves in misplaced false humility.  If we and our families and our communities are to grow in faith, hope and love, we have to be the ones to show the way and encourage as many people as possible to walk in that way.

Saint Paul makes our vocation very clear in today’s second reading:

In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One
who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will,
so that we might exist for the praise of his glory,
we who first hoped in Christ. 

 It’s not about us.  We who first hoped in Christ exist for the praise of his glory.  Let it be then that we in the everyday-ness of our lives would have the courage to preach repentance, drive out demons and heal the sick.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So Jesus’ ministry is ramping up into full gear. In order to prepare the places he intends to visit, he sends out seventy-two disciples, in pairs, to prepare the way. They are going to do some of the same things he will do: curing the sick, healing the broken, and preaching the Kingdom of God, with its call to repentance. This is the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary. They have great success because Jesus prepares them in advance and gives them advice about how to be good disciples.

And when we come to that advice, that should be a red flag. This story, nice as it is, is not about just those seventy-two. It is about all of us. Because, at our baptism, we too have been sent out on mission. We too are called to bring healing to a broken world, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That Kingdom is here and now, and it is urgent that people come to enter into it.

We might protest, I think, saying that we’re not ready, not equipped to be evangelizers and preachers and healers. Well, news flash: neither were those seventy-two. In fact, they came back amazed that they were able to accomplish the mighty deeds they did. And they were able to do those things because Jesus had prepared them in advance. He gave them several rules for mission, and of them, three really stand out. I think we are supposed to hear and appropriate these things as well.

So the first tool he gives us is the wisdom not to rely on ourselves. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it? We need a wallet or money bag to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel and pay for what we need on the journey, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need along the way. Here’s the point, though: If we were able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we? Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following. Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy. Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in and through us.

The second discipleship tool is to “greet no one along the way.” That sounds pretty unfriendly, doesn’t it? We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not what’s at stake here. The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission. Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way. The point here is that there is urgency to the mission. People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late. We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.

The final tool is this: do not move from one house to another, to eat and drink what is set before us. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News. The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry. Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind. Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were to be given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them. We are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens. We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but we have to accept the mission we have. We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts. When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.

So we’ve received an awful lot as we come here for worship today. We will be fed on the most excellent Body and Blood of our Lord which will give us strength to tend to the piece of the Kingdom that God has entrusted to us. We have been instructed with some basic tools for doing the work of God. If we use these tools and are faithful to the mission, I think we’ll be as overjoyed as were those disciples. And then, we can rejoice with them that our names are written in heaven.

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we get a bit of a glimpse as to how Jesus’ day-to-day ministry worked.  We can see three things in particular that characterize how things happened.  First, he journeyed to proclaim the Good News.  He met people where they were, and even sought them out.  This shows us God’s relentless pursuit of the people he loves.

Second, he brought people with him.  He travelled with the Twelve Apostles, some of the women he had cured of evil spirits and of illnesses, some particular women (Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna), and “many others.”  All of these were drawn to Jesus for various reasons.  We can assume they had all been given some gift: healing, a call to ministry, recognition of their worth – and all of them had responded by wanting to be near him.  This models for us our response to God’s work in our lives.

And finally, those travelling with him provided for his ministry out of their resources.  Some of the women were well-connected, especially Joanna, whose husband was a high official in the court of Herod Agrippa.  So she would have had resources to help with the ministry as well as leisure to follow Jesus.

We can hardly visit this gospel reading, though, and not notice the meticulous mention of the women that were among his followers.  In a day where a woman’s participation in anything of a public nature would be totally frowned upon, Jesus reached out to women, and brought them into his ministry.  Certainly the Evangelist would never have mentioned it if it weren’t important to the Gospel itself.

We come here today for Mass, aware that our God seeks us out in little and big ways every single day.  We too want to be close to him, and respond as did the Twelve, the women, and the “many others.”  Our desire for God and our yearning for forgiveness are themselves God’s gift to us.  Blessed are those who journey with Christ on the way.

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Have you ever been sure of the Lord’s call in your life and it just terrified you?  I have.  And for those of us who have been in this position, we can perhaps understand Jonah’s reaction in today’s first reading.  He had been called by the Lord to preach to the people in Nineveh.  Now the people of Nineveh were unspeakably evil and had long been persecuting the people of Israel.  And so for Jonah, this call was a bit like being called to preach to the people of Al-Quaida or something like that.  Not only did Jonah fear for his life in going to them, but, quite frankly, he also could not possibly care less if they repented and God had mercy on them.

But it’s a little hard to run away from God.  He always catches up with you sooner or later.  If that weren’t true, I wouldn’t be standing here today, I can tell you that!  It would certainly be easier for us Jonahs if we would just give in to God’s will at the beginning and not have to do all this running.  But sometimes the human heart just isn’t ready for radical change.

That was true of the scholar of the law in today’s Gospel reading.  I think he’s more testing Jesus here than really wanting to be converted, but he can’t help but get caught up in Jesus’ teaching.  The question is, is he ready to “go and do likewise?”  The reading ends before he can make that decision, but the implication is that it will be very hard for him to really love his neighbor in the same way that the good Samaritan loved the robbery victim.

And so those of us who look a lot like Jonah or the scholar of the law today, need to pray for softening of our hardened hearts.  Will it take three days in the belly of a big fish for us to finally give in to God’s will?  Or can we just give in and trust?

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Saul is proof that God’s ways are not our ways.  How is it that God would pick for one of his chief Apostles a man who imprisoned and murdered the followers of the Christian Way?  That had to surprise even, and perhaps especially Saul, whose life was turned completely upside-down.  Poor Ananias had to be quaking in his boots to carry out this command of the Lord.  But thankfully both Paul and Ananias were obedient to the Lord’s command, and we are the ones who have benefited from that.  Not only has the Word of God been passed on through their faithfulness, but we see in their lives that obedience to God’s will, while it may not always make sense, is the way that true disciples live.

Easter Friday

Today’s readings

It is always interesting to me that the disciples, who we are told were trained fishermen, never catch anything unless they are with Jesus.  Go through the Gospels and you will see that this is true.  Their nets always come up empty until he gives the command to cast the nets.  Then they can hardly bring in the catch because of the sheer number of fish they have caught.  Today’s episode finds the disciples dejected, not sure where to go, ready to return to their former life and their former career.  They have no idea what to do so they do what they always used to do … they go fishing.  And it is Jesus once again who not only gives them the fish, but cooks breakfast for them.  We too, are called to go fishing for the Lord in some way, but we’ll never catch anything if we go off on our own.  Praise God that he is always willing to go fishing with us!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Monday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Now that the Christmas season has come to its close, it’s time to get down to business.  And Jesus does so quickly.  John has been arrested, so there is no time like the present to keep the word out there.  Just as John preached a baptism for the forgiveness of sins, so Jesus preaches a whole Gospel for the forgiveness of sins.  The task for us to is to repent and to believe.  As we begin the Ordinary Time of our Church year, we may find in necessary to do some more repenting ourselves so that our belief can be stronger in this coming year.