15th Sunday Year B

See Commentary on Mark 6:7-11

Homily 1 - 2003

Jesus gave the twelve authority over the unclean spirits: he sent them out with the job to name the evil and to expose the double-talk.  So they set out to preach repentance, to call to conversion, more accurately, to call people to a whole new way of seeing and evaluating things: to see people desperately in need of wholeness, in relationships respecting responsibilities, rights and freedom.

In Mark’s Gospel this is still early days. We are only in chapter six of sixteen. Their own conversion was still so incomplete, unfinished. Their own wisdom still so undeveloped.  I find all this so consoling! I find myself still in a constant process of growing and learning, getting in touch with what Jesus really is on about. I sometimes cringe when I come across notes of homilies that I have given, things I have said.  Probably you parents have a similar experience. You are probably only wise enough to be entrusted with children when you are too old to have them. And besides, you only learn your wisdom by being thrown in at the deep end!

Formation through life! (There is no other effective way!) Provided that life is reflected on and examined in a context of shared exploring and the support of the group, often the extended family.  It is obviously written into our human nature by our creating God that we are people in process, often, indeed mostly, in the dark, especially in the important things. We need to take risks, and inevitably we make mistakes. Our guiding values can be clear: particularly the dignity of the human person, but what that entails in practice, especially in new and tricky situations, is not always clear. St Thomas Aquinas taught that the further we move along the line from the basic principles, the more difficult it becomes for ourselves to be certain of our conclusions; and, even when we feel certain ourselves, it is unlikely that everyone else will see things with the same clarity.

The important thing is that we be able to own our mistakes and our uncertainties, that we learn from them and that we be free to change our minds, neither going into denial nor becoming defensive.

Jesus sent them out – so unprepared, so unfinished!  In the Gospel passage, the emphasis seems to be more on how to travel and how to respond than on what to say.  Travel light: just the staff, the sandals and the tunic they are wearing.  We go into our world, just as who we are. We do not take ourselves too seriously; we are at peace with our vulnerability; we do not kid ourselves that we have got it all together already: just our staff and what we are wearing!

And don’t burn up too much energy being upset by those who do not, who will not, come on board, who won’t share our values or our way of living. If any place does not welcome you, walk away, shaking off the dust from under your feet.  Love them, do what you can, but do not let their blindness or uncooperativeness destroy your own peace, your joy, your sense of wonder, your gratitude, whatever.


Homily 2 - 2009

Over the years, I have taken little notice of Michael Jackson, other than what I casually picked up from sensational newspaper headlines in recent years. If anything, I looked down on him.  Anyhow, the other night, Fr Paddy coaxed me to watch his funeral service on TV for a while.  I was surprised at what one of the Afro-American preachers had to say.  He said that, over the years, Michael Jackson's career had had a profound effect on his fellow Afro-Americans - it had given them a sense of pride in their Afro-American identity; it had given them hope; it had helped them recognise and develop their own potential.

That surprised me. I didn't know that. But that was wonderful. Then the same preacher (or was it someone else?) said that Michael Jackson gave a percentage of his profits, from every record he sold, to a nominated charity. That also was news to me – but good news.  He was a flawed character - in lots of ways a confused and unhappy man - but that, obviously, wasn't the whole story.  I don't understand the religious fervour that his death has aroused. I am not sure what it says about people and their needs.

I remember once talking to a woman friend of mine, whom I genuinely respected. She said she found it easier to relate to Elvis Presley than to Jesus.  For her, Jesus was too perfect. He seemed to have no shadow side. And she couldn't empathise with him. That is not my experience - though, early on in my life, I did have an image of Jesus that now would turn me right off.  Fortunately, over the years, I have had the chance to explore, to reflect on and to meet the truly human Jesus, who now fascinates me.

As I was watching the funeral on TV, and listening to the praise being heaped on Michael, I couldn't help thinking of another Afro-American who was murdered years ago - Martin Luther King.  Martin Luther King was, also, in some ways, a flawed man. But he was a prophet – not unlike Amos in today's First Reading: unpopular, and a threat to the status quo.  He was a man with a vision – a dream, not just for himself, but for his oppressed brothers and sisters, and for America as a whole. He was a man of immense courage, ready to face death. He was a man of energy and commitment. He was a man who simply loved.  I would prefer people to be more impressed by him. But, perhaps, it's another generation, and a different world. Perhaps, it reflects the power of the media. Perhaps, now, it touches into a deeper sense of emptiness in people's lives.

In today's Gospel, Jesus sent out the twelve on mission. They were to stay close to the people. If you enter a house anywhere, stay there...  Their message was not complex: The Kingdom of God is close at hand.  And they were to give witness to that closeness by being themselves bearers of wholeness, and sanity and life. They cast out devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.

They are models for us. But, for us to be able to tell people that the Kingdom of God is close at hand, we need to be sensitive to its presence ourselves. We can't point it out to others if we haven't learnt to see it.

As we look at our world today, can we see it? Can we see God's Spirit at work – in people? in flawed people? in each other? in ourselves?  Sometimes, we have to be prepared to change considerably before we can see it. It's easier to see what's wrong, than to see what's right.

Is our role to keep on harping about what's wrong? or to appreciate, and highlight, and cooperate with and encourage what's right?  The more we can nourish and nurture what's right, the less room there is in our world for what's wrong.  The Kingdom of God is close at hand. It was even at work in Michael Jackson - and I didn't see it.  The Kingdom of God is close at hand. The trick is to loosen up enough to recognise it.