Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

Amos 7:12-15

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:7-13

The woman, shabbily clad, stood at the corner waiting for the light to change so that she could cross the street.  It was a busy intersection and cars sped on their way in both directions before her.  When the Walk sign shone across the street she hesitated as other pedestrians edged around her and made their way into the crosswalk.  She took a step from the curb, quickly glanced to her left and right, and then retreated back to her starting point.  You could see the embarrassed expressions on the faces of on-lookers who pretended not to notice her confusion as the cycle happened a second time without the woman’s making the crossing.  She wrapped her arms around herself and seemed to shudder.

In a moment a little girl ran up to the woman and tugged on her coat.  At first the woman did not react, so the little girl pulled again on the sleeve of the woman’s coat.  Finally the woman turned and looked down at the child.  The girl held up her hand and asked, “Could you help me cross the street?”  There was a hesitation and another search of both directions.  Then the woman made a brushing motion to the sides of her coat.  She licked her lips where a smile emerged.  Then she extended her hand to the child and together they proceeded to make their way to the other side.  Members of the crowd poked each other and nodded wordlessly.  One man laughed.  It was almost until the two had made it to the other side of the street before others, including the child’s mother, scurried across.

The mother took her child’s hand and tried to disengage her from the woman’s clutch.  But the girl pulled her hand from her mother’s grasp and said, “No, Mother.  This is my friend and she helped me to cross the street.  Would you help her now?”

The mother took firm hold of her daughter and pulled her away from the woman.  “How many times have I told you not to talk to strangers?  What is the matter with you?”

The little girl began to cry.  She turned and looked back at the woman whose eyes were still fixed on her.  She waved at the tyke and blew a kiss as a couple of others asked the women if they could help her.

Who are the prophets?  From where do they come?  Given their importance in our tradition as spokespersons for God, you might assume they come from the upper class, the gentrified.  But that is not often the case.  There was a clan of professional prophets at the time of today’s first reading that prophesied for pay and their messages pleased their audiences.  They told the people what the people wanted to hear.  Then there were those like Amos who was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores, neither a lofty nor respected position.  Peon might apply.  But God told Amos that he was a shepherd no more.  From now on he would speak for God to the people of God, to Israel now wandering from God’s ways.  But when Amos obeyed and spoke, his prophecy stung, so much so that Amaziah wanted to banish him from Bethel telling him to preach elsewhere where his message might be appreciated.  What is important to recognize is that there is no other explanation for the effective prophet other than grace, other than having been seized by the Spirit.

Last week we witnessed Jesus’ failure in his hometown.  They would not hear his message.  Because of their lack of faith he could not work his miracles there.  He was amazed at them and their response.  But rather than wallow in defeat, Jesus forges ahead and this week we witness the sending out of the twelve, their task, to preach the Good News of repentance and with Jesus’ authority to drive out unclean spirits.  Jesus is sharing his ministry challenging them to do what he does for the reason that he does it.  That is why the instruction for how they are to conduct themselves is so important.  If you hear it you will marvel that it is far from practical.  Rather than admonishing them to be well prepared for their journey he tells them the opposite.  Be vulnerable, ill equipped, and with no extras.  No funds for fancy lodgings.  No store of food to sustain them along the way.  Wear sandals and use a walking stick.  That’s it.  Stay where people welcome the message and share the food of their table.  But be ready for rejection, too.  And when that happens, move on until they find those who will welcome the prophecy.

What is the lesson for us?  The people Jesus sends out will have nothing about them of power or wealth.  They will have nothing that will allow them to lord it over others.  Why is that important?  There must be no other explanation for what they say and do than Jesus and God’s love that he brings.  Those who come do not approach to conquer but to serve.  They come to minister to the sick, help those who are lost find the way back, and to announce to all the Good News.

There was nothing impressive about the little girl I watched assist the woman on the street corner – nothing, that is, but her vulnerability and her courage that compelled her to reach out.  When others who should have acted saw what the little girl did, in their embarrassment, they followed the girl’s prophetic stance and stepped up to help.

We, as Church, are meant to be a prophetic people.  We are meant to witness to the Gospel’s call to justice, to the dignity and worth of all people, and to serve out of love.  Nothing gets in the way of the effectiveness of the message more than preaching from a position of power.  That may well be why the most effective times for the Church are those of suffering.  It is said that when the Romans witnessed the love among the Christians on their way to a martyr’s death, they marveled: See how these Christians love one another. It was witnessing the love that opened the pagan hearts to the message and compelled them to seek the truth for themselves.

Francis of Assisi lived in an era when the Church was prosperous.  Francis dispossessed himself, wed Lady Poverty, and preached effectively, responding to the Lord’s challenge to him to rebuild my Church. Damien left Belgium and lived among the lepers of Molokai.  He rejoiced the morning he spoke to his community as fellow lepers.  They heard the message.  Dorothy Day left Communism for communism that is Church and in her poverty supported the dignity of the workers of the world.  And many of them followed.

