Reflection for the 15th Sunday. Year B. 2018
– By Fr Ugo Ikwuka
The satellite navigation system (sat-nav) rightly won the most ingenious invention of the last decade. You only have to key in the post code or address of where you want to go and it starts instructing and directing you until you reach your destination. How magical!
Yet, the sat-nav has led many astray and quite embarrassingly too especially because on such occasions people have followed it so sheepishly, against all common sense, into somebody’s kitchen or into a hole.
In our Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus sent his apostles out to their first missionary journey and equips them not only with the message but also with the instructions on how to get it across successfully.
The message is that they have been empowered to overcome unclean spirits hence they are to liberate those dominated by demons. Every Christian is called not only to be a disciple who hears, accepts and carries out the teaching of Jesus but also an apostle – an evangelizer who is called to actively share their faith with others. So, like the first apostles, we are called to confront the demons of our time.
While we normally “come against” all evil forces in our prayers especially in the developing world, there are other kinds of demons which control people and to which people have become slaves (addicted) e.g. the demon of drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography and sex, materialism and many more.
Above all, there is the grand demon of seeking absolute freedom especially in the ‘civilized’ world today. Ironically, it is in trying to exercise this absolute freedom that many end up in the bondage of the demons to which they have become addicted.
Absolute freedom to be or do whatever one wants has literally become a matter of life and death that if anything tampers with one’s freedom, then one can’t really be alive. The reigning question is: “Who are you to tell me what to do or what to be?”
The debates today about same-sex marriage, change of gender, abortion etc are all fuelled by this worldview whereby liberty trumps everything. God who makes moral demands on people becomes the chief obstacle to this view of life hence God must give way because if God exists, then I can’t be free.
Ministry today must therefore challenge people with the very pertinent question: “Who or what has your attention?” Everybody has got a Lord. Who is yours? Who or what dominates your life? If answered honestly, this question can change lives.
Writing to the Ephesians in our Second Reading Paul confidently states that the one Lord in our life should be Jesus Christ in whom God has chosen us before the foundation of the world to be holy and to live through love in His presence.
What matters is not that you choose or what you choose but that you are chosen. Hence, your life is not about you. You have been chosen for the good purpose of being holy and living in God’s presence through loving.
On the practicalities of the journey, Jesus instructs that the apostles travel in pairs. Two heads are better than one. Moreover, as Saint Gregory the Great explained, Jesus sent them out in pairs to inculcate charity in them because there can be no charity with less than two persons.
The first testimony to give of Jesus is that of mutual love: As he said, it is by this that all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35). And as the Latin adage goes “nemo dat quod non habet” – You can’t give what you don’t have.
Furthermore, Jesus instructs that they travel light. Those that have struggled with excess luggage at the airport know better.
If we are to help people recover their freedom, we too must be a free people. The apostles are to bring with them only the message they had received from Jesus. We can go through our lives so laden with possessions that can be endless source of worry and anxiety. Yet, the instruction that they go without provisions (food, money, extra clothes) was made in the context that those needs would be met by others.
Hospitality was still an important tradition in those ancient times as is still retained in some traditionalist societies today where people have not yet become paranoid about life insurance and charity is the type that still knows one’s neighbour not the PR type that mostly goes overseas.
They are to be satisfied with the first house that receives them and not go around looking for more comfortable alternatives. Where they are not received, they are to shake the dust off their feet and move on to new grounds.
Problems and failures are inevitable in the life of anyone who seeks to make a difference but sometimes we dwell too long on them that they fester and rob our lives of drive and joy. If we don’t shake off the dust of yesterday’s disappointments from our feet, they cling, accumulate and weigh us down. Depressed, we give up in despair.
But Jesus doesn’t want us to be quitters. Faithful men and women of God are not those without mistakes or setbacks, they are those who grow through every experience to forge ahead.
It is important to recognise that Jesus meant the gesture of shaking the dust off their feet to be a testimony “for” not against those that reject them. In other words, it should serve to make them understand that the messengers have not come for any selfish reason like extorting money from them; in fact it is such a selfless venture that they did not even want to take away their dust. They come solely for their salvation hence in rejecting them, they deprive themselves of the greatest good of the world.
The Church does not proclaim the Gospel to gain power or members. That would be betraying the Gospel.
The Church proclaims the Gospel because she wants to share the gift received from Christ who mandated: “Freely you received, freely you must give.”