07 July 2016

Staking a spiritual vampire with Yes or No

14th Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

Jesus carefully instructs his newly appointed apostles on how they are to do their jobs in his name. He instructs them on what to say: “As you go make this proclamation: 'The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'” He tells them what they are to do: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons.” He tells them what not to take with them and how to greet those to whom they will preach. Then he concludes this lesson in practical ministry with an ominous statement: “Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.” Among our Protestant brothers and sisters, this is what is called a “hard-saying of Jesus.” It's not hard b/c it is difficult to understand or carry out, but b/c it offers both the apostles and those who hear the gospel from them a hard choice between saying Yes or No to God's offer of salvation. This a hard choice b/c there are no soft options between receiving the Word and not receiving the Word. So, is there any sandal dust outside your house?

First, think about what Jesus is telling the apostles to do here. Notice that all of his instructions in this gospel passage give his apostles practical ways of dealing with common human flaws. He tells them what to say, thus eliminating the temptation to preach falsehood. He tells them what to do, thus ruling out a long list of work not properly done for the gospel. He tells them what to take with them, thus limiting the temporary stuff in their lives, freeing them to travel more efficiently and to bear witness to eternal matters. And finally, he tells them what to say and do when the Word is ignored or rejected, thus saving them from the temptation to hang around a stubborn household or town and waste what little time they have. Jesus' demand for either a Yes and a No to God's offer of His salvation puts one of our most obstinate habits into hard relief. We want what we want when we want it. We like options. Lots of them. And we like to change our minds when what we want turns out to be inconvenient, not what we thought it would be, or something better comes along. Jesus stakes this spiritual vampire squarely in the heart.

But why would he insist on such a black and white choice? Why stand so resolutely against the beauty of diversity and difference when choosing a spiritual path? His instruction to the apostles seems downright mean, even cruel and intolerant. Jesus is not only a careful teacher but an expert on the human soul as well, a divine psychologist, if you will. He understands the human heart and mind and knows that our love for vacillation and change is quite nearly hard-wired in us. The habit of loving and trusting our own preferences over and above what is true, good, and beautiful is too deeply settled in us to root it out with half-made choices and soft commitments. God knows that our answer must be Yes or No, or we will be tossed around with every storm that comes. We will be lost if we are not anchored. And our anchor must be unshakably caught in His Word, Christ Jesus.

Let's not pretend that saying Yes to the gospel once is all it takes to make us perfect followers of Christ. We know better. We are offered the Word everyday and everyday we say Yes or No. We live out that choice in all we say and do or fail to say and do. Does this make the sum total of our lives a long, drawn out Maybe? No. What it means is that we are committed to making the choice between Yes and No. We are refusing to settle for the lazy way of a Daily Maybe, a little life of soft compromises and easy choices. Say Yes or say No. There is no browsing in the marketplace of squeamish options. We are given the Word daily; there can be no muttered Maybe.

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