Gospel and Homily Transcript
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness.
The names of the Twelve Apostles are these:
first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew;
James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
Philip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot
who betrayed Jesus.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
How Does God Bring About Reconciliation – Transcript
Cheaper by the dozen is semi-autobiographical humorous novel that was written in 19 48 by two siblings reflecting on their home life growing up with 12 kids in the family. Two years later in 1950, the year I was born, it was made into a popular film and then back in 2003 another remake of the film was made—to mixed reviews—starring Steve Martin.
In today’s readings we have two sets of twelve: the 12 sons of Israel and the 12 sons of the new Israel, called by Jesus the 12 Apostles. Both texts are stories in some way of overcoming adversity, reconciling, and going out into the world—not unlike cheaper by the dozen. There’s nothing cheap about the grace that’s offered in these stories. It’s grace that is hard-won.
Let’s look at them individually. The story of Joseph and his brothers is familiar to us, but perhaps it’s been awhile. Our lectionary jumps right into the middle of the story so a little recap may be helpful. Or perhaps it’s been awhile since you saw the stage production of Joseph and the amazing Technicolor dream coat by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber based on this story.
Joseph is the object of his father’s love and his half brothers are jealous of his father doting upon him; doting upon this dreamer and they are going to throw them into a pit but they decide to sell him off to slavery. He ends up in a prison in Egypt, but he has this remarkable gift for interpreting dreams and he comes to the Pharaoh’s attention and when Pharaoh is perplexed by these two dreams and he has no idea of what what they mean, Joseph interprets them and Pharaoh trusts Joseph’s interpretation and prepares in the midst of the fullness of times for a famine that is to come. Lo and behold Pharaoh’s dream is fulfilled and there’s a famine that sweeps across the world and this is where our reading picks up today. Joseph’s brother are driven to come to Egypt to ask for grain.
Three points I’d like to raise on this story: Number one is that it’s famine that drives the reconciliation. It’s adversity that brings the brothers to Joseph and it’s the engine that drives the reconciliation in the story. The brothers come looking for grain and they discover a brother in the midst of the process. Isn’t that so often the way that it happens in our own lives that in the midst of adversity and difficulties, we discover God’s plan at work in a richer and fuller way.
The plan of the early companions of the Society of Jesus was to go over to the Holy Land but in the midst of war breaking out when no ship sails they go to Rome and there St. Ignatius has this mystical vision and he’s confirmed in his ministry with the early companions to place themselves in service to the pontiff. Our headquarters for the Society of Jesus has been in Rome ever since but it was adversity that drove that engine. At first it seemed to be perhaps pure chance or ill fortune but in the case of the brothers it was the famine that drove the reconciliation.
Point number two: The brothers knew that what they had done was wrong. Ruben, in today’s reading explains to them, “Didn’t I tell you not to do it? But you wouldn’t listen, you did it anyway.” And they start arguing among themselves but that guilt had been latent for many years. It wasn’t as if they were worrying about Joseph, ‘Where is he now?’ That was their father’s concern, it wasn’t their concern. Their guilt was subconscious but when something bad happens to them and they are thrown in prison, accused of stealing, then what breaks out is this subconscious guilt comes to the surface and they realize, ‘We’ve done wrong.’ Now perhaps they misinterpret that God is punishing them, because in fact, God is reconciling them. My point is, their guilt comes to the surface. They realize that what they had done was wrong and it’s only in a slow process after many years, that they’re able to acknowledge that what they did was wrong.
Point number three: It’s not just the brothers that take a long time here in this story, it’s Joseph that takes time to come to this reconciliation. He has his brothers thrown into prison for three days and he speaks harshly to them and he hides his identity from them. I think it’s pretty clear from the text that Joseph is coming to grips with these mixed feelings inside of him, feelings of anger of having been betrayed and abandoned by his family. This process of healing and reconciliation isn’t a snap, it doesn’t take place overnight.
Thomas Aquinas writes that there are over 20 levels of forgiveness; 20 stages in this process of reconciliation. The Linns, Fr. Matthew, Dennis and Sheila, in reflecting on the process, name five different stages of healing and reconciliation that they parallel to Kubler-Ross’s stages of death and dying. We look at this story and we see that God uses even the adversities of life to bring about reconciliation, to convict us of sins that we would just as soon push underneath the surface, but it’s not an instantaneous process. It takes time.
Story number two: In Matthew chapter 10, we get Jesus choosing these twelve among his disciples. Matthew emphasizes the word ‘twelve’. Three times he calls them the Twelve in the story obviously to make a connection between the twelve sons of Israel and the twelve sons of this new Israel. They are extraordinary in their ordinariness. They are not well educated. They are not famous. They don’t appear to have much wealth. They are extraordinary in their ordinariness and in their diversity. The only thing that really unites them is the common call to Jesus. Isn’t that the common call of every Christian? Isn’t that the common call of everyone who enters religious life? It’s not because we like one another, it’s not because we’re similar in personality or temperament. it’s because we’ve heard this common call of Jesus that unites disparate personalities with different political leanings and very different goals in life with different talents and temperaments, but we’re called by this one Lord. So it was with these twelve.
To cite just two examples of the differences in their personalities, just take a take a look at Peter and Matthew. Franco Zeffirelli, in his miniseries, Jesus of Nazareth that he put on television over 40 years ago, does a great job of playing out the tension that would have been been obviously inherent in a Galilean fisherman stationed in Capernaum and a tax collector in the same town. Peter having to pay these taxes to a money-grubbing Jew who was a sellout to the Romans. The tension there between Matthew and Peter is beautifully dramatized or just imagine for a moment that same tension between Matthew and Simon whom Matthew calls the Canaanite but Luke calls the Zealot. The zealots hated the Romans. You could imagine that Simon would have no great warm feelings toward Matthew who was viewed as a sellout to the Romans. This tension between them was reconciled in their common call by Jesus.
What is this call? Jesus selects them and empowers them. Matthew says he give them authority over unclean spirits; the power of exorcism; the power of driving out demons through prayer and through fasting. This is the power of driving out everything that demeans the human spirit and of raising up the dignity of what it means to be a human being. Also the power to heal. The power to raise the dead physically through their prayer and through the word of Jesus—not through their own power, not in their own name but in the name of Jesus—A power of healing physically, emotionally and spiritually. A ministry of reconciliation, and a ministry of preaching and what’s the message here? Matthew puts it in one simple sentence: the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God is breaking into the world. God is doing something new in our lives.
In every time and in every age for the last 2,000 years God has been doing something new. The kingdom of God is at hand. God has been breaking into culture. God has been breaking down the barriers. God has been reconciling enemies. God has been choosing and calling people to follow him; people of different personalities and temperaments. This is a slow process. Just as it was a slow process for the sons of Israel to come to this reconciliation, so it’s a slow process in formation. The entirety of chapter 10 in Matthew’s gospel is Jesus giving 42 verses of instructions to his disciples, of equipping them for ministry. In contrast to Luke’s gospel where the seventy are sent out and they come back rejoicing, we never hear in Matthew’s gospel of the Twelve being sent out. They are instructed, they are instructed, they are instructed and it isn’t until the very end of the gospel that finally they’re sent out to the corners of the whole world. It’s a slow process of formation.
Let me just close with a familiar text. Teilhard de Chardin’s reflection:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.