“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD… You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them” (Jer 23:1-2).
The shepherds that Jeremiah spoke about in our first reading were the five kings that Jeremiah consistently called to task during the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Each of these leaders were more corrupt than the next. More and more they looked after their own interests and welfare and less and less they sought to provide care and support for their people.
Jeremiah not only spoke truth to power he also prophesied:
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David” (Jer 23:5).
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is that righteous shoot. He is the Shepherd that has been caring for his sheep for generations up to this day. Jesus is also the one who the Psalmist sings of:
“Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage” (Psalm 23:4).
In today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus gathered his apostles together and lead them off to a quiet place for rest, but once they arrived at their location and disembarked from their boat, Jesus “saw the vast crowd, [and] his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mk 6:34).
I invite you to imagine for a moment, that Jesus disembarks today on the shores of America. If he is allowed to enter, who does he encounter? Unfortunately, he will meet two thousand plus unborn whose lives have been cut short today, almost a hundred citizens killed by gun violence today, an unknown number of immigrant children who still have not been reunited with their families. He will also walk among thousands affected by human trafficking, domestic violence, discrimination, racism, sexism, and addiction, hundreds of thousands of homeless, millions without access to healthcare and gainful employment. Jesus weeps because of the level of indifference and rationalization, the widening gap between the rich and poor, and his heart aches as he witnesses the gathering darkness of polarization and division.
May we too have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the suffering of our brothers and sisters. It is time for us as Christians to remember who we are. We are an Alleluia people, we are a people of hope and joy because we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. We just need to remember who our Shepherd is.
St. Paul knew his shepherd and wrote to the Church at Ephesus and he speaks to us right now:
Jesus is our peace, he who made both ONE and broke down the dividing wall of enmity.
Our starting place is to acknowledge where we contribute to building walls of enmity or hatred between ourselves and others. Instead of projecting our fears, anxieties, biases, and prejudices out toward one another, Jesus shines a light for us, to help us to see within our own darkness, to identify the roots of our sin growing deep within us, so that we can confess them to God and one another and uproot them.
Jesus commands us to love, to will the good of the other as other. We are better able to do so when we are willing to die to our own ego, our own self-centered, fallen nature and instead collaborate with Jesus in his work of redemption, to establish peace, and with God, in one body, through the cross, tear down the walls of division that have been suffocating us.
Christianity is not a private club for the select few. Jesus’ message of the Gospel is an invitation for ALL PEOPLE to share in the oneness of a relationship with the Trinitarian communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, in giving us life, has created us each unique and we as the Church are at our best when we embrace the gift of our diversity.
The challenges of a culture of death and division that poison our country and world can be countered, if all of us are willing to work together. How do we meet the myriad of challenges that are before us?
The best way we can begin to bring about effective change, is that we first, need to resist making ourselves, our family, groups, political affiliations, president, the flag, and/or nation into our idols. For when we place our identity solely in anything other than God we will go astray. When we put God first, develop and deepen our relationship with him, learn about and live his teachings in our daily lives, we will begin again to see each other through God’s eyes, so to see people not as other, but as human beings created in his image and likeness.
When we are less governed by protecting the group and seeing the dignity of the person, we will be less apt to belittle, demean, dehumanize, and demonize those who are different as well as those who have opposing views and perspectives. We can be more open to engage in dialogue, instead of shouting at or over each other. We can be more open to share our diverse ideas, talents, cultures, and perspectives, so to learn from one another, stand up for and empower one another.
Second, we must make the time to pray and be still so to discern what is the gift that God has given each of us to contribute to building up his kingdom. Each one of us, has something to bring to the table, because each of us are loved by God more than we can ever imagine. When we engage ourselves in whatever challenge we face, no matter the situation in which we are called to serve, we are to bring the love that we have received in our own unique way and allow God to be God through us.
Third, we need to trust in Jesus. When anxieties and fears arise, it is a barometer that we are not trusting in the love and power of God.
I understand this very well. Much preferring to stay in my own world, I have struggled often with the fear of going out from myself. Speaking publicly in my youth was not even an option. When I was a child my father introduced me once as, “This is my son, he doesn’t talk.” The first time I read from the ambo as a lector, my legs shook the whole time. I have felt the urge, too many times, to reach out and help another, was instead indecisive and the moment passed where I did nothing. Each day I seek God’s help to do better, to not give in to my fears, but instead trust in the Good Shepherd who has remained by my side and who has led me to be a husband, father, teacher, and deacon and even now a widower and recoverer from Covid/pneumonia.
