by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help…Giving as little as a cup of cold water to someone in need will not go unrewarded.”
Matthew 10, 37-42
Today’s gospel-reading brought back memories for me of my first excursion into a classroom for practice teaching. Like other beginning, would-be teachers, I experienced a mixture of anxiety, butterflies, and doubts as to my ability to measure up to the task. Today’s gospel records what looks like Jesus’ pep-talk to the disciples before he sent them off to door-knock, preach, and test themselves out as prophets. Prophets were not fortune tellers, seers or predictors of the future. Rather, they were people of integrity, who took the risk of proclaiming a truth that was aimed at disturbing the comfort of those who would listen to them. Inherent in this gospel-reading is the double reminder to us that we, too, are meant to be prophets by the way we live, and that our message might well meet with rejection, criticism and even the threat or reality of physical violence. As we all know, Jesus’ message is not popular with some audiences. We are being challenged today to look at ourselves and decide if there is a close correlation between the Gospel of Jesus and the way we live and act, allowing us to say as Gandhi did: “My life is my message”, and a message worth hearing.
The writer and scripture scholar Jay Cormier recalls a story he came across in The Boston Globe. It recounts the reflection of a young doctor, given to a reporter on her return from volunteering at a tent-hospital in Haiti in the wake of the January 2010 earthquake, which claimed the lives of more than 250,000 people. Cormier wrote:
A young woman oncologist was one of a group of doctors from a Boston hospital who went to Haiti in January 2010 to offer their help in the wake of the deadly earthquake. She told of being totally overwhelmed by the situation in a very primitive tent hospital. There was a seemingly endless barrage of impossible medical traumas, and they were without proper medicines or instruments. At one point, she became paralyzed by her helplessness and fear. It was all too much. Unable to function any longer, she began sobbing uncontrollably, burying her face in her hands.
She was at the bedside of a little boy, whose leg had been amputated a few days earlier. The little boy, about six or seven years old, saw her tears and her trembling and, with a smile, lifted his head from his pillow and encouraged her to move on to some other kids nearby who he knew needed her attention more than he did.
And remarkably, she found she was able to do so. For in that moment, the power of death and her overwhelming sense of horror and hopelessness were broken open. She witnessed in that little boy the triumph of love over pain and fear.
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (in Latin, Lumen Gentium – Christ, the Light of the Nations) is often referred to as the foundational document of Vatican II. In its second chapter, it speaks of all baptised people as participating in the priestly and prophetic role of Christ. In other words, as followers of Jesus, we are all expected to lead other people to holiness by the way in which we live, and to play a prophetic role by acting with integrity and always speaking the truth in love, even when those around us might be uncomfortable with hearing that truth. However, the reality is that people, who use their power to keep others in dependence and servitude, and who mete out injustice, don’t like their comfort being threatened or their power being challenged. They seek to punish and silence the prophetic voice that challenges them.
The role of prophetic disciples of Jesus is to bring the kingdom of God to reality in whatever situation they find themselves. To be numbered among those disciples, we, too, need to bring God’s love, compassion and peace to everyone with whom we engage. The young Haitian boy who encouraged the distraught doctor to pick herself up and to reach out to patients in greater need was a true prophet of compassion and love. While his tender age and innocence shielded him from disapproval by anyone, his words were enough to reignite that young doctor’s hope.
Jesus reminded his disciples (and us) that there will always be those who benefit from keeping fellow human beings victimised, oppressed and trapped in misery. The very act of challenging such oppression will often result in reprisals, punishment and hatred. The Cross will be their reward. Yet, the challenge that Jesus puts to each one of us is to use every resource we have and every opportunity that comes our way to make the love and compassion of God accessible to everyone with whom we engage.
As Jesus concluded his exhortation to his disciples, he used an expression whose significance had long escaped me: “Anyone who welcomes you, welcomes me” (Matthew 10, 40). As I reflect on my own role as a disciple of Jesus, I can so easily slip into convincing myself that I’m the one who is meant to be the welcomer of those who are struggling or in need. Yet Jesus makes it clear that there are times when I need to be open to being welcomed. There are times when I don’t have all the answers or don’t hold all the aces and am not in control. He reminds his disciples that, even though they carry the good news of God’s kingdom, they will be reliant on the hospitality and goodness of those they visit for shelter, a bed and a meal to eat.
I wonder if Jesus is telling us, too, to be wary of being in positions of power. Needing to be in charge can blind us to our own vulnerabilities. Perhaps this is Jesus’ way of telling us to consider walking in the shoes of the disadvantaged, the forgotten, the outcast and the refugee. Then we might come to see that we are the ones in need of assistance, encouragement and support. It may well be that we will become more effective witnesses to the power of God’s love from our own positions of vulnerability.
At the same time, we surely need to recognise that, while the Gospel challenges us to be wary of the kind of position and power the world applauds, we have to cultivate the power that comes from being truly centred in God, from being in touch with God’s Spirit planted deep within our hearts. It will be from that place that we will grow into genuine and prophetic witnesses to Jesus and his message.