Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time; July 9, 2019

Saint John Paul II was fond of saying that for the Christian, there are no coincidences in life – just the hand of God at work.  Today’s scripture readings for Mass, at least I believe, are a perfect example of God at work in our lives – and especially in your lives as we gather to bring this ISLI retreat to a close.

Today’s gospel concludes with a powerful invitation – a call – given by Jesus to his closest followers – ultimately to you and me – to a deeper sense of discipleship.  …  We’re told that when Jesus saw the struggling crowds, “his heart was move with pity for they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for this harvest.”

If you read the very next verse following the one that concludes today’s gospel, you’ll hear how Jesus calls those disciples to mission, sending them out to labor for the harvest, to preach the gospel and to touch the lives of God’s people.  Then, in a very matter-of-fact way, the names of the twelve apostles are given.

It all seems so simple, doesn’t it?  …  Jesus discovers most of those would-be apostles tending their nets by the Sea of Galilee.  …  We’re told that he calls them, they drop their nets, leave their families and colleagues and follow him.  …  Even Matthew, the tax collector, in response to Jesus’ call, gets up from his post and follows.

You can see the message in the gospel for all of us.  Just as the 12 apostles received a call from Jesus, so do we – at baptism.  But it’s who we are and how we respond that sometimes cause us a bit of tension in applying these scriptures to our lives.  …  Agree?

Sometimes we see ourselves as obstacles to Jesus’ mission and purpose, don’t we?  …  For all that Jesus tells us about the 12 and their shortcomings, from our vantage point in history, we idealize them and give them a pass.  Sadly, however, we don’t do that to ourselves.  …  We listen to voices in our Church and in our world that maintain that we need to possess a certain amount of holiness before God will even give us the time of day – as if we really are meant to save ourselves, with no need to submit to the love and mercy of God.

When we don’t reflect that holiness, our resolve in responding to the call of Jesus often diminishes.  And the diminishment of our resolve, then, leads to a struggle, doesn’t it?  …  We struggle with God.  …  We struggle to make sense of the call – to reconcile it with the reality of our imperfect lives.  …  We struggle to hear God’s voice and the assurance of his promise to walk with us amid all of the tension and fears that are often associated with our response to follow him in the midst of a complicated world.

Brothers and sisters – let me say something to each of you right now.  …  If you’ve ever beaten yourself up because of your shortcomings in following Jesus – and if you’ve ever struggled to find your way forward in relationship to God, today’s scripture readings are no coincidence in this moment.  …  They are meant for you – and for me!

Are you concerned about your weaknesses and imperfections in your resolve to embrace Jesus’ call to discipleship?  …  Probe the gospels.  You won’t find a word about most of the apostles, other than their names.  That doesn’t mean they were perfect.  It means that they were somewhat unknown – ordinary folk – like us.  …  What’s more, for the few apostles about whom we know a bit, what’s shared is generally reflective of their brokenness – their faults and failures.  …  Just like mine and yours!

And does it seem at times that the depth of your struggle with God reflects something that is less than appropriate for a faithful Christian?  …  If so, take a more careful look at today’s passage from Genesis.  We’re in good company!

For all of Jacob’s baggage – a wheeling and dealing character who stole his brother’s birthright from his blind father, Isaac – Jacob knew he was called to something more by God.  And so, he struggled – wrestled – with God until he received a blessing and could find his way forward in God’s plan.

God calls us as we are to be his disciples.  …  He engages us in an incredible journey of faith – which is hardly some pristine, effortless experience.  To the contrary, the journey beckons us on an unknown path, filled with uncertainty and struggle, demanding a profound sense of trust!  …  And in the end, we aren’t guaranteed wealth or status or even the fact that our goodness might be remembered by many.  …  No, our promise is different.  We’re promised a life of meaning, purpose and peace – with the pledge of eternal life.

Today’s scriptures really do prompt a significant amount of reflection, don’t they?  Let me leave you with one more thing – call it coincidence or call it God’s ongoing gift of consolation and peace.

When I was in college and discerning what to do with my life – reflecting upon my baggage and struggling to sort our God’s will for my life, a friend shared with me this quote that I have never forgotten some 40 years later.  …  In the midst of my world that, at times, has been turned upside down, these words have always consoled me.  …  I hope they might do the same for you.

There is a realm in the Christian experience where God never says “No.”  He never says “No” to your desire to be like his Son, Jesus.  So ask – seek – knock – struggle – until God does something.  And he will.  He surely will.  He eagerly waits to answer your prayer.  …  Amen!