Finally, we need to, in the words of Blessed Archbishop Oscar Romero, “be God’s microphone”. We are called to speak truth to power, to speak and act on behalf of the dignity of those for whom we witness being belittled, demeaned, disrespected, or dehumanized in any way.
As followers of Jesus the Christ we need to be willing to stand up for one another, for God’s creatures and his creation. When we begin to act and speak as God’s microphone, and the first experiences of anxiety and fear attempt to silence us, we need to call on the power of the Holy Spirit and he will give us the courage and the words to speak. Even if Satan himself stands before us, the weakest Christian is stronger. For all we need to say is, “In the name of Jesus, get behind me Satan.” And through the power of his name, the devil must flee.
Jesus walks among us as our Shepherd and preaches peace to us who are far off, who are polarized, and divided. He promises that through him we all have access to the love of his Father. May we remember who we are called to be by remaining open, minds and hearts, to the love of the Holy Spirit moving through us and refuse to contribute to building walls of hatred and division and instead commit our lives to put God first by praying and discerning how best we will serve him and each other.
May we trust that Jesus is with us to comfort and heal us even in our darkest moments. May our focus also be drawn outward beyond ourselves to seek the courage of the Holy Spirit to be God’s microphone, speaking and acting on behalf of a consistent ethic of life for all of humanity at every stage of life and for all of God’s creation. This will be done in our own unique way and in our own corner of the world, person to person.
We are good shepherds when we are open and aware of how and when we can be light in the darkness of division; hope for those in despair; offer a smile of acceptance and welcome; provide for someone’s basic needs, an understanding ear to hear, a kind word of encouragement, and a loving shoulder to lean on for someone in need today.
Photo: Jesus in the Breadline, woodcut by Fritz Eichenberg
In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus realized that: “The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death” (Mt 12:14). Jesus did not then start to plan how he would defend himself against their plot, he did not arm his supporters, nor is there any indication that Jesus let the fact that he was a marked man bother him. What did Jesus do with this bit of news?
“He withdrew from that place” (Mt. 12:15) and cured those who followed him. Was Jesus being a coward by withdrawing? No. Jesus was refusing to engage or give any of his time or energy to their negativity. He focused on what he was about and that was continuing the mission that God had sent him to achieve, which was to help bring about the salvation of humanity and the world and to call those who would work with him to continue his mission.
Many of us will hopefully not receive death threats, but many of us have and will witness and/or receive critical, negative, belittling, or dehumanizing looks, words, and outright actions to cause physical, mental, emotional or spiritual harm, just in the course of our daily interactions. For those of us who choose to practice publicly the teachings of Jesus, we may receive even more! Unfortunately, for many people of color, they cannot hide their physical appearance.
Our common response to the many forms of perceived or actual animosity directed toward us is to react. Our reactions generally are based on learned defense mechanisms we have adopted through our lives. Often when we react, we slip into survival mode, experience increased anxiety, defensiveness, anger as well as a myriad of other emotions. Ideally, as we mature in our faith, our response is to draw into the present moment, breath, and call upon God’s guidance to direct us such that we can act more mindfully and be advocates of God’s grace.
Many times the best way to diffuse negativity is to do as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, resist to engage in it altogether, and continue to be about enacting God’s will in our life. Recalling a time that we have taken offense and reacted in kind toward someone who pushed our buttons and/or got under our skin can be helpful. After remembering this exchange, we can ponder different responses and then choosing one, re-imagine how we could have reacted differently. Going forward, we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide and help us to be more patient and understanding.
Life is short in the best of circumstances, let us not take a day or moment for granted, nor give away our precious time by engaging in unneeded drama or negativity. There are times that we do need to stand up and speak out, but that is a reflection for another time. Sometimes, we need to walk away and be still. During some quiet time today, I invite you to meditate on these words attributed to St. Teresa of Avila (1514-1582):
“Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”
Photo: 2010 hike, taking a walk is often a good way to decompress and leave negativity behind! Hoping to get out for a walk again soon! Photo credit – Jack McKee
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.” (Mt 12:6-8).
