Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 15, 2018)

We hear Mark’s account of Jesus’ sending out the apostles. We have heard about Jesus’ instructions on single-mindedness: traveling light and not being picky about personal accommodations. We are missionaries, not vacationers.

I thought today I would address two tips that are not usually talked about: a companion and rejection.

Jesus formed a community around him, but when it came to getting the word out, he did not send his followers out as a large community or as individuals. Jesus sent them out in pairs. For many good reasons:

  • Two can support each other when the going gets tough or one gets discouraged;
  • Two can bounce ideas off each other because two heads are better than one;
  • Two can hold each other accountable;
  • Two can travel more safely -- especially if the message is not being well received;
  • Two are stronger witnesses; what one doesn’t think of the other very well may, and two have more credibility; for this reason, two were required to witness in a Jewish court.
This is a good rule of thumb for us as well. In our attempts at missionary encounters -- to which every one of us is called -- it is good to have a companion. Jehovah’s witnesses know this well and practice it. We hear Jesus’ call for a walking stick and sandals. Action gear, not a TV remote and house slippers for oneself and a companion.

The second point I’d like to make is about shaking the dust from our feet if we are rejected. This is a tricky, a dangerous passage. We can misuse it either to justify our anger if we feel it or to reject folks and then stand in judgment, as did James and John, wanting to call fire from heaven on rejecters.

In a nutshell, Jesus wanted his followers simply to recognize their limits in converting and move on, leaving the situation to god and his later sending someone else to them. It is not anyone’s gift to ring everyone’s bell.

The previous passage to today’s reading was last Sunday’s rejection by Jesus ‘ own people -- the folks with whom he grew up in Nazareth. Jesus did not doggedly stay. We read: “He made the rounds of the neighboring villages instead.”

Jesus’ wisdom is echoed by Kenny Rogers, the C&W singer. He tells us that you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. There is wisdom in the gambler’s song.

Before he began his public life, Jesus was in the desert with Satan who made attractive offers -- and Jesus walked. He knew when to walk and also when to let others walk: as, when the rich young man chose to walk away rather than give up his riches, Jesus was sad, but he did not run after him.

We don’t know the number of times the disciples had to shake the dust from their feet and move on. Satan didn’t always fall like lightning from the sky.

There is a principle here for every one of us. A mature assessment of ourselves involves our willingness to recognize our limits, in our missionary relationship with others.

At another level, Dr. Scott Peck said that his practice of psychotherapy would be enjoyable and relatively easy if it were not for a single reality -- resistance. “People who come to psychotherapy do so saying they want to change, and then from the moment therapy starts they usually begin acting as if the last thing on god’s earth they want to do is change.”

It is God’s spirit in a person’s life that has the persuasive power to deal with resistance -- not our fervor, not our intelligence, not our cleverness. And some folks we think are resisting God’s truth may simply be resisting us.

We are not to quit easily, but there is wisdom in knowing when to let go. Parents, like priests, do not have control, here. Like St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, we pray. We do not badger. We take the opportunities to speak positively about god and the things of God. A former, poor situation should not discourage us in reaching out later to others.

The serenity prayer is helpful: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.