Have you ever seen yourself as a person who is called to introduce others to the person of Jesus? Most Catholics do not. They do not envision that they are the ones to go door to door to talk about Jesus. This is often seen as something “the Protestants do”, or the Mormons. But as Catholics, we are not so likely to view ourselves as those door to door evangelists. But if not us, how is it that people are to get to know Jesus? How is it that others will be brought to our Church? How is it that Jesus can get more disciples? Today’s readings issue a profound challenge to each of us to see ourselves as missionaries.
Today we learn that there are all different kinds of preachers. We read about Saint Paul, whose efforts are well-documented, and whose success is known. There are those who have left the preaching. And there are those who are downright destructive to the preaching. Today we celebrate Saint Luke. He was an evangelist, and also the author of the Acts of the Apostles. His efforts are noted by Saint Paul as quite helpful.
It serves as a reminder there are zealous and effective preachers, there are those who are holy, but perhaps not as effective. And, there are those who leave altogether, while still others are harmful to the mission. Where do you find yourself? Are you an effective disciple, making other disciples? Are you still trying to figure out what you believe? Or are you a big skeptic? Make time to get to know Jesus better, who can make all things better.
Today’s gospel is interesting. A Roman centurion, who appears not to have ever met Jesus, places great trust in him simply because others have told him about Jesus. Wow. Do you wonder who it was that first told him about Jesus? Who was the person who told him in such a tremendous way that he could believe in Jesus? Who created such great trust and faith that the centurion only needed Jesus to speak the word?
It does seem that we could do so much more in helping others come to know Jesus. Do we talk about Jesus to others? Do we share what Jesus has done in our lives? Do we want others to get to know Jesus? Catholics do not often think of themselves as needing to evangelize, but in fact, it was one specific thing that Jesus told us to do. Who in your life needs to know Jesus?
Today can be one of those Sundays when the readings are not easy to figure out. Jesus says some things in today’s gospel that seem to display prejudice. But let’s be clear. That cannot be true. Prejudice is sinful. Jesus cannot sin. While he is fully human, he is also fully divine. It cannot be the case that Jesus can sin. Period. So what is going on here in the gospel?
Keep in mind that we cannot see facial expressions. We cannot sense tone. It is not clear what the setting is. But what is clear is that Jesus is a teacher. And rather than Jesus learning, it is Jesus teaching. He is in a non-Jewish area of Israel. He knows the mission is to everyone. But it is not clear the disciples do. And it is not clear the disciples understand the connection between miracles and faith. It is faith that heals the woman’s daughter. And by the way Jesus handles this woman, and his disciples, we come to know his mission is universal.
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?”
–Romans 10: 13-15
Pour forth your Holy Spirit to inspire me with these words from Holy Scripture.
Stir in my soul the desire to renew my faith and deepen my
relationship with your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ so that I
might truly believe in and live the Good News.
Open my heart to hear the Gospel and grant me the confidence to proclaim the Good News to others.
Pour out your Spirit, so that I might be strengthened to go
forth and witness to the Gospel in my everyday life through my words and actions.
In moments of hesitation, remind me:
If not me, then who will proclaim the Gospel?
If not now, then when will the Gospel be proclaimed?
If not the truth of the Gospel, then what shall I proclaim?
God, our Father, I pray that through the Holy Spirit I might hear the call of the New Evangelization to deepen my faith, grow in confidence to proclaim the Gospel and boldly witness to the saving grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
It can be easy to become discouraged. Every day it seems we hear of bad news occurring in our area and around the world. Each day it seems people we love, or even ourselves, can discover we have some really awful disease. Sometimes we are treated badly by others. Also, there are times when our own actions, our own sinfulness can cause discouragement as well.
The discouragement felt by disciples of Paul arises because he is being persecuted. He has been stoned, left for dead, and it is no wonder those who had heard him speak and had come to believe in Jesus became discouraged. If such a thing could happen to Paul, the eloquent speaker, it could also happen to them.
It becomes important then for us to remember the power that can arise when we receive encouragement. At the root meaning of this word is heart. And contained in this word is the concept of courage. One could say, then, that encouragement involve strengthening the heart. The heart is associated not just as the organ that pumps blood, but also represents our very soul, that place that is nearest to the very core and center of what makes us us.
Just who is Jesus? There certainly are not many figures in human history that have been written about as much as Jesus. There are books about his claims as Messiah, quests to find the “historical Jesus,” books written about this aspect of his teaching or that. A simple search on Amazon or in a book store reveals an awful lot of books about Jesus. And despite all of this, we still might find ourselves with questions about just who Jesus is for us and the world.
Some of our questions deal with who Jesus was historically. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century there was an effort, primarily in Protestant circles, to seek to discover what the actual historical reality was for Jesus. There was greater emphasis on the tools of history and archeology, for example. There was an attempt to document and search for facts about the life and time of Jesus, much that might have been done for any figure in history.
