by Br Julian McDonald cfc

“At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd…Jesus sent the twelve on mission, after instructing them…to cure the sick, raise the dead, heal lepers, expel demons.”  Matthew 9: 36 – 10: 8.

Whenever, I read the various Gospel accounts of Jesus calling his Apostles to join him in his mission, I catch myself wondering how he came to put his faith and trust in such a group of seeming misfits. Their leader, Peter, is described in the Gospels as an impetuous man, who had a reputation for rushing in to voice his opinions before he put his brain into gear. In a fit of bravado, Peter protested that he would not desert Jesus, yet, as Jesus predicted, he ended up denying him three times in quick succession. James and John were ambitious despite their background as ordinary fishermen. Thomas, like Peter, was inclined to be outspoken, even to the extent of urging his companions to join Jesus on what he regarded was a suicide mission back to the town of Bethany where an attempt had been made on Jesus’ life. Matthew was a tax-collector who had crossed over to work for the Roman occupying forces. Judas eventually proved himself to be Jesus’ betrayer, and a dishonest manager of the group’s funds. There are only a few sketchy biographical details about the other six. Yet, almost all twelve found the courage to give themselves as martyrs for their faith in Jesus and the mission to which he had commissioned them.

It would seem that those first Apostles were ordinary people from run-of-the-mill family and working backgrounds, with the same kinds of strengths and weaknesses as the rest of humanity. They were faithful Jewish men who were attracted to Jesus by the manner in which he went about teaching and preaching and reaching out to people struggling with disability, chronic illness, poverty and other hardships that had touched their lives. Somehow or other, they were captivated by Jesus’ magnetic personality. While we do not know why it was that Jesus selected them to assist him in continuing his message of God’s love and compassion for humanity and to be his collaborators in furthering his mission, I believe that we can rightly conclude that he selected helpers who were not at risk of setting out to make a name for themselves or pretending that what he had initiated was something for which they could take credit. That he had chosen wisely was demonstrated by the fact that none of them ended up big-noting himself. Whatever success they had, they attributed to the goodness of the God whom Jesus had revealed to them in the course of their time with him.

With thoughts like that in my mind, I am attracted to a prayer with which many of us would probably be familiar. It is a liturgical hymn composed by Dan Schutte, a noted musician and composer of liturgical music and currently composer-in-residence at San Francisco University. Here I Am, Lord is a hymn that echoes the story of God’s invitation to a young Samuel and recorded in the First Book of Samuel (1 Samuel 3: 4-10). Samuel was awakened four times in the course of the night and thought it was his guide and mentor, Eli, calling him. Each time he woke, he went to Eli who, in turn, sent him back to bed. After Samuel was awakened a third time by a voice he heard in his sleep, it dawned on Eli that the voice Samuel has repeatedly heard was the voice of God. Accordingly, he advised Samuel to pay attention if the voice were to call again. The voice Samuel had heard was, indeed, the voice of God.
Today’s gospel-reading is Matthew’s account of how Jesus named his twelve close associates and commissioned them to join him in reaching out in care and compassion to a people lost, confused and neglected, whom he described as “sheep without a shepherd” and to whom he saw himself as being called to bring a promise of hope.

Dan Schutte’s song presents God’s call to Samuel and Jesus’ commission to his Apostles as the same invitation that Jesus gives to each of us who commit ourselves to walk as his modern-day followers. The lyrics of Dan Schutte’s hymn are familiar to us, yet worthy of our frequent reflection:

[Verse 1]
I, the Lord of sea and sky
I have heard my people cry
All who dwell in dark and sin
My hand will save.
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.
[Verse 2]
I, who made the stars of night
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?
[Verse 3]
I, the Lord of snow and rain
I have borne my people’s pain,
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away
[Verse 4]
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my words to them.
Whom shall I send?
[Verse 5]
I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.

Having instructed his Apostles on how to accompany his people as shepherds, teachers and healers, Jesus sent them out to be there for everyone they would encounter. He commissions us, too, to be there for others, showing his face of understanding, encouragement and compassion to everyone we meet. We, too, are to be there for others, holding out to them the support they desperately need to reclaim their dignity and mend their brokenness.

We don’t need to be expert at anything to be able to do that. All we need is to be sufficiently humble to accept that in our ordinariness we can open ourselves to be instruments of God’s grace for others. The work of healing, rebuilding, mending and forgiving belongs to God. All we need do is make ourselves present and available as instruments through whom God’s love can be transmitted. Can we allow ourselves to pray wholeheartedly: Here I am Lord. If you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart?