Over & Above

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Growing up, my siblings and I weren’t always high achievers. We didn’t always try harder especially if we did well with little effort. I guess no one wanted to stick out. One day my sister took it upon herself to organize our household chores. Each of us received a list of tasks for which we were responsible. It didn’t occur to me then to question my sister’s authority. Since I had learned early on that I would never win in an argument, and she possessed amazing powers of persuasion over my parents that I did not understand, I suppose that made her authority always legitimate.

The degree of difficulty of our assigned chores was meant to match our physical abilities. But frequently I saw them in direct contradiction to our willingness to comply. We were assigned specific rooms of the house to clean, to put away clothing, dust table tops, sweep and wash floors, clean windows, etc. So sometimes when my parents asked any of us to do a task unaware of our previous arrangements, we were very well aware of what we were responsible for, and what was extra, which didn’t matter anyway because we were always overruled. But we were not known to give up without a fight.

“Go put that bike away. Don’t leave it in the driveway.” And quietly to oneself, “No fair. Not my bike, not my job. But I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“Turn the light off in that room. You’re wasting electricity.” Again, “Why me? Never been in that room. But I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”

“Somebody clean up this mess or no one goes out to play.” And yet again, “Not my mess, not my job. But I guess I don’t have a choice, do I?”

I suppose if the task was less like work and more like play, like who picks the TV program we would all watch, or who chooses where we eat dinner out, or whose turn it was to get a new pair of shoes, we would all be rushing to volunteer. But such things never happened to my recollection. We only argued to get out of chores.

As it is in every household or community, each of us is accorded a set of rights and obligations that defines our relationship to one another and to the community itself. And if we more or less accomplish what is on our list, whether willingly or not, we will be meeting only the bare minimum. As a matter of justice, there’s nothing wrong with doing just what is required. If more were expected, then that new threshold would constitute the minimum, and that in turn would be required.

In our parish community, we all function in a variety of roles. Focusing just for a moment on people with a role within the eucharistic liturgy, certain individuals have volunteered to assist as ushers, lectors, extraordinary ministers of holy communion, music ministers, and altar servers for the smooth running of mass each Sunday. With three masses each weekend and any number of volunteers in each role, some people don’t get assigned as often—maybe once or twice a cycle; while some are assigned more often than they would like—sometimes every other week.

Some years ago, we held a liturgical ministries workshop so each of the different ministries could gather their members and do training and updating. We probably need to do that more. And I addressed the entire group and invited everyone to think about bringing together their liturgical ministry and their personal spirituality, to reach out beyond their liturgical function in some way, and live their liturgical role in daily life. For instance ushers could be always welcoming and attentive to other people’s needs. Lectors could reflect more on how sacred scripture calls them to holiness. Ministers of the Eucharist can help nourish the souls of those they encounter. Altar servers could be more aware of how they serve God when they help other people. And music ministers could give joyful praise to God in everything they do. I’m not sure if I succeeded since there was no way of measuring my effectiveness. But in the years that followed, I have noticed that some people still limit themselves to the bare minimum, while a few others are always looking for opportunities to accomplish more than what they are assigned.

I believe a person’s participation and self-sacrifice depends on how deeply they invest themselves in the larger vision, how genuinely they embrace the idea and reality of community life, how deeply they desire the good of others. Consider the level of participation and self-sacrifice in our homes and among our families. When we feel estranged, we pull away. When we feel connected, we are in the middle of everything.

When Jesus called seventy-two followers to go ahead of him into the neighboring villages and towns, he asked of them an investment of self, of self-sacrifice and personal commitment to his perspective and vision, which few of them even really understood. They were all still just being introduced to his way of thinking and his radical approach to personal faith and religious practice. He gave them detailed directives, and that they were to be bearers of peace and healers of the sick. They were to walk away from those who did not welcome them, and leave retribution to God for their lack of hospitality. They were not to complain about the generosity of their hosts, but eat what is set before them. They would announce that the Kingdom of God had already arrived. The success of their mission would depend very heavily on their embrace of Jesus’ vision.

We often view missionaries, evangelizers, proclaimers, and preachers of the Gospel as people in official roles. Yes, there will always be those who are formally sent to accomplish these tasks. But the kingdom of God challenges us to accomplish more than just the bare minimum. Jesus sends us as missionaries, evangelizers, proclaimers and preachers of the Gospel right in our families and in the larger community. By virtue of our baptism, God sends us to the nations to proclaim that his kingdom is at hand. We do not always need official titles or programs to designate whose turn it is to do what. When Jesus chose the seventy-two, he sent them to proclaim what they had seen him do and heard him say, what they understood of his thinking, what they embraced of his vision. But they would return often to reflect on their experiences, to acknowledge their failings, to give thanks for their blessings, to refresh their vision and commitment to the mission, and to head back out with conviction to gather in the great harvest.

There will always be mediocre ministers, preachers, teachers, and laborers for justice and peace. Jesus needs disciples who are willing to surpass expectations and requirements, who proclaim his word with joy, who nourish the hungry in body and spirit, who serve the poor more than altars or programs, who welcome the lost and draw them to God’s mercy, and who make him known where he is yet unknown. To bear the Gospel is not a role or function. It is exactly our identity as disciples of Jesus.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019