Saturday, June 16, 2012

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
The Who and the Where

Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24; Psalm 91:2-3,13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34
In every life we have some trouble; when you worry you make it double; don't worry, be happy... Ain’t got no place to lay your head; somebody came and took your bed; don't worry, be happy... The landlord say your rent is late; he may have to litigate; don’t worry be happy...
Sisters and brothers, I think many of us are familiar with these words taken from the song written and performed by Bobby McFerrin. Don’t Worry! Be Happy! Isn’t this something that we all wish we could do? And yet, isn’t it true that these words are much easier to sing than to put into practice? When it feels like my life is packed with many unresolved problems. Loaded with various apparently unbearable burdens. Filled with a host of unanswered questions. How can I not worry? How can I be really happy? When I experience failure, in school, or at work, or in my relationships. When my kids don’t seem to be turning out the way I’d like them to. When, even though my life may be filled with many good and beautiful things, I can’t quite escape the feeling of emptiness or restlessness deep down in my heart. How not to worry? How to be truly happy?

And even if I could ignore all my own problems, isn’t it a rather selfish thing to do, really? To want to be happy? When I know that there are so many people around the world living in abject poverty. People who have to struggle daily just to find enough food to fill their bellies, or water to wet their lips, or a roof to shelter their heads. When there are so many others who suffer the effects of war, or oppression, or discrimination of one kind or another. When scientists warn us of the serious environmental crisis endangering human life on this planet of ours. Faced with so many questions without clear answers, should I not be concerned? As someone who professes to follow Jesus–who, though he was rich, became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich (2 Cor 8:9)–do I not have a responsibility to look for answers? Or to care for those who suffer? And can I really do this, and still not worry? Can I allow myself to be affected by the misery of others, and still be truly happy?

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul faces a similar dilemma. Paul, as you know, is no stranger to suffering. Towards the end of this letter–in chapter 11–he writes about having been imprisoned and flogged many times, of experiencing hunger and thirst, of being betrayed and persecuted, and even shipwrecked. Nor is Paul a person who thinks only of himself. In chapter 9 we find one of the main reasons why he is writing to the Corinthians. He is begging them to donate money to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. All of which tells us that Paul faces his fair share of problems. Problems of his own, and also of others. He struggles to find answers to difficult questions. To what and how questions: What must I do to continue my mission? How can I help the people entrusted to my care?

And yet, in our second reading today, taken from chapter 5, we find Paul saying something very surprising. In spite of his many difficulties, Paul can still say–and he says it twice, in quick succession–we are always full of confidence... Imagine that. We are full of confidence. Which is not too far from Bobby McFerrin’s advice: Don’t worry! Be happy! But how can this be possible? How does Paul do it? What is his secret? Paul himself tells us how. Even though he may see no final answers to the difficult questions he faces, he knows at least this much: he and his companions want to make their home with the Lord. They are intent on pleasing him. Although Paul may not know exactly what to do, or how to do it, he is certain of where he wishes to be, and of who will give him strength. Paul has no doubt that he wishes to be with the Lord, and to serve him alone. And it is this certainty that fills Paul with confidence.

We find something similar in the rest of our Mass readings for today. Here too, the emphasis is not so much on what and how, as it is on who and where. The image we are given is that of plants growing and bearing fruit. In the first reading, we hear of a shoot planted on a very high mountain, and growing into a noble cedar, a very tall and majestic tree. In the gospel, Jesus speaks of seed sprouting secretly, and fruitfully. In both these readings, the emphasis is on who. The focus is on the action of God. It is God who plants the shoot. It is God who sows the seed. It is God who causes the growth. It is God who brings forth fruit.

The responsorial psalm confirms this by telling us that planted in the house of the Lord they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green. Notice how the psalmist is more concerned about location than about action. He is focused more on the where than on the what. For growth to take place, we need to be planted in the right place. We need to be rooted in God. Only then will the shoot develop into a mighty tree, providing shelter for all the birds of the air. As important as it may be to carefully consider what we can do to serve God, and to ask ourselves how we can help those in need, it is even more important to remain rooted in God. Like Paul, we need to ensure that we want to be where God is. That we are intent on pleasing the Lord alone. It is only in this way that our actions can become truly fruitful, really beneficial to those in need. In the Kingdom of the Lord, more important than the what and the how are the who and the where.

I’m reminded of these lines penned by Bishop Ken Untener of the diocese of Saginaw, in the United States of America:
It helps now and then to step back and take a long view. The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church's mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord's grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master-builder and the worker. We are workers, not master-builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.
To remember that we are ministers and not messiahs. Perhaps this is part of the secret. To be confident and happy, even while we may have to struggle with our own difficulties, and with the sufferings of others, we need constantly to keep in mind the who and the where.

Sisters and brothers, who exactly is responsible for your growth? Where are you planting yourself today?

1 comment:

  1. God the Father Almighty, has created us in His own image.. (Gn-Ch 1) He created Heaven and Earth, divided light from darkness, created every living creatures and blessed them, saying "Be fruitful and multiply".

    Then, in the NT, Philippians Ch 2:13 - It is God for his own loving purpose, who puts both the will and and the action into you.

    God wants us to grow in his love, constantly fed by his light and water. Growing takes time, and because God is patient and merciful, He will wait for us, never forsake us.


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