(Christ sends his Apostles - James Tissot)
"They went off and preached repentance"
The Word for Sunday: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/071518.cfm
Our Gospel this Sunday brought up a travel adventure my parents once shared. Several years before my Father took ill, he and my Mother had the chance, for the first time in their life, to travel to Eastern Europe and visit Lithuania, the country where their parents had come from. They were very much looking forward to meeting relatives they had only heard about and so they did and had a great time. They were met with great welcome and joined with our family over there as if they had always knew them. Despite the small farm towns, not unlike Anatevka from Fiddler on the Roof, and the dirt floors in some locations, they enjoyed the whole experience.
When they returned home they remarked how generous the relatives were when they were leaving. The folks were struggling financially, the Soviet Union had not long before collapsed and the former Communist government had done a real hatchet job on the country.
Nonetheless, when they were leaving one of the country towns where the relatives had gathered, everyone wanted to give them something to take back to America as a sign of their gratitude. My parents both wondered how they would ever get everything back on the plane but they graciously brought back what they could, mostly heavy books and some personal items.
However, one of the most interesting was a very large set of deer antlers one of the folks wanted my Dad to take back! How would they ever get these on the plane and even if they could put them in stored luggage what would they do with them on their return? So, they laughed, explained the situation and graciously turned down the generous offer.
We hear about travel this Sunday when Jesus tells his apostles as he sends them out, two by two, to take nothing with them: no heavy books or deer antlers along the way; in fact, only the clothes on their backs, a walking stick and no money.
So our mission Gospel this Sunday seems an important insight into discipleship. It's one indication that Jesus, who gives without cost, expects the same from those he sends in his name to preach, heal, and gather into the new journey of life he invites in to. Yet, the conditions he demands seem extreme: ". . . take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic . . ." The Scout motto of -"Be prepared" could simply not apply in this case. You don’t’ need all the stuff we worry about when bringing the lesson of the good news. It just weighs you down and distracts you. So, drop the deer antlers!
Yet, isn't that somewhat the point here? Jesus is not calling these Twelve to an easy holiday and this is not a trip to the local Galilee Spa Resort. This is a radical call to Christian discipleship. Along the way they are to move out two by two, wise for safety reasons, to exorcise, proclaim the Good News of the Gospel, anoint the sick with oil, the basis of our sacrament of Anointing the Sick, and rely on the charity and hospitality of others.This call to go out follows from last weeks Gospel where Jesus was rejected by his own family and townsfolk. He couldn't work any miracles in Nazareth and these Apostles witnessed that. So sending them out to do the very work he was rejected for must have seemed a lesson in frustration. But, its clear they went nonetheless.
In addition, they should not worry about results or who might have had more "success" than others. It's not about competition or who got there first it's about faithfulness to the message of the Gospel. Some will welcome it and others will reject it. Don't waste time - move on. The message needs to be heard despite closed hearts and ears.
The essence of the Gospel of Christ is conversion and at times a radical indifference to the material world. We can have things, and we all do, but can you live without them? What would your life be like if you lost what you had? Is that all I live for? It's a good fundamental question for us all. It's not the kind of advice that would support a healthy economy, in a way. In order to make things happen, we must spend money, circulate it, buy things, create jobs,compete for the best and achieve success. This kind of template cannot be laid on the Christian message of discipleship. What about the clothes hanging in your closest? When's the last time you wore them? Do you really need them or might you be able to donate them to some cause so that others might benefit?
So, what are we to do? Should we all live like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa of Calcutta or like Trappist Monks? Each of us in our own way according to our means and our vocations are called to radical discipleship.
The message of the Gospel is priceless, it cannot be bought but only shared and given away. If we find ourselves filled with the desire for success and wealth rather than some level of genuine service and sacrifice, and a desire to grow in Christ, it might be good to pause and reassess our values and priorities. For those who have much, much will be expected. If I really enjoy and pursue to be noticed for my great charity towards others I might want to ask myself what am I really supporting - my own ego or the cause I choose to point to?
Wealthy, poor, middle class or wherever we fall on the spectrum of social order we all are invited to the same table and to follow the same Lord. It's not ultimately about how much I have or the size of my bank account but more about how open am I to this opportunity from our Lord. Only with this kind of radical conversion in my personal life can I go out on my Christian mission to be believable. It's always better to preach with actions.
Paul in the second reading from Ephesians this Sunday has a wonderful line that may be good to reflect upon: "In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us . . ." The lavishness of rich grace tells us that God will never be outdone by any one of us.
So as the Christian journey continues in our lives the daily walk of following the Lord expects us to focus on him, the mission at hand and share from the abundance of God's mercy. The rest are details really so don't worry. It's wise to be prepared not foolish as we set out. But, to fret, worry, obsess and compulsively plan for everything, for every possibility is to distract ourselves from the call to trust and faith. As our Eucharist assembly ends, we hear: "Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life."
If we follow the call of the Master in our lives, however we become aware of it, then we can believe that God will walk with us if we only trust.
Bless me, Lord, as I begin this adventure.
Open my eyes to see you in the people I will meet.
Open my ears to hear your word in new and surprising ways.
Open my hands to be your blessing
in whatever situation I find myself.
And open my hearts to receive you wherever I may go.
Protect me from harm as I travel
and give your wisdom to those I rely on for my safety.
why my travel is ended and my journey complete,
bring me home again, renewed by your love.
(Diana Macalintal, The Work or Your Hands)