Jesus continues to rock established regulations and practices. Here he is challenging the understanding of the Sabbath itself when justifying the accusations leveled toward his disciples who were picking and eating grain on the Sabbath, and he does so in a profound way by saying that, “something greater than the temple is here.” Present in the heart of the temple, the area called the Holy of Holies, was the ark of the covenant. Atop the ark was the lid called the mercy seat of God. Jews believed that this was where God sat and when the blood of atonement was offered from sacrifices, God’s mercy was offered to the people. In the temple then, was the mercy seat, the very presence of God.
Jesus’ claim that he is greater than the temple is putting him on the same level as God. A blasphemous statement to say the least, unless of course, he is God. Jesus even doubles down by claiming that he is the Lord of the sabbath; Jesus is God!
In quoting Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”, Jesus is not only saying that he is the something greater, but that his Way is something greater. One of the foundational points of the Way of Jesus is mercy. Through the incarnation, the Son of God dwelt among us, became one with us in our humanity. He restored our dignity in the midst of our brokenness. What Jesus said, in defending his disciples eating from the grains of wheat on the Sabbath, he is saying to us today: “What is owed to every human being on the basis of his or her human dignity is personal respect, personal acceptance, and personal care” (Kasper 2014, 202).
Each one of us, when we are willing to participate in the life of Jesus, strengthens our unity in the Body of Christ when we follow Jesus in bestowing acts of mercy on our neighbor. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his [or her] spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. 2447).
Are we willing to respect the dignity of each person, interact with and care for people different than us, journey together, and allow God to happen? Reviewing the spiritual and corporal works of mercy above is a good place to start. Praying about and deciding which one(s) to put into practice would be a good next step. We can write a broader and brighter chapter in the coming weeks and months ahead if we are willing to follow Jesus and lead with mercy, which is “the willingness to enter the chaos of another” (Keenan, 2015).
Photo: Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, founder of Homeboy Industries has helped to rehabilitate gang members and guide them to re-enter and begin again since the 1980s.
Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
Scripture scholar, Fr. Daniel J. Harrington, SJ, states that in this passage Jesus’ invitation was given to those who are not yet his disciples, those Jews who do not yet believe in him and the way that he is proposing. He also intuits that Jesus is calling them from the heavy burdens laid upon them by the scribes and Pharisees and inviting them to accept his burden that is lighter (cf. Harrington, 167). We can read this in Matthew 4:3: “They tie up heavy burdens [hard to carry] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
Jesus’ charge leveled against the Pharisees comes from those who have experienced the laws without the assistance and support to follow them. The demands of Jesus are even more challenging than those of the Pharisees, Sadducees, or the scribes! I shared yesterday one of the six antitheses, here is another: “You have heard that it was said… whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to the judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt5:21-22). Jesus is equating calling someone Raqa – an air-head, or calling someone a fool akin to murder. Our words can destroy or empower! We need to choose our words wisely.
The difference between Jesus and many of the religious leaders of his time is that Jesus, the Son of God in the fullness of his divinity, entered into the chaos of our humanity. As a human being, he walks among us and suffers along with us. He offers to yoke himself to us and so to carry the burden with us, making them lighter. Many impose burdens on us, we impose burdens on others, as did the Pharisees. We also impose them on ourselves and turn away from the invitation of Jesus’ help.
A handful of injuries I have suffered through the years were because I attempted to lift or carry something beyond my strength, instead of seeking assistance from another. I would think, “I can do it, I don’t need any help, I don’t want to bother anyone.” That is just the physical; there are also the mental and emotional burdens of anxiety, doubt, pride, fear, and worry that we burden ourselves with. This is not Jesus’ way.
Jesus offers us a path to follow that leads us to experience joy, peace, and tranquility in this life and fulfillment and union with God in the next. No matter what pain, suffering, trial, and/or challenge we are facing right now, we do not have to go through it alone. We just need to remember to reach out our hand to Jesus and when we do, what we will find is his hand already extended ready to grasp ours. Many times the offering comes from those who are close to us, who are more than willing to help.
In aligning ourselves with God’s will, life isn’t necessarily going to be easier, but he will give us the strength and peace of mind not only to endure but to experience a peace that surpasses all understanding while doing so. Let us take our first step together today, hand in hand with Jesus, and so find rest in knowing that we are not alone!