But even if every fact of the life and world of Jesus were known, that would not be sufficient for us today. In fact, it has never been sufficient. Knowing about Jesus is not enough. We need to know Jesus. That means that what is more important is getting to know the Christ, what has been referred to as the Christ of Faith, in contrast to the Jesus of History. Certainly many knew Jesus. The bible tells us many disciples walked away and left Jesus. His spiritual teachings were hard to follow. It was not sufficient for these disciples to know about Jesus. Because they had not answered Jesus in faith, they left.
I have used this gospel as proof that Jesus was not a morning person, like me. See, when he needed to do something very early in the morning he stayed up all night rather than the harsh reality of having to wake up early. Truth is, the actions of Jesus serve as a very important example of the importance of prayer.
Perhaps you have seen the joke that is a an analysis of the talents and skills of the apostles. It points out that Peter is too impulsive, James and John are too ambitious, and makes interesting observations about each one in terms of their suitability for leadership.
Jesus knew that choosing his leaders was not primarily about seeking a business consultant. Rather, he spent the night in prayer seeking the prompting a of the spirit for the most effective persons of faith. We know they were not perfect. We know there were failures on their part. But the example of Jesus serves as an important example to us. Namely, we need to recognize that when it comes to discipleship, it is the Spirit who knows the human heart.
It can be said, I think, that the growth needed by the disciples was spiritual growth. When they think in only rational terms, they usually fail to understand the priorities of Jesus. We see in the gospel it takes time for the disciples to see clearly. In fact, it really is only after the Holy Spirit descends upon them they are able to see the world from the perspective of faith.
When I consider education, I consider elementary school teachers to be the most heroic. They are with their students literally all day long. There is no bell to signal release from a student with whom the teacher might not get along with, and if there is a particularly challenging mix of students in the same class, the teacher needs to figure it all out. So what is it about a child that causes Jesus to use them as an example for the Kingdom of God? Because when you look upon a child, while there are moments when a person might call them “adorable”, there are other moments when they are anything but adorable. What qualities then, do children possess that make them worthy of imitation of acceptance of the Kingdom of God?
In considering the best qualities of children, there is a sense of trust and wonder in children that we can lose as adults. There is a genuineness and sincerity in children that can warm even the most cynical heart. Children are also brutally honest, never afraid to ask the question that as we get older we do not wish to ask, because it might be embarrassing. Children are able to see the beauty in the world. Dandelions are not weeds, and just about anything can trigger imagination and play. And so with this outlook, children possess a mentality that can make it easy to see the Kingdom of God all around them.
Perhaps the quality most common to all of us is that of vulnerability. Children are vulnerable. They need the care and protection of their parents, for they have not yet fully come to understand the world in a place that can be safe, but is also dangerous.
The unlikely prophet. That is how I think of the Samaritan woman. Someone who has an unexpected encounter with Jesus that moves her so much she is able to convince a whole village to accept him as the Messiah, the savior of the world. She is an unlikely prophet for a whole variety of reasons.
First, it was unusual for Jews to interact with Samaritans. Moreover, it was even more unusual to interact with a Samaritan woman. The woman asks, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” In almost parenthetical form, the explanation is given: “For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” Then, there is the fact she has been married five times, and is living with number six. While it is not clear why she was married five times, someone with multiple marriages is not usually a hero of the bible.
When we consider her circumstance, it might be good to think about the Samaritans and the Jews. There is, in the Old Testament, a pretty constant tension between northern Israel, the land of the Samaritans, and southern Israel, the land of the Jews. It begins with the story of Cain and Abel, which can be seen as reflecting the tension between farmers and shepherds. Farmers stayed put, because they planted crops, which occupied a specific geographic location. Shepherds were nomads, needing to move in order that their sheep were able to eat.
We see similar tension in the life of David, a shepherd, who only ruled over the northern kingdom (farmers) for seven of his forty years. And this tension continues between Samaritans, who were indeed foreigners, though similar, and Jews. Jesus surprises not only the woman, but his disciples as well.
But what we see is that while unlikely, Jesus’ mission is beyond simply the Jewish people, and the words and presence of Jesus touch the heart of the Samaritan woman. She comes to believe. She leaves behind the things she brought, so eager has she become to share the good news of Jesus, and the finding of the Messiah, with the people in her village. And she must have been convincing, because the people in the village come right away, ask Jesus to stay, and become convinced by their own experience that Jesus is the savior of the world.
We Catholics might think of ourselves as unlikely prophets. How comfortable are you in having a spiritual conversation with a member of your family, or someone you work with, or even a complete stranger? Are you able to do so, or do you seek to avoid such conversations? We Dominicans are known as the Order of Preachers, but I find myself sometimes reluctant to engage people in conversation beyond the “expected” places like preaching a homily at church.
But the living water we received, at our baptism, is the source of new life that should compel us to share it. Have we found the Messiah? Have we found the Savior of the world? Do we wish to enter more deeply into relationship with Jesus? To be sure, one of the few commands Jesus gave us was to Go, teach, and baptize. If you wish the living water that will cause you never to thirst again, hear the words of Jesus calling you to be the unlikely prophet.