It is not without significance that we come to the Table empty handed.  We gather there in our poverty to give thanks to God for the gift that is faith at work in our lives.  We gather there to break Bread and share a Cup that is food for our faith journey.  We gather to be sent to feed, to clothe, to minister to the sick and the dying, to visit the imprisoned, to work for the dignity of all people, even the lowliest and so to drive out demons.  And if we are as vulnerable as those to whom we minister then Christ is the only explanation for our success as the Kingdom is built up.  Not all will hear, of course.  But those who do will rejoice and know that they are loved.  That is reason for hope.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 

Ezekiel 2:2-5

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Mark 6:1-6

Prophecy is one of the gifts of the Spirit according to St. Paul.  The recipient is one who is appointed by God to speak what God wants the people to hear.  We tend to think of a prophet as one who can foretell events, a seer, so to speak.  Sometimes that foretelling is an aspect of prophesying but usually in terms of the consequences that will follow should the message not be heeded.

There is not a major prophet who welcomed the gift.  Most of them were reluctant prophets who yielded to God’s call only after pleading inadequacy for one reason or another.  Often they protested because they knew how other prophets had suffered.  They demurred because they could see the message would be rejected.  Sometimes they prayed to be left alone so that they could go on with their lives as they were living them.  But God persists until the reluctant prophet goes forth.

We hear Ezekiel, in the first reading, speak of his calling.  The spirit enters him and sets him on his feet and it becomes clear that Ezekiel is being sent to the Israelites who have turned their backs on the Covenant.  This will not be an easy or receptive audience.  The only assurance Ezekiel has is that the power of his message will convince his hearers that a prophet has been among them.  That doesn’t mean they will heed the message and change their ways.  The fact of the matter is that it is only in retrospect that a prophet’s authenticity is confirmed as people remember what he said and see the fruit or lack there of at work in their lives.  Sometimes they will lament: If only we had listened.

Jesus is a prophet.  Every word and every action is said or done in response to the will of the One who sent him.  Over the last several weeks we have caught glimpses of his power in calming the storm – even the wind and the waves obey him.  A woman had hemorrhaged for 12 years and in a moment of faith touched the hem of his garment and was healed.  A 12-year-old girl died only to be awakened by Jesus gentle touch and invitation: Talitha koum.  And she obeyed him.

Crowds gather wherever Jesus goes.  They hang on his every word and wonder.  They know astonishment in response to spectacular events.  In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus returns to Nazareth, to his hometown, family and friends.  As he did at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus, on the Sabbath, enters the synagogue and begins to teach, begins to prophesy.  The audience is stunned, even astonished by what they hear.  Hear, perhaps, isn’t the right word because they do not receive the message.  Knowing Jesus and his origins, his family, gets in the way.  He’s a carpenter, after all.  They know his mother.  They remember the boy having watched him grow up.  They know his relatives, ordinary people all.  And even though they have heard of the miracles and marveled at the accounts, they are offended by what they perceive to be pretentiousness.

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.  Jesus said that and struggled.  It’s clear that he had things in mind to accomplish there, great deeds similar to those he had performed elsewhere, deeds that would be vehicles for the Nazarenes to experience God’s love that comes through Jesus.  But, in order for those deeds to happen there must be faith.  Jesus must be heard and believed.  Mark tells us that a few sick people were cured by his touch.  The implication is that so much more could have happened if only….  And Jesus is amazed at their lack of faith.

Each time we sit beneath the word we have the opportunity to listen.  But do we hear?  Does the word proclaimed penetrate and lodge in our hearts?  That depends on how radical the changes in our lives Jesus’ message seems to demand.  Our excuse certainly isn’t because we knew Jesus in his formative years.  But it might be because we knew him in our own.  By that I mean that by now these proclamations are twice told tales.  We have heard them before, even often by this telling.  Along the way we have adapted what we have heard and concluded that surely he didn’t mean what we heard.  Take those calls to poverty for example, or the commandment to love even the enemy, surely Jesus didn’t mean to be taken seriously in those prophetic remarks.  And those accommodations that we make dull the message and get in the way of the conversion Jesus longs to see.  Isn’t it amazing how understandable our greed, our sexism, our racism – how understandable our own sins are?  Surely Jesus wasn’t addressing those.  Was he?  How much of that response is attributable to lack of faith?

Did you ever wonder if you were called to be a prophet?  Don’t be too hasty to protest and deny.  Remember you were baptized.  That means that in the waters you died to sin and put on Christ called to live that life forever.  The Spirit entered you.  God’s love enveloped you.  And as you came out of the waters, the heavens opened and the voice of God was heard: This is my beloved one in whom I take great delight.  Listen.  With your baptism came priesthood as you began to live one with a priestly people.  Do you believe this?  Imagine what would happen if we did!

Of course there are those among us who did take their baptism, their call to be prophetic, seriously.  We call them saints.  Unfortunately calling them saints can turn them into icons and make them distant.  We might miss that it was because they took their relationship with Christ seriously that they dealt so forcefully with the contemporary foes of the Good News they encountered.  Mother Teresa.  Dorothy Day.  Thomas Merton.  Dr. Tom Dooley.  Archbishop Oscar Romero.  The Ugandan Martyrs.  These are ordinary people all who did extraordinary things because they took the Gospel seriously and so became prophetic.  And they were heard.

What we sometimes forget is, it is the living of the Gospel, loving as Jesus loved, and serving as Jesus served, that gives the message its power.  You are called to be that prophet now, where you live, in your own neighborhood.  What if we believed it when we said, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.  And then acted on what we heard.

Sincerely,

Didymus