Also, may we be kind to those in our midst with our words, actions, and faces. Among those who may be abrupt or rude, we need to resist the temptation of reacting and instead be present and understanding; for we are not aware of the burdens others are carrying. Offer instead a simple smile as a start, which can make a heavy load just a little lighter.
Photo: Jesus behind the altar of St Peter Italian Catholic Church, where I attended some Masses during my six-month stay in Los Angeles in 2019.
Harrington, S.J. Daniel J. The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1 of Sacra Pagina, edited by Daniel J. Harrington, S.J. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007.
“At that time Jesus exclaimed: ‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike’” (Mt 11:25).
Why did the wise and the learned, referring to some of the Sadducees, Pharisees and scribes, reject Jesus? One possibility is that Jesus challenged their idol of tradition. Even though Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (cf. Mt 5:17), the invitation to go deeper was and continues to be challenging. This is certainly highlighted in the six antitheses that Jesus shared during his Sermon on the Mount. Here is one such example: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil” (Mt 5: 28). Offer no resistance to one who is evil? Not only hard to swallow for people of Jesus’ time, but for us today as well.
Jesus offered then and continues to offer us today the intimacy of the Trinitarian Love of God shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To be fully alive, to share in his Love, we need to resist being governed by holding blindly on to tradition for its own sake. Instead, we need to be open to growth, change, and renewal. Gerhard Lohfink, in his book, No Irrelevant Jesus, quotes the Polish philosopher Leszak Kolakowski: “A society in which tradition becomes a cult is condemned to stagnation; a society that tries to live entirely through revolt against tradition condemns itself to destruction” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
Many have left the Church because they feel we are too steeped in tradition, rules, and laws, but in their throwing the baby out with the bathwater, they have no secure ground or foundation, no anchor in their life. Others remain hunkered down entrenched in a bunker of tradition fearing the secular tide, holding on to tradition, not to Jesus. Both tendencies weaken us because we are choosing our self over accepting Jesus’ invitation to let go and enter into the living stream of the communal Love of the Trinity we can then share with one another.
Jesus sees our selfishness, our shortcomings, and our weaknesses, while at the same time, he sees the potential and unique charism present in each one of us. He meets us where we are, as we are, in our present condition, and from that starting point, he invites us to crawl, then to walk, to run, and eventually to fly – to experience and share the experience of his unconditional Love.
We will be better off resisting the extremes of rejecting tradition altogether or idolizing tradition alone, but instead build on the foundation we have been given: Jesus Christ: “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (cf Jn 14:6). Within the life of the Church, “we must not do away with its traditions, but at the same time, it must continually clarify, renew, and deepen them” (Lohfink 2014, 2).
Entrusting ourselves to the Holy Spirit and asking him to burn away those small “t” traditions that keep us from God, will reveal to us those capital “T” Traditions, that which remains from his purifying fire of Love. In this way, we may come to know that which in reality is the foundation of our identity that leads us to become people of integrity. We do not want to become stagnant pools unwilling to grow but to continue to drink from the spring of eternal life; receiving that which Jesus teaches and reveals, learning, and putting them into practice so as to be continually renewed and transformed.
Photo: S Migaj from pexels.com
Lohfink, Gerhard. No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today. Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2014.
“Jesus began to reproach the towns where most of his mighty deeds had been done, since they had not repented.” (Mt 11:20).
Anyone who encounters Jesus is invited to change. Jesus shines the light of his love and mercy into the darkness of our own fallen nature, where we are wounded, sinful, and broken. He invites us to repentance, healing, and reconciliation. He invites us to actualize who we truly are. A wonderful invitation, but why would we turn away? The darkness may be too dark and the light may be too bright.
Facing our own darkness and pain is not easy and can be frightening as well as intimidating. That is why we are so vulnerable to temptations, distractions, and diversions. We are not able to sit still because we want to keep moving so as not to face our fear and the root causes of our suffering, nor let go of our false senses of security, control, and the glitter of apparent goods. We also may not be able to accept the fullness of our goodness, of who God calls us to be, and the realization of who we really are.
Jesus invites us to stop, to breathe, to enter into his stillness and silence where we can hear the word of his Father and experience the love of the Holy Spirit. In this experience of silence, we come to encounter the choice to change our hearts and minds, to repent: to turn away from that which keeps us from growing closer in our relationship with God and becoming more fully alive.
