Readings and Homily 14/06/2020
14th June 2020
The Mother Superior was looking out of her convent window on to the street below when she saw a dishevelled man making his weary way, head down as though searching the street for any lost coins. She took pity on the man, who obviously hadn’t one penny to rub against another, and without further thought threw down a half-crown (all my stories are rather old!) shouting to the man ‘Do not despair, my friend, do not despair.’ The man looked up to the window, smiled to the nun, and after recovering the coin from the ground, ran off at breakneck speed. Some hours later there was an urgent banging on the convent door, and it was Mother Superior who opened up, only to find the self-same down-and-out on the step, but with an enormous smile on his face and fist full of money in his hand. ’This is yours,’ he said as he handed over the money. Perplexed, the nun said that she did not understand. The man said, ‘Do not despair is what you told me, wasn’t it?’ ’Yes’, she replied. ’Well Do Not Despair came in at 500 to one this afternoon—these are your winnings.’
That’s one way of coming up smiling after betting on the horses. Another, so I am told, is to use a pin with eyes closed and the newspaper opened at the racing page. I guess you are as likely to spot a winner this way as if you were to spend hours studying the form, taking into account the state of the race course, or simply being attracted to the beast bearing your so-called lucky number.
Far be it for me to compare Jesus’ selection of apostles—which we hear about in our gospel today—with picking winners at the races, but there is something that seems rather arbitrary and haphazard about the group of men he endows with the status of apostle. Three fishermen, two of whom were from the same family and whose withdrawal from their trade would surely have jeopardized the family business. Besides which, what did they know about PR and public speaking? Then there is the tax gatherer—even the other twelve would surely find it difficult to socialise with him. And there is one who proved to be an absolute failure—had Jesus been taken in by Judas, I wonder, in the selection process? And we know little about the rest, except to say that at the critical pointthey would all disown Jesus and flee the scene.
By whatever measure you use, the apostles were on the surface an arbitrarily chosen group of unlikely characters. But we have to remember that with these twelve the foundations of a world-wide mission were established, As unlikely as the apostles seemed at their selection, and however weakly they responded to Jesus’ death, at the end of the day they were just the right people to enable the message of Jesus to spread across the globe. And the key thing is that they, being all too conscious of their own short-comings, were called to be apostles not really knowing what that might entail nor how they would fit into whatever plan Jesus had for them. They may not have been picked by Jesus with a pin-in-the-paper method, but their response to his invitation to ‘follow me’ was very much a step into the dark for them.
Unlikely individuals with untested resolve and seemingly inappropriate skills were trained and moulded by Jesus over the next three years into what arguably was to be the most-influential group of men ever seen in the world. With impossibly small resources and with dubitable strengths the apostles proved to be world-changers, who through persecution and hardships never lost their nerve and vision, whose catchphrase could almost be ‘Do not despair’.
But the story does not stop there. In our own times we are similarly called to be disciples of Jesus. However much we may undervalue our own talents and abilities, we have been called to pool them in the service of Christ and the Gospel. Jesus has the same power to make us proclaimers of the kingdom of heaven. The apostles, according to our gospel reading today were sent out to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils.’ I can imagine them shrugging their shoulders in bewilderment as to how to accomplish this mission. Nothing therefore that we feel we are called to do for the sake of the Church can be impossible. And like the apostles we start from a base of having no churches to use, nowhere to come together for worship. So we have a lot in common with those first disciples! We too witness to our faith, and spread the news of the kingdom of heaven, despite the odds and in very unfavourable circumstances for we believe that his call comes to us as it did to them, with the message ‘Do not despair’.
Take care and stay safe