June 15 – 11th Ordinary – Giving As We Receive!
Bottom line: Stumbling about Palestine in 100 plus degrees heat was not easy duty. The twelve cooked outside amidst bugs. They slept on damp grass. They were on the run from cops. They were courageous. But they were not that much different from us. It would be a long time before they would climb into the stained glass windows of the world’s cathedrals.
There are two seas in the Holy Land: the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. Both seas (lakes, actually) are fed by the same river, the River Jordan. One is a freshwater lake teaming with fish and other forms of sea life whereas the other is a super-concentrated salt water that cannot support any living organism. If both seas are fed by the same river, how come one is fresh and life-giving and the other dead? The answer is that the Sea of Galilee has an outlet for letting out water whereas the Dead Sea has no such outlet. In other words, the Sea of Galilee receives and gives out water continually whereas the Dead Sea only receives water and does not give out except through evaporation. Like the two seas, giving and receiving keeps us alive and life-giving, receiving without giving renders us stagnant and dead.
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches the apostles that he was sending out on mission that they must be willing to give back some of what they have received. His words to them: are “You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 10:8). Missionary generosity, the giving of oneself, one’s time, services and resources in the service of God’s kingdom becomes possible only when we realize that all we are and all we have, including life itself, is a gift from God. As the Apostle Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Being a Christian is, in fact, a life of conscious receiving and giving back to God. Unfortunately we often pay much more attention to receiving than giving. As children of God we receive the grace of faith, we receive the word of God, we receive forgiveness, we receive the sacraments, and we receive new life in the Spirit. But we only complete the circuit of God’s grace when we go out and share these same blessings with those who do not as yet have them. If we fail to do this we become like the Dead Sea, stagnant and dead because it only receives and does not give back.
Mark has an interesting verse in his story of the call of the Apostles where he says: “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message” (Mark 3:14). More clearly than Matthew, Mark here brings out that there are two sides to the call of Jesus, namely (a) to be with him, i.e., to learn from him, to receive his grace and blessing, and (b) to be sent out to proclaim the message, i.e., to share with others what we have learnt from Jesus, to go out and be a grace and blessing to others in turn. Mission, evangelism, outreach, witnessing, sharing the faith with others, whatever name we give it, is an essential part of what it means to be a Christian, not an optional extra activity for those who feel like it.
When we are confronted with our Christian responsibility in this way, many of us begin to wonder where on earth we are going to get the courage and power to share our faith with others. And they are right. The strength we need comes from nowhere on earth. It comes directly from heaven. As we read in today’s gospel, “Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness (Matthew 10:1). Jesus does not send us out into the world empty handed. He knows that in mission we have to contend with rulers and authorities and with spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12). Therefore he equips us beforehand with power and authority over every human and spiritual challenge we may encounter in the work of spreading God’s kingdom of peace and love.
Peter, Andrew, John, and James were fishermen. But hey are not poor! Their boats, fitting as many as twelve, belonged to them. They owned their lake homes. You know the price of lakefront property. Though the Sunday weekly envelopes had not yet been invented, there is Gospel evidence that Salome, the mother of John and James, funded Jesus. Scholars feel there was more than one tax collector among them. Some go as high as four. Have you met a tax collector on food stamps? So these men are rich; to follow Jesus, they gave up great deal!
Stumbling about Palestine in 100 plus degrees heat was not easy duty. The twelve cooked outside amidst bugs. They slept on damp grass. They were on the run from cops. They were courageous. But they were not that much different from us. It would be a long time before they would climb into the stained glass windows of the world’s cathedrals. One of their biggest problems was faith. They had to be filled with doubts. Was this wandering preacher really the Messiah? Or were they following a loser? Had they been insane leaving their families, homes, and jobs?
That is then, what about now? So, where do we begin, one may ask? Jesus instructed the apostles to start with “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), that is, to start from familiar territory. Later on he would commission them to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19), but for now they must limit their outreach to within their own people. Mission, like charity, begins at home. The place for us to begin, therefore, would be with the lapsed and lukewarm members of our own families and our own parishes. But we must find an avenue to give back the faith we have received. That is the only way to remain alive and vibrant in the faith like the fresh and life-giving Sea of Galilee
Father Martino Nguyễn Bá Thông (St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church – Savannah, GA)
11th Ordinary – Year A (2008) – [email protected]
Exodus 19:1-6 Romans 5:6-11 Matthew 9:36-10:8