The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homily: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Am 7:12-15; Ps 85; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:7-13

I’ve always loved to travel. I suppose that’s why I spent all those years in the Navy. You remember the recruiting ads: “Join the Navy and see the world.” Well, I saw a good piece of it, before, during and after my Navy years. Actually, I think it’s hereditary. My father was the same way. He loved to travel as well. I suspect there’s some geographic gene in our DNA.

Of course, just because I enjoy traveling doesn’t mean I travel well. You see, for years I over-packed. I’d bring one, and sometimes two, of almost everything I owned. You just never know when you might need a second laptop computer, or a third travel mug, or a fourth camera. Going somewhere for a week? Better bring a dozen shirts. Hey, you might spill coffee at breakfast.  Going up north in mid-Winter. Don’t forget that pair of shorts in the event of global warming. And so, wherever we went, I’d end up lugging a humongous suitcase, along with a backpack full of electronic gadgets. Of course, I never even touched half of what I took with me.

This wasn’t a big problem when I was young. But now that I’m…not so young, it’s become an issue. Lugging heavy bags, even with their little wheels, is simply too much work for this aging body. In recent years, I‘ve learned how to pack light…well, lighter. And I’ve also discovered you can actually wash clothes away from home.

Given this personal history, you can imagine what I thought when I first read Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as they set out on their missionary journey. I try to imagine what Jesus would have said to me – for example, before Diane and I set off on our last pilgrimage to Rome a couple of years ago lugging our huge suitcases.

He’d probably say pretty much what He said to the disciples: “No food. No sack. No money…not a second tunic.” I suppose those Little Debbies and Mounds Bars in my backpack count as food? That mammoth suitcase probably counts as a sack. And all those shirts, and trousers, and jeans, and shorts, and jackets…I suppose they all fall into the tunic category. Then there’s the money, the credit cards, the debit card, the cash…

Yes, I take entirely too much of everything when I travel, but it’s still hard to imagine bringing only what Jesus asked the Twelve to bring on their mission.  It seems rather limiting, at least for us today. We’ve become so very attached to our material possessions – all our useful little tools: our digital cameras, our cell phones and iPods, our Nooks and Kindles…all the things we just can’t do without. So caught up in the stuff of our own time, we tend to hear this Gospel passage as I did – thinking only of that which Jesus tells the Apostles to leave behind. No food, no money, no sack…well, okay, but, you know, Jesus, I really need my iPad.

Perhaps, though, we should be focusing on something else. Maybe the real message is to consider what the Apostles can take with them. Jesus mentioned only two things. Do you remember what they were?

A walking stick and sandals – two things that provide support – physical, material support – for the journey they are undertaking. He sends them out with very little so they can avoid the distractions that personal possessions generate and learn to trust in God.

But what else do they take with them? Why, they take each other. That’s right. Jesus doesn’t send them out alone. He sends them out in pairs. He sends them out two-by-two, as companions, so they must rely on each other and not on things. Together they can help each other remain focused on the purpose of their mission: to do what Jesus does – to teach everyone they encounter about the Gospel, the Good News of the Kingdom, to preach repentance, and to heal.

Jesus knows the Apostles will sometimes encounter hostility instead of hospitality, closed minds instead of open hearts. Sometimes they will have to shake the dust of a place off those sandals they wear. Yes, they’re sent in pairs so they can remind each other that the mission is God’s mission not theirs, that it’s God’s Kingdom, not theirs, that it’s God’s Word, not theirs, that it’s God’s power, not theirs.

And when that power appears, when the healings and exorcisms and the Spirit-filled preaching begin to go to one’s head, there will always be another standing right behind him to tap him on the shoulder -- to remind him of the truth, to remind him of the source of that power, and to remind him of his own weakness.

Yes, Jesus sent the Twelve out in twos so that each could remind the other where he came from. And that awareness, of one’s roots, of one’s true identity, is a sign of an authentic prophet. God’s prophets, his messengers, always know and accept their roots.

Just look at Amos, the prophet of our first reading. He certainly had no delusions of grandeur. I am a sheep herder, a pruner of sycamore trees, he tells the corrupt leaders of Israel. It’s not my word I bring to you. It’s God Word. Don’t listen to me because of who I am. I do what I do because God told me to. Listen to me because of who God is.

In the same way, Paul tells the Ephesians that he does what he does, he preaches God’s Word simply because he was chosen to do so. He did not merit this favor. It was God’s choice. The true prophets, the apostles, they all simply mirror the humility of Jesus Himself.

Jesus, the Son of God, whose roots ran as deep as creation itself; and Jesus, as Son of Man, who in His prophetic role, was rooted soundly in the will of the Father. Amos and Paul, like Jesus, understood their calling, their mission. Each knew where he came from and why he was sent.

As simple travelers, with few possessions, journeying only with a companion, the disciples too would keep that mission, that call, in mind. “Why are we doing this?” one might ask the other. “Because Jesus told us to” the other would likely respond.

How often do we ever ask that question? Or are we too busy stuffing our suitcases, the trunks of our cars, and our homes with all those possessions. Do we realize we’re not just hanging out in this life, but that we’re on a journey? Are we aware that not only has God given us companions on that journey, but we’re also companions to others?

Brothers and sisters, this journey of ours is a mission, one assigned to us by Jesus Himself – a mission to preach the Good News and to heal -- to take God's love to others. Have you done any preaching and healing lately? Well, why not? It’s the mission you’ve been given.

A few moments from now, gathered here around this altar, we will come together and share the Bread of Life with one another. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, let us be companions of the Lord -- companions, a word whose Latin roots mean “with bread.” For those disciples walked that road to Emmaus with Jesus, with the true Bread from heaven, with the Bread of Life.

Let us join them in this companionship, so that we too may recognize the Lord in the Breaking of the Bread and take up the calling He has for each one of us.

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