Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Are we there yet? What happens when you realize there is no there there? But you still ask the question. Are we there yet? It’s more annoying when someone else asks it and you just gave an answer 10 minutes ago. But what if you’re not convinced of the answer you gave? What if you’re asking the question too? And then it dawns on you there is no there there. And you start asking other questions. Is this it? Is there more? Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? What was it all about then? And what happens next? When you achieve laurels or things that resemble laurels, it makes sense to take a break and rest on a pile of them even just for a while. You’ve gathered your rosebuds. You’ve carpe’d the diem. You’ve built your house, your legacy, your field of dreams. You look around and wonder to yourself. Is that it? Are we there yet? And then someone came up with this gem. The journey is the destination. Nice. Deep. But are we there yet though?

Hindsight, we are told, is 20/20. That’s supposed to mean it will all make sense when you look back on the journey and the pieces begin to fit and a clearer picture emerges as the fog slowly recedes. When it’s true, it feels like the universe has finally let you in on its secrets and you will forever be in the know. But when it’s not true, you feel left out, and the darkness is even darker still. I guess it all comes down to your personal perception, how you interpret the signs. So yes, it means there are signs and you’re supposed to be paying attention. And if you’re not paying attention, you’re just not going to get it. But when you do get it, when you eventually arrive at the conviction there might indeed be a purpose to any or all of it, then things might just begin to make sense. If it sounds like I’m talking about UFOs or the paranormal, I’m not. Sorry. Maybe you don’t know me. Maybe you’re new to St. John. But I assure you we’re on the same side of the mystery. But don’t let my convictions mislead you. I’m only telling you what I know and what I believe. You still have to go figure these things out for yourself.

The prophet Amos never claimed he was a prophet. “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” And when Amaziah, priest of Bethel, told him to stop what he was doing and go do it someplace else, by golly, that had to be a sign. Prophet, schmophet. If it looked like a prophet and talked like a prophet and probably smelled like a prophet, it had to be a prophet. Besides, why would Amos be prophesying if he wasn’t a prophet? Hindsight is indeed 20/20. Amos, the shepherd and dresser of sycamores, was originally from the southern kingdom of Judah but spent the bulk of his ministry in the northern kingdom of Israel. He died about 745 BCE and is considered one of 12 minor prophets in the Hebrew scriptures. According to Amos, he was not a prophet. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He just did what he was told.

Jesus summoned the Twelve and sent them out two by two with authority over unclean spirits. They preached repentance, drove out demons, and cured the sick. They are only referred to in scripture as the Twelve. We might know them as the Apostles, Jesus’ closest companions, the foundations of the new Israel. Is it even relevant who they thought they were? Four of them were fishermen by trade, one a tax collector, another a zealot—which by the way says little about who he was or what he did for a living. The rest of them were likely in some trade or other. And when Jesus sent them out to accomplish this task, he didn’t give them an official title. And he didn’t tell them when they would get there, wherever there was. There would be no destination. There would only be a journey, and a rather interesting journey at that.

We need to remember that when Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach repentance, drive out demons, and cure the sick, they were not a formidable force in the world. His mission was still relatively unknown. He had begun attracting a following, the curious, the searching, the gullible, the hopeful, the skeptic, the believer, as many teachers and healers tended to collect at a time even before social media. But there was no church as we know it, no worldwide spiritual movement as yet endowed with power from on high, no organized structure of hierarchy or inspiring rituals or venerable traditions, no distinct way of life, nothing. He was simply a carpenter’s son from Nazareth sending his friends to precede him to places he intended to visit himself. And that first taste of ministry would perhaps convince them they were doing something meaningful, something important. Perhaps he was measuring their interest, their loyalty, their willingness to walk his journey with him. His journey had a destination. He was well aware what he was getting into. But would they stick around if they knew?

This past year of COVID was a time to measure our interest, our loyalty, and our willingness to walk the journey with Jesus. It helps that we have a brand spanking new church to come back to. But even that will one day lose its luster and we will eventually return to our old habits and complacency. Right now we might still catch ourselves staring at the life-size crucifix and the colorful patterns above the tabernacle. We might still be in awe of the stonework outside or the sound system inside. (And by the way, our audio settings were adjusted at Dedication. So if you haven’t noticed, then it must mean he did a good job.) It might still impress us that finding parking will never be an issue again even if we arrive late or that there’s never a line at the restroom. But it also helps to remember we’re still hearing much the same message Jesus sent the Twelve to preach, “Repent and believe in the gospel.” The demons of selfishness and sin, of pride and arrogance, of hate and lust and greed are still being driven out but perhaps not as dramatically. And the sick still recover and are healed despite hostility and scorn faced by those dedicated to their care. Has our Christian discipleship changed us during this year of COVID? Are we better for it? Are we more cynical, more self-centered? Are we more compassionate, more forgiving?

Writing to the Ephesians, Paul tells us that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ chose us “before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him.” God destined us for adoption, for redemption, and for forgiveness of our transgressions. And God has revealed to us the mystery of his will which he set forth as a plan for the fullness of times that all things in heaven and on earth would be brought together in Christ. Anything less than the fulfillment of that plan is still just a portion of the journey. We aren’t there just yet. But we’re on our way. And it helps to be paying attention to the signs. God is on the journey with us. We will know when we’re there.

Rolo B Castillo © 2021