13 June 2007

Of Poverty & Wolves

St. Anthony of Padua: Isa 61.1-3 and Luke 10.1-9
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation


Jesus sends out ahead of him seventy-two disciples. He gives them instructions on how to greet peaceable people once in the town. And how to eat and drink what is given. And not to be jumping from house to house. And how to proclaim the Good News: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.” Oddly, he sends them out without money, without a sack, and without shoes. And he tells them not to acquire any of these along the way. I suppose if Jesus were with us as a teacher now, he would send out his seventy-two without credit cards, luggage, and cell phones. What point is he making by imposing such a seemingly burdensome restriction on his preachers? Notice where this restriction comes in the reading; it comes just after this ominous line: “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among the wolves.” Can we say that the required poverty of possessions is a weapon against the ravening wolves? I think so. How so?

To the degree that we are attached to this world, the degree to which we find our ultimate worth, our final end in the come and go of material creation, to that degree are we beholding to the wolves. When we look at all those things that collect around us where we live and work, all those ideas and passions that sink us firmly in the ground of the temporary, when we look closely and deeply at our weights and anchors, we look squarely into the eyes of the wolf. Lean, hungry, ruthless, and violent. To this wolf and its hunger your soul is a nibbling snack. Gobbled up like a bite of bloody rabbit in the snow. What holds you down, weighs against your escape from the wolf is the delusion that what you see and hear and taste and feel all around you is your final end, your goal. It isn’t. It can’t be. All of this too will pass away. Why invest your soul in impermanent order, in temporary things?

Jesus knows well the psychology of the wolf. The wolf is always hungry. Always hunting. Always brutal in taking down its prey. The wolves of Jesus’ day lied about him in court; paid off witnesses to testify against him; intentionally misstated his teachings to trap him in heresy; and, eventually, one of his friends betrayed him for silver. Jesus knows well how the wolf works. He also knows the temptations of the world. The seduction of power and wealth; the obsessive heart that collects things rather than love; the compulsive mind that mulls over reason and ignores truth. And the quickest, deadliest enemy of all: the temptation to despair in the face of repeated spiritual failures.

Knowing the wolf, the possible seductions, obsessions, and temptations, Jesus requires his preachers to go out among the wolves naked of ambition, freed from possessions, completely shorn of the desire to collect and accumulate. And he makes it possible for them to succeed by pointing out that success in preaching is the business of the preacher, the hearer, and the Spirit moving between them. The preacher must preach, the hearer must listen, and the Spirit will move hearts and minds to Christ’s peace.

If it is not money or shoes or books or gadgets that anchor you, what is it? What will you have to drag behind you, running in the snow, when the wolves catch your scent? Or will you opt to live the life of an Occasional Wolf, a lamb in wolves’ fur? I’m no shaman, but I hear that pretending to be an animal too well and too long will eventually change you into that animal. Will you be a wolf then?

To take this animal metaphor from the sublime to the ridiculous: we are required to be lambs among the wolves, as gentle as doves and as wise as serpents! So get out there with all the gentleness and wisdom you can muster and preach the gospel to everyone who will listen. And watch the wolves—they get hungry for mutton when they hear the truth spoken.

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