God loves us more than we can ever mess up, more than we can ever imagine, and he does not define us by our worst mistakes. Jesus’ arms are wide open to receive us in the midst of our deepest wounds, fears, pain, sin, and suffering but we must be willing to stop running and be still long enough to experience and feel his forgiving, loving, and healing embrace. At the same time, we need to be willing to accept who we truly are and called to be apart from our false sense of self. We are often too self-critical and judgmental.
As we begin to accept ourselves and become more comfortable in our own skins, we can be more understanding and supportive of others. Jesus invites us to participate in the same mission that he first announced when he began his public ministry: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Photo: A wonderful place to be still and pray – the Rosary Garden at St Peter Catholic Church. Each day is a new opportunity to begin again with Jesus.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34).
Words to live by from the King of Peace. The reality of this statement is the reality of his mission. Jesus entered the lives of individuals. Some said yes to following him and some said no; some saying yes and no within the same family. The image of the sword represents how sharp and stark this choice could cut. If you do not think that is true, just look at the polarization in our country right now. The cut between democrat and republican bleeds quite deep right now.
During the time of Jesus and for most within the first generation of believers, there was not a luke-warm choice. You were either for Jesus or against Jesus. Unfortunately, today, for too many, the Gospel is being shaped more by politics than the Gospel shaping politics. To live as disciples of Jesus and to actively engage in living out the teachings of the Gospel, it is more important that we follow Jesus, putting him first before any politician or political party. The platforms of democrats, independents, libertarians, and republicans are all deficient in fully following the teachings of Jesus.
We who have chosen to follow Jesus need to speak truth to the issues and hold leaders accountable on all sides. Our starting point for any issue needs to be respecting, first and foremost, the dignity of the person from the moment of conception and everywhere in between until natural death as well as promoting a healthy stewardship of God’s creation. In that dialogue, dialogue not a monologue, we need to respect those to whom we share our views and be willing to also listen in turn. In actuality, listening first and more often is a good posture to assume. We can and will disagree, but we need to resist devolving into demonizing one another.
There are those who promote a right to choose, to choose to take the life of their own unborn, there are those who support taking children away from their parents for seeking asylum and weeks and months later still not returning them, and those refusing to welcome the refugee and the migrant fleeing from dire situations to discourage people coming into this country. There are those who say we can’t pray in our schools, while others say we can’t take a knee to protest the disproportionate unjust killings of people of color by our law enforcement agencies. Mass murders, including the death of students in our schools as well as the daily violence in our cities abound. The addiction rate of our youth in many rural and urban areas has reached epidemic proportions with little concrete help and support, while equal access to education, jobs, and health care is woefully unbalanced. Some say Black lives matter, while others say all lives matter. Some say wear masks, while others refuse to do so and now there are those who say receive a vaccine and others who say not.
When Jesus said, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword” (Mt 10:34), he meant that we are not to settle for a false peace of appeasement to get along and water down the Gospel message. We must wield his sword, which is the Word of God, that speaks truth to power. When seeking to counteract a culture of death to build a culture of life, we must resist making political party affiliations and leaders into our idols and we must resist the urge to give in to our fears and prejudices. We must be willing to sit down and speak and listen to one another. It is important that we are able to share our experiences, our stories, and be heard.
We must refuse to contribute to the dehumanization and demonization of others, while at the same time resist falling into hopelessness, indifference, and/or despair. Following Jesus means that we are to be people of hope, mercy, and love and we are to bring that to each and every encounter such that we promote a consistent ethic of life.
Putting the Word of God, the teachings of Jesus, speaking the truth of the Gospel, praying for all of our leaders, for one another, and inviting the Holy Spirit to give us the ears to hear, the words to speak, and the actions to engage in is a commitment we must make. Our starting point for each of the issues before us in our moment and time is to be: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
In following Jesus and putting into practice the words of the Prophet Isaiah by ceasing to do evil, learning to do good, and making justice our aim (cf. Isaiah 1:15-17), we will cause disruption and face conflict but when we trust in Jesus, respect each other as human beings, really listen to and are present to one another, we will begin to see that we are brothers and sisters, fellow human beings, and we might just learn something from one another and maybe begin to move toward the reconciliation and healing our country is so desperately in need of.
