This past week we had two versions of the gospel passage in which Jesus commissioned the apostles to go out to surrounding towns in Israel and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. I wondered how they felt when Jesus told them not only to make this proclamation, but also that they were to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and drive out demons. And as if that is not daunting enough, they were to take nothing with them, not even a walking stick for the journey. (Matt 10: 7-10) It had to be surprising for them to have been with Jesus for a relatively short time and then be told to go out and do exactly what they saw Him do, including miracles. However, they had to realize that Jesus would not have sent them if He did not think they could do these things. He had empowered them during their time with Him, so out they went just as He instructed, seemingly without much hesitation. That makes me wonder: do we proclaim the Kingdom to be at hand with our words and actions? Are we able to ‘take nothing with us’ except our trust in God when we live our Christian faith?
Jesus told the apostles to go forth totally empty-handed, but it seems He meant something more than merely to go without money or goods. He was saying that they had to totally rely on God to be with them, supplying all the necessities for safe travel and all they would need for the ministry at hand. But it was not just money and supplies they were to eliminate; they were to leave behind all their insecurities, fears, and prejudices, too. Jesus did not expect them to be perfect, but He did want them to try to love as deeply as they could by having hearts empty of fear and filled with the kind of mercy and compassion with which He had given them. They had received many gifts and so Jesus instructed them to freely give those very gifts to others. Jesus wanted the apostles to realize that all they needed to bring on their mission was found in their faith in Him. This message is for us, too.
In sharing the love they had received the apostles observed just how miraculous love is. That is, love can heal and set a person free from all that binds them. It can move mountains and melt the coldest of hearts. The apostles were being sent out to bring this miracle to those who had not heard that God loves them. And so too are we. What we have received from God is what we are called to share. However, as contradictory as it sounds, the fact is that living in love is not the easiest of ways to live. Love is not about blindly accepting everything people do or being unrealistic about the harshness of the world and its evils. Jesus does not ask us to be naïve to the reality that the world can be antagonistic toward love. It does not take long to realize that Love came into the world in the person of Jesus and ended up on a cross! So no, living as a ‘proclaimer and doer’ of love is not easy at all. Our love will be resisted, tested, mistrusted, and fought against, just as it was for the apostles.
Maybe the real key is in realizing that we are to literally take nothing. To love means to give and not to take. Surely Jesus was instructing the apostles not just to go without carrying anything with them; He was also saying that they were not to take anything away from the towns they visited either. They were to bring healing, forgiveness, new life, and freedom from that which oppressed the people such as demons of every sort. The Kingdom of Heaven is indeed about freedom. But since it is given without cost, it certainly meant that the apostles were to take nothing with them from these places. They were to give and therefore to leave the places where they had been fuller and richer, not diminished in any way. They were to enter in peace and leave in peace. They were to bring God’s message and then move on. They were to leave as empty-handed as they arrived which also meant they were not to leave with judgments about the people who may have accepted or rejected them, they were not to confront, or to inflame anger, but rather to try to share the message which brought life and redemption. They knew that God always has everyone’s best interests at heart and so they were to let their words and deeds be given without expectations. And they were to glorify God, not themselves. They were to leave as they had arrived.
While we may desire to give to others without cost as we have been given, we would be naïve to ignore the reality that there is so much in the world which is contrary to love. Because of the work of evil, there are many who distrust love when it is offered. People who have been hurt in the name of love or who have been betrayed or abused will not trust easily. Therefore in the face of anger or hatred we need to discern what the most loving response may be. We will need to rely on the Holy Spirit to know how to proceed; that is, to know what is best not only for the person in need, but to also know if the time is right to offer anything in addition to our prayer. Jesus said: “As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words – go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” (Matt 10: 12-14) In other words, enter in peace with the intention of sharing all that you have. But if the people reject you, do not reject them, simply leave in peace letting your example always be that of love.
To proclaim the Kingdom means that when we leave a place or a room, it should be better than when we entered, but if they do not accept us or the love we have to share, we need to at least leave the place no worse for our having been there. There should be no diminishment to any place where we have attempted to live the message of Jesus. And similarly, we should not be worse when we leave a place then when we entered. We do not want to take away with us anger or resentment which comes from hostility or a lack of acceptance which had been directed toward us, nor do we want to doubt our ability to do good works. We should leave with our peace intact, too. Everything is in God’s hands. God never forces anyone to be healed or even to be loved, and therefore neither should we. We come and go in peace because the work is not ours, it is the Lord’s.
We are called to bring new life as disciples of Jesus. Like them, we are sent in peace to all those whom we encounter and we need to be especially sensitive to those who have experienced heartache, woundedness, illness, or any sort of great pain such as standing by someone in immense suffering as a caretaker to an ill partner, parent, or child. Some we meet may have been bruised and battered by life, caught up in addiction, mental illness, neglect, poverty, grief, or are lonely and forgotten. Proclaiming the Kingdom means bringing care through love and mercy, and in doing so we bring life to those who are nearly lifeless inside, whose hearts may beat physically, but are as if dead through lack of being loved well. We come to give, not to take, and therefore we open those in need to the reality that Love is the nature of the Kingdom and that they have not been forgotten. It also helps them to know that the Kingdom is not some far-off place, but it can be entered into here and now.
We need to take to heart that we are missioned just as the apostles were sent forth. The people who live today are in need in just the same way as the people who lived during the time of Jesus. He needs us to be His hands and feet and to love with His heart just as much as He needed the apostles. We need to continue the work of building the Kingdom of God until the day comes when Jesus returns. As daunting as this seems, we can bring healing and new life just as the Twelve did if we learn to rely completely on God and the gifts which He has given to us. In other words, we to need to dare to love, and we need to draw all our strength from the love which He gives to us.
'May we trust in God’s love for us! May we trust in the gifts He has given us through prayer and the sacraments! May we ask for the courage to love as Jesus taught us to love! May we give life and healing to those we meet rather than to participate in that which hurts or separates! May we proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven in word and deed! And may we be generous givers, not takers, realizing that we have all we need in Jesus! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
All the photos are mine. The first is of a hummingbird in a garden at Copper Mountain, Colorado. I chose this because I had the Sermon on the Mount in mind. Jesus said: "Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them." (Matt 6:26) They are 'empty-handed' yet God cares for them.
The second photo is Denali, which was a bit of a 'miraculous' shot, because just a short time later the mountain was shrouded in cloud, hidden almost completely. God did not move the mountain for me, but He did move the cloud.
Next is Fra Angelico's painting of The Sermon on the Mount. I chose it because it was consistent with the apostles being prepared for their mission, and with the intention of my earlier photo of the bird.
Following is an icon by Fr. William Hart McNichols called San Martin de Porres. It can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/all-categories/product/121-san-martin-de-porres. I chose this icon because St. Martin was born into a poor family, knew many kinds of personal suffering, and yet he dedicated his life to alleviating the suffering of others through his gift for medicine.
Finally the last photo was one I took in west Texas near Big Bend. It symbolizes for me the beauty of the heavens and the earth.
Heart Speaks to Heart