Thought for the week - 18 June 2023
In the reading today, he sends out his twelve closest friends, his inner group of disciples, on mission. He sees them as the new ‘twelve patriarchs’ of the people, destined to give the House of Israel a fresh beginning, just as the great heroes of the past, the sons of Jacob, had done before. And what was the result? A flop. The Twelve do not convert Israel. Jesus will weep over the Jerusalem that rejects him. Whatever else we may say about his Sacrifice, he goes to his death in the awareness that he had been unable to bring his people to share through him the life of the Father.
This tells us two things — something about God and something about ourselves. First, something about God. When God involves himself in our world and becomes incarnate, his life is, in human terms, a failure, and a spectacular one at that. This seems like nonsense. How can divinity which, among other things, is omnipotence, fail? It also tells us something about ourselves and how we judge success and failure. If the incarnate Christ went to the cross, why do we judge our apparent failings in anything but the light of that tree.
We paralyse ourselves so often in the church by a lack of confidence – not in ourselves, but in God in whose name we speak. Faced with decline and a disinterested world, we speak of managing that decline and think that maybe if we immerse ourselves in other work – interfaith dialogue, communal hang wringing, winding up clocks that will never tell that it is time for action, preserving our heritage, keeping things just the way we like them – and other laudable but secondary tasks, we will only manage decline. We are sent out to be bold, because we have been given authority to cast out demons, cure disease and proclaim to the world that the Kingdom of God is at hand – and not to the converted, but to the lost sheep, to the sock, to lepers, to those considered dead to the polite world, to harvest souls for Christ, because the alternative is to grease their way to hell.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the church of God, and todays Gospel uncovers that for what it is. The days of Easter are behind us, now is the time for work, for public proclamation, for confidence and for not judging ourselves through the eyes of a fallen world. We are better than this, not because we are greater than anyone else, but because we carry Christ with us and He carries us in His own glorious body which was once dead, but is now alive and which reigns in Heaven with the Saints and the Angels and those who are gone before us.
Whatever happens, our task is to be faithful to the mission our Lord has given us, and, if we are young, to consider by what means we can best serve the Kingdom of God — it may be to live and work directly for the Church as a priest or in a religious order. If we are middle-aged, and at the height of our influence in our particular milieu, ‘being faithful’ will mean using that influence. If we are old, it will mean counselling others by what we say and do and praying that the Church be kept true to Her calling and not fritter away her commission in platitudes and blandness and hand wringing and uncertainty. We are sent out as lambs among wolves, and I think it is a while since we felt the breath of the wolf on our backs, but the wolves will devour the world and we stand between them and it.
‘and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved’.