Photo: We are like the drop that refracts our own unique color when we allow the light of Jesus to shine through us. A nice rainbow gift during prayer yesterday morning. You can see it just above the treeline to the left.
Getting back at someone, seeking revenge, and/or being unforgiving has taken a firm root in our fallen nature and our interaction with one another. Living from this perspective also skews our perspective of reality. If someone aligns them self with a particular political party affiliation, holds certain views, is of a particular religious belief, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, more often than not, the dynamic and depth of the person is no longer seen, but a two dimensional caricature of them is assumed. We are very quick to impose labels, which do not even begin to provide the depth, breadth, and wealth of the person.
Though easier to place people in such boxes tied with a neat bow, we are much more dynamic and we have a wider range of beliefs and interpretations than the caricatures that our prejudices and biases project on each other.
Certainly, throughout the Gospel Jesus models and shows us that this is not the way we are to behave toward one another, and Mark records a good way for us to begin in our interactions in today’s Gospel account when he writes: “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” (Mk 6:10-11).
First and foremost, what Jesus shares with the Twelve, as he sends them off to preach, is that they are to trust in the divine providence of God. God will provide for them on their journey and their itinerant ministry. When they come to a village they are to seek those who are hospitable to them, providing a place of lodging. Once settled they are not to leave if a better, richer, or more prestigious accommodation opens up.
For those who do not welcome or reject their message, the Apostles are not to bear a grudge, they are not to take offense, and/or seek revenge, they are to simply leave “and shake the dust” from their feet. Now this was a common symbol of passing on judgment for Jesus’ time, but the main principle is that they are not to carry the weight of their negative reactions with them. They are to invite and offer, those who accept and are hospitable will receive the blessing they have bestowed, and those who do not, separate themselves from the gift that has been offered.
We can learn a lot from the phrase “shaking off the dust” from the Gospel today because we so often do the opposite. We carry a cloud of negativity that weighs us down because of our unwillingness to forgive, to let go of grudges, or actively ruminate about plotting acts of revenge. When unwilling to let go of our negative reactions, we often walk around in a dust cloud of gloom, looking like a negative Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. In actuality, “Despite his outward appearance, [Pigpen] always carries himself with dignity, knowing full well that he has affixed to him the ‘dust of countless ages.’”
Jesus encourages us to resist this destructive trap because it poisons and darkens our souls. God is the ultimate arbiter and judge. We can let go of our grudges and unwillingness to forgive. We can instead trust God’s judgment. There will be an accounting for those participating in injustice, including ourselves. By doing so, we will feel a wonderful weight lifted and see clearer to witness to others.
By deepening our relationship with Jesus, learning from him, learning about and putting our faith into practice, we will better be able to share what we have learned, leading not with judgment and condemnation but with invitation, joy, love, and mercy. In our willingness to dialogue, we answer what we are able, clarify where we can, seek answers to that which we do not know, all the while being open to learning, listening, and above all allowing God to happen. When we receive rejection and/or ridicule, we can just shake off the dust and move on. We need not take offense because our life is not about us, it is about knowing and sharing the will of God.
Photo: Pig Pen, character created by Charles Schulz for his comic strip “Peanuts”, quote from: https://www.peanuts.com/characters/pigpen/
Jesus said to his Apostles: “No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master (Mt 10:24-25).
Following the teachings and guidance of Jesus was hard for his apostles and disciples then and it is for us now. To live as authentic disciples, we need to learn and put his teachings into practice. That means more than reading some of his teachings: love God with your whole heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself, turn the other cheek, and what you do to the least of my brothers, you did it to me, and acknowledging, that, “That is some good stuff!” Then just moving on to the next thing on the to-do list.
Living as a disciple also happens in a public way, which means public scrutiny. One thing we all have in common as human beings is that we want to belong, to fit in, and to be a part of. We risk rejection and ridicule by following Jesus and living as his disciple because we run up against our own fallen nature and the fallen nature of others. Jesus said he would be sending us as sheep among wolves and in today’s reading, he announces that we are not to be afraid of those who kill the body. Not exactly the kind of encouragement many of us look for.
