Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s Not About Us

Today's readings

One of my professors in seminary would often tell us that, because we had made a commitment to follow God's call, the devil would do everything possible to get us to change our mind. One of the devil's tricks would be to make us feel completely unworthy of the call, so much so that we'd abandon it. He cautioned that, the closer we got to ordination, the more intense that feeling would become. And boy, was he right! Weeks before the ordination, all of the sins of my life, along with all of my personal inadequacies and weaknesses, came to light before me in splendid fashion. I often felt so unworthy of answering the call that I wondered if I was making a huge mistake.

And the truth is, I am unworthy of the call. Looking around at my classmates, that was true of all of us. Some of us would be more willing to admit that than others, but it was really true. The truth is that none of us is ever really worthy of doing God's work, because none of us is perfect, and nobody is holy enough to stand in the place of God. Yet that was what we were called to do. Whether or not we had ever sinned, whatever our gifts or talents were, wherever we had failings or inadequacies, none of that mattered. Why? Because it's not about us.

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 get it to 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 what happened to him, don't we?

The point is, that 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.

We can depend on this: the Word of the Lord will continue to be proclaimed. Prophesy will still be spoken. Repentance will be preached, and all will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. Demons will be driven out. And many who are sick will be anointed with oil and cured in the name of the Lord. And there isn't anything we underqualified, ill-prepared, flawed human beings can do to stop it. God will still use us despite our failings, and often enough even despite our own attempts to stay out of it.

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! Sometimes when others call us to do something, perhaps they see something in us that we can't see, or perhaps they may see God working in us in ways we don't fully appreciate. 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.

When I was in seminary, one of the things I heard about some of the guys doing was acting as fire chaplains. They would be on call with the fire department and would help them reach out to people in the midst of emergencies and crises. That kind of thing scared the life out of me, and I thought "I'll never be able to do anything like that." Well, of course, a couple of years later, I was asked to become a fire chaplain. My first response was, "oh no, I could never do that." My friend who asked me to do it asked me to at least pray about it, which I agreed to do. And when I did pray about it, my answer from God was that of course I couldn't do it by myself, but it wasn't about me. So I became a fire chaplain despite my promise that I would never do so, and I worked with folks whose house was burning down, or whose children had committed suicide, or whose loved ones died in an accident. I ministered to the fire and paramedic personnel who had been through some difficult times. And I was always glad I was there, letting God use me to do things I could never do myself.

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. 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.

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 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.

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 infirm. Working at a soup kitchen or 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.

How is it possible for you to cure the sick? You anoint the sick every time you remember them in prayer, or visit them in the hospital or at home. You anoint the sick when you volunteer as a minister of care. You anoint 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 anoint 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. Heal
ing 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.