Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Amos 7:12-15
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 85:9-14
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel: According to St. Mark 6:17-13
To classic over-planners even the normal decisions of everyday life can bring one to the point of semi-paralysis. As one afflicted with this condition, I will plan a family vacation for months – not because planning a family vacation is so complex, but because I always see many forests and have trouble picking out any one tree.
Did you know that there are over 250 hotels in Manhattan? Did you know that more than half of them are in Midtown? Did you realize that in picking one hotel you are, of necessity, not picking all of the others? In knowing that, are you now somewhat afraid to press ENTER as you choose to book a room online?
We have yet to make a family trip to the Big Apple.
That is why this Sunday’s Gospel reading makes my stomach feel like I am at the summit of the Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, about to plunge 420 feet without any ability to, as George Jetson might plead to his wife Jane, “Stop this crazy thing!”
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.”
So far; so good. I like the “two by two” stuff – especially with the added bonus of being able to show unclean spirits who’s in charge.
“He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.”
Now I’m in trouble. Maybe I can use the walking stick to rough up an unclean spirit for his lunch money.
I can imagine that the experience of being in a strange place with no money might frighten some (many? most? all?) people. Having had such an experience - although brief, thank God - in Paris in 2008 when my credit card was rejected in an exchange shop, I know first hand that sense of being totally in God’s hands. Despite what one might think, being in God’s hands is a terrifying proposition.
And so it is with great admiration that I look to Jesuit novices and their whole-hearted immersion into what the Society of Jesus calls the Pilgrimage Experiment. With nothing more than a bus ticket and $5 each young Jesuit is sent on a journey for two weeks as a way of learning first-hand what it means to, as the Jesuit Constitutions state, “grow accustomed to discomfort in food and lodging…[and to] with genuine faith and intense love, place his reliance entirely in his Creator and Lord.”
Learning to depend upon God through a direct experience of vulnerability unites these young Jesuits not only with their brothers in previous generations and with the original disciples of Jesus, but also with the mass of humanity - people who to one degree or another are physically, emotionally, economically, and spiritually vulnerable. In this way all of those in the Society of Jesus can truly understand two of the most important aspects of the human psyche: the fear of not being in control of our lives and the need for someone to save us from that fear.
So as we look at the instructions of Jesus to His disciples we are called to see them within the context of what St. Paul wrote to the people of Ephesus. His words are meant to allay that universal fear of utter dependence by pointing to that Someone Who alone has the ability to save us:
“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 disciples, despite having no money, carried with them the riches of the grace of God. So too in the Pilgrimage Experiment, Jesuit novices carry those same riches, despite their $5 and a bus ticket.
These grace-filled riches, which include both redemption and forgiveness, are given to us all, and we are all called to use them to pay off our fears. If we use those graces to imitate Jesus in love, then those fears will be destroyed, for as St. John states in his first letter, “perfect love drives out fear.” Being immersed in God’s grace brings the trust that Jesus will cover the check even if we have used up our $5 and have misplaced our bus ticket.
Our Lord lavished the grace of God upon each of His disciples, and He does so upon each of us every day. Jesus gave those disciples power over unclean spirits, and through His grace we are given the ability to control our unclean spirits – even the unclean spirit of wanting to be in total control of our lives.