Yet, Jesus affirms more than once in today’s Gospel that we are not to be afraid. Jesus leads us to the most important relationship that we will develop and that is with his Father. God cares for us, just as Jesus said, as his Father cares for the sparrows, but even more. God knows us by name and we are his, we belong to him. God, our loving Father, has known us not only before we were born, but before all creation began. We were never, nor are we now, nor will we ever be alone. As we risk, grow in confidence, and begin to live our life in alignment, in relationship with Jesus and God through the love of the Holy Spirit, we will begin to become unified with him so to feel a joy and a fulfillment that is unmatched.
One of the keys to living the Christian life is understanding that it is more than a philosophy, a set of teachings, or a theology. Being a Christian means building our relationship with a person. Jesus is that person, and turning to him, through our ups and downs, and in risking to share our stories of faith with others, we invite others to join us, because as we develop our relationship with him, we also are to build relationships with others. Some will decline, some will sneer, some will be outright hostile, and yet some will say yes.
What is important is that we stay true to Jesus and follow his lead, then we will be truer to ourselves and who we have been created to be. In being willing to share our faith journey with others, in bringing Jesus to others that he may minister and be present through us, we come to experience the fulfillment and joy of the relationship with him that we have been created for.
As our relationship with Jesus deepens, we will experience more intimate relationships because we will be less turned in upon ourselves and more present, patient with, and open to giving ourselves to others. We will also experience the wonder and connectedness to God’s creation in a deeper way because we begin to not only see the footprints of God in the beauty of his creation, but we will see the natural world and each other through his eyes.
In “becoming like the teacher” we are not just modeling his teachings, we are becoming deified – becoming one with God while at the same time becoming more authentically ourselves through our participation in the life of Jesus through the love of the Holy Spirit. Following Jesus will not mean we will gain all the answers to life, but it does mean we will be more aware of his presence during each step of our journey through this life.
I still have no answer from God as to how or why JoAnn died from pancreatic cancer, but I am thankful that we continued to draw close to Him once we knew JoAnn’s time was so short. I am grateful for the peace that we experienced from his presence as well as the gift of us continuing to grow closer during our final months together. My invitation is to resist taking any moment for granted and appreciate the gift of God and those we are blessed to have in our lives.
Photo: Enjoying each other and some of God’s creation mid-July two years ago at Echo Park in Los Angeles.
“… you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say” (Mt 10:18-19).
Can you feel the anxiety building within his followers? I can! Presented with the possibility of being dragged before family, peers, and local governance can be daunting. The stomach acid begins to swirl and butterflies take flight often before I preach before fellow believers!
When sharing the teachings of Jesus, speaking about and/or defending our faith, anxiety arises because we are risking that the message, and more so, we, will not be received. This is because we are focusing more on our self. When Jesus invites us to speak of our faith he is asking us to express and not to impress. Jesus seeks to expand us beyond our limitations and draw us into the Love of his Trinitarian communion. The Holy Spirit, the Love shared between the Father and the Son, who casts out all fear, accompanies us and will provide what we need to accomplish the task before us, to give us the words to speak, even in the midst of anxiety or fear. We need to learn to trust him. As Mark Twain wrote: “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.”
A very helpful prayer expressed during the Communion Rite at the end of the Lord’s Prayer is “Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and SAFE FROM ALL DISTRESS, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ” (Bold letters mine).
When moved to help others whose dignity is being infringed upon we can often be diverted by anxiety and fear such that we succumb to indecisiveness, indifference, rationalization, and/or look the other way. The feeling can be choking and suffocating. St. Oscar A. Romero (1917-1980), of San Salvador, who was assassinated for publicly confronting the oppressive military in his diocese reminds us in his book, The Violence of Love, that, “There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being, whoever abuses a human being, whoever outrages a human being abuses God’s image, and the church takes as its own that cross, that martyrdom.”
When the dignity of any person or people is disparaged, in any way, we are called to speak up and act on behalf of those who are belittled, demeaned, dehumanized, or even killed. At the first moment that the smallest anxiety, worry or fear sends out its tendrils to grasp at and choke us, we are to seek the strength of the Holy Spirit, and trust that he will give us the words and the courage to speak what he would have us to say and guide us in the actions we are to take. In this way, we are to “be God’s microphone” so to allow the light of Jesus to shine through us to expose the darkness of dehumanization, fear tactics, and oppression.