Sunday, July 11, 2021

Of Roots & Resilience

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Psalm 84 (85):9-14; Ephesians 1:3-10; Mark 6:7-13

Picture: cc Paul Sullivan

My dear friends, do you remember that tragic case from 2017, where a 40-metre tall tembusu tree in the Botanic Gardens toppled over, and killed a passerby? Why did the tree fall? It had no visible signs of weakness. According to the Coroner, the answer lay in its roots. While strong winds and heavy rains in the days before the incident did play a part, the deeper cause could be traced to the tree’s distant past, when its roots were cut to make way for a path. This cutting started a process of decay, leading eventually to the tree’s demise.

But it’s not just trees that depend for their resilience upon healthy roots. The same can be said for prophets and missionaries too. Isn’t this what we find in our readings? In the first reading, when the prophet Amos is buffeted by the strong winds of rejection, he responds not by boasting about his own virtues or qualifications, but by recounting the origins, the spiritual roots, of his prophetic vocation. It was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”

Similarly, in the gospel, how does Jesus prepare the apostles for the rigours of the mission on which he is sending them? He strengthens their roots. By encouraging them to rely more on the providence of God than on any material resource. And by telling them how to respond to rejection. (T)ake nothing for the journey except a staff…. if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them…

Of course, this is all fine and good for professional, full-time missionaries, like Amos and the Twelve. What about those of us who have far more down-to-earth occupations? Those of us who, especially in these Covid-times, find ourselves frantically juggling the multiple responsibilities of work and home, while being cooped up in a single physical location.

Thankfully, the second reading comes to our rescue, by telling us about the broader meaning of vocation or calling. Contrary to popular belief, God’s call is addressed not only to professionals. Nor does it involve only obviously religious or churchy activities. No. The reading tells us that even before the world was made… (God) chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence… God’s call to us is, first of all, simply to be, to live in a certain way. To remain rooted in the goodness and love, the compassion and mercy of Christ that we celebrate at this Mass. This is the vocation that gives our lives their true meaning.

And isn’t meaning what so many in our society are yearning for today? According to a recent report, there were 452 suicides here last year, the highest since 2012. Sisters and brothers, it appears that, in our country, trees are not the only things being toppled over. People are too. And if this is true, then what can we do? We who believe ourselves to be chosen by God. What can we do to help one another become more resilient, by cultivating healthier and hardier spiritual roots today?

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