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Homily, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

If the Lord gives you a mission, He will also give you the resources and the grace to carry it out.

15th Sunday of the Year B

Amos 7:12-15, Eph. 1:3-14, Mark 6:7-13

We spend a great deal of our lives preparing. School runs from infancy until we are ready to enter the adult world. For some people, college or apprenticeship can extend well into the twenties and beyond. Those called to priesthood like myself normally face at least six years of formation. Many people find themselves later in life re-training: Back to the classroom with teachers the same age as their children. Good training prepares the learner with knowledge and skills, and also helps the learner to adapt to the demands of the job in a controlled environment. The car used by a driving instructor has control pedals on the passenger side; confidence has to be built, or over-confidence has to be tamed. Both, lack of confidence and overconfidence show the fragility of the learner. They are both are a challenge to the teacher, and show that learning has often more to do with temperament than with talent.

In today’s gospel, we are told how Jesus sent his twelve apostles out in pairs to preach repentance, cast out demons and heal the sick. We know that this will not be the definitive sending out of the apostles, which happens at Pentecost when the Risen and ascended Christ breaths his Holy Spirit upon those gathered in the closed room. So how are we to regard this earlier sending out? Is it a training exercise in which the apostles are sent out by Jesus in a controlled environment as part of the formation which will prepare them for when he is no longer with them? The apostles are being allowed to drive, but Jesus is in the passenger seat ready to press the break if things go wrong. After Pentecost the disciples do not go off on their own without Jesus Christ. He is present to them more than ever before through his Holy Spirit.  So this earlier sending is not just a training exercise to prepare the apostles for life without Jesus.

The injunction Jesus places upon the apostles ‘take nothing for the journey’ points to the prophetic manner of this sending out. It is prophetic because it witnesses to him. He is the one who came into this world with nothing for the journey, who was sent amongst us to be either welcomed or rejected. He didn’t hand them a catechism or even give them a supply of newsprint and markers. He did give them power over spirits. But along with the power, he also instructed them on how important it was not to be restricted by unnecessary ‘baggage’. Obviously, we need some possessions but we all know the burden and illusion of accumulation. The number of books we have does not imply learning. The number of religious articles at our home does not imply deep faith. A life focused on the essentials enables us not to get distracted by things peripheral to the Gospel message.

Today’s first reading recounts the call of another unlikely prophet, Amos, a simple “shepherd and a dresser of sycamore”. Despite his doubts about his abilities to do what God has called him to take on. Amos the farmer, leaves his flocks and sycamores to proclaim the justice of God to the northern kingdom of Israel. The stories of Amos and the twelve whom Jesus sent out are stories of people who allowed themselves to be chosen and changed into more than they could they could be. For that to happen, they had to be willing to leave their sycamores, sheep and seashore. They had to allow their hearts to be vulnerable to the touch of God who offers endless possibilities.

In sending out the twelve, Jesus gives them three particular instructions; carrying the walking stick, traveling two by two, and shaking the dust from unresponsive towns. Each of these evokes three important helps to the Christian life as we respond to God’s invitation.

First, we have a walking stick. The Lord tells His disciples to take no food, no travelling bag, and not even any money. The one thing they were to take was a walking stick.  Jesus knew they would need something to lean on. Hills were steep and roads rough. A walking stick would help them keep their balance. Our walking stick is a trust in God’s Providence. This is critical to our Christian life. We often times find ourselves in situations that contain blessings and burdens, situations touched by grace and at other times we are driven to our knees overwhelmed by trial.  Through it all we need to recognize that God is the origin and source of our lives; our lives are guided by God. We need to trust in God’s will. There is God’s permissive will in the things He let happen. There is God’s corrective will in the things that bring us to correct the direction in which we may be going. Finally, there is God’s affirmative will in the things the Lord sends into our life. Very little in our life, is simply coincidence. God’s will is woven into everything that happens to us, even in rejection. Everything happens for a reason, for our spiritual good, if we can see it through the eyes of faith. Planted within every event, every failure and rejection is a seed of a new turn, a new life, a new direction and new grace. That insight has enormous transforming power for looking at our life. It gives us great confidence and peace. That is a powerful walking stick on which to lean.

The second element of Jesus’ instructions is His sending the disciples ‘two by two’. If they went alone, they would, of course reach more places. But the Lord sends them out two by two for the very obvious reason that they needed each other. They had a big job to do and to get it done well. They needed team work. We all need friends, partners, associates and companions. That is certainly true of the spiritual life. We call that the communion of saints. We ask for the help of saints. We all need partners in our life as Christians on earth, people to whom we can talk, seek support, and on whose prayer we can rely. This is what the community of Church is for.

Finally, the last instruction from the Lord to His disciples is to shake from their feet the dust of a town that will not listen and move on. The message for us from these words of the Lord is not to be paralyzed by failure. Nobody has a 100% success rate in his or her missionary work. We need to be sure that we do our best and then to move on. If we let the dust accumulate, it can get into the pores of the skin, make us sick and immobilize us.

Amos found power and conviction to preach a difficult message – because he knew that the Lord would give him what he needed.   And Jesus sends his disciples on mission – trusting entirely upon providence – so that their ministry is not sustained by their own power but dependent upon God alone. Like the prophet Amos and the apostles, we have been chosen to be the Son’s co-workers in continuing God’s plan of bringing healing and grace to a broken world. We are not wanderers but pilgrims and missionaries. We are encouraged by  this truth-if the Lord gives you a mission, He will also give you the resources and the grace to carry it out.

 

 

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