Mk. 6: 30-34
This year I celebrated twenty years as an ordained minister of the Catholic Church. To say I celebrated is an exaggeration because that day passed without much fanfare except for an anniversary mass with the Bishop of Cleveland and having the opportunity to see my ordination classmates. Our class was in formation for three years and to tell you the truth the real formation came during the years of ministering to the broken hearted, the sick, the doubters, those blind by their own prejudices and beliefs, counseling, teaching and dealing with those struggling with poor shepherds who had betrayed their trust,
This gospel today, the first mission of the disciples happens early in the mission of Jesus and early in their formation as disciples. The years that follow this first attempt to serve the kingdom were filled with their own doubts about what they could or could not accomplish. They had times of a total lack of understanding the mission of Jesus but the story we hear today was one where they were amazed at what they could accomplish.
They did exactly what Jesus told them to do – proclaim the kingdom, drive out demons and heal the sick. They watched and listened to him performing miracles and changing lives then when he sent them out they were overjoyed at the fact they could do exactly what Jesus did. Well after all they were chosen by Jesus to be disciples and they were in his presence learning so of course they were able to do what he did.
Why is reading the story of the disciples so important in our own formation? If you have not taken the time to read the scriptures you are missing out on an important aspect of our becoming disciples capable of doing what Jesus did. The scriptures were given to us as the vehicle by which we are “to grow in wisdom of salvation, for training in righteousness and to equip us for every good work” (2Tim.3:17).
By immersing ourselves in the scriptures we are able to walk with Jesus, listen to Jesus, be taught by Jesus and have our lives changed by Jesus. The scriptures should not be viewed as a book about people and events long past but as a realty of things present to us now and as a glimpse of us in the future as we understand our call to do the works of Jesus.
Like the disciples that day, it is easy for you and I to get caught up in the ministry results and get excited about the things we do for our community of faith. God does work through us today in power and miracles do happen today. However, the real work of ministry is faithfully doing what God is calling you to do even when it is heartbreaking and seemingly never ending.
I find it interesting that in Luke 10:20 Jesus tells the disciples not to rejoice over the results but in the fact that their names re written in heaven. There is no doubt that using your gifts to help others can be uplifting and can make you feel like you are doing good for others. Yet, there is a real difference in doing something for the kingdom and doing something because it makes us feel good about ourselves.
The gospel today has a deeper meaning for us than just doing something because we as Catholics are somehow programmed to do good works. The call to serve is a part of our entire social justice message and we do respond because I believe we are inherently wired by God to give of our selves for others. I believe the message of today’s gospel is not about the good things we can achieve daily. I believe the message is about the source of our ability to do those good things. Jesus’ response to the disciple’s joy over the results of their ministering was to take them off for a time of reflection and prayer. His invitation was to draw from him all we need to continue to serve even in the midst of joy or pain.
Sounds like the lesson we need to learn is to make sure we continue to draw all we need from him and not from our own intellect. Apart from me you can do nothing (Jn.15:5). The lesson to learn is that we are just vines drawing our energy, our sustenance, our very life from the one we follow. It is a bitter lesson and if we do not learn it we will fail to see the results of changed hearts by those we minister to. Service done without drawing from the source of all we seek will drain us and eventually we will tire of ministry and long before we burn out we will have failed to bring Jesus to those who desperately need his touch.
If you take the time to read the rest of the chapter from Mark which we hear today you will hear the parable of the loaves and fish. Interesting follow up to their fantastic mission of healing and casting out of demons. They could not muster up the courage to step out in faith and to minister to the people with power. Jesus told them, “feed them yourselves.” Their response was to say, we don’t have enough money and certainly not enough food. Instead of trusting they look to themselves and we are once again shown the result of not drawing from the source of all we seek. We depend on our own inadequate self to minister to God’s people and we are incapable of responding as we should.
There is only one way to use our gifts for the building of the kingdom of God and that is to understand our call to discipleship, understand how we are gifted to serve and our total and complete reliance on Jesus for guidance, wisdom, and courage to go and serve the people of God.