July 22-23, 2006 Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
So do you think Jesus would carry a Blackberry if he were alive today?
Today's gospel is one of those sleepers. It seems like such an innocuous story: Jesus welcomes the disciples back from their mission, realizes they are tired and need to be refreshed, takes them out for some R & R on the lake, and then is confronted by a needy crowd on whom he takes pity.
But in reality, this gospel speaks to a very fundamental aspect of our faith, and one that is extremely relevant to our pace of life today.
How many of us have bought into the idea that all these laptops, and WiFi hotspots, and cell phones, and WANs, and smartphones will help us get our work done faster, with less work, and give us more free time? In reality they can quickly lure us into being on call 24/7. Today's gospel reminds us of the fundamental importance of Sabbath rest. The concept of sabbath rest was one of the distinguishing marks of the people of Israel. It embraced not just the commandment to rest from work on the 7th day but included the major feasts as well as the resting of the land, and the jubilee rest every 49 years. And as I said, it was tied up intimately with who the people of Israel were.
The commandment to rest on the 7th day was a wonderful gift that God gave his people. Besides the recognition of the basic human need for rest and recharging, this gift of sabbath rest was a recurring reminder to reflect on two very important aspects of what it meant to be an Israelite, and it continues to be a recurring reminder to us to reflect on two very important aspects of what it means to be a Catholic, a Christian.
The first aspect was one that kept getting lost on the people of Israel. This commandment to rest one day out of the week was to be a reminder that as God's people they were free. Slaves got no day off. The fact that even in captivity, the people of Israel observed their sabbath rest reminded them that they were free, no matter what their political or military smallness.
I say this was something that kept getting lost because some people started to see it as a prohibition that prevented them from doing business, making money. Sound familiar? Jesus kept getting into trouble with the Pharisees because they had lost that sense of sabbath and instead enforced it as a burden on people rather than as something that set them free.
The other aspect of sabbath rest is that is is a continual reminder to us to reflect on the fact that God is God and we are not. This is God's plan and God's kingdom. We are instruments in that plan and we participate in the building of the kingdom but God's plan will prevail with or without me. The well known Protestant theologian and teacher John Westerhoff has remarked that atheism in the modern world is characterized by this affirmation: "If I don't do it, it won't happen." Sabbath rest is an affirmation that we trust that the world is safely in God's hands and we do not need to keep running around like the Eveready Bunny to keep it safe.
While it is true that all of God's efforts in bringing about his kingdom are accomplished though human instrumentality, we are not the ones in control of that use of our gifts. One of the ways that I find myself needing this sabbath rest reminder is that I find that I get myself so booked up that there is no room in my schedule for those wonderfully surprising ways that God calls me to work on his plan. Just as Jesus made himself available to these unexpected crowds, I need to keep room in my life for God to enter in ways that I never could have anticipated. By filling up my schedule so there is no room for surprises I give nod to that atheistic affirmation that if I don't do it, it won't happen.
But as with almost all principles of our Catholic faith, this need to celebrate our sabbath rest must be balanced by our call to spread the word of God. Just as the gospel passages from last week and this week combined talk about Jesus sending the disciples out to spread the gospel, and then inviting them to rest when they returned, our lives must keep in tension the fact that by our baptism we are called to participate in the building of the kingdom with the need to remind ourselves that to do that we must rest to renew ourselves and to acknowledge God's role in this.
I like to close with a small quote from a prayer that is most often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero but was in fact written by Ken Untener in 1979 before he became Bishop of Saginaw. I would suggest that it captures that balancing act exquisitely.
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.
Words written by Bishop Ken Untener for John Cardinal Deardon in 1979, most often attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero.
It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.
We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a 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 seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces 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.