15th Sunday in Ordinary Times
Amos 7:”12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Gospel of Mark 6:7-13
Breaking Free from our "Comfort Zones"
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of the Good Shepherd - Singapore, on 15 July 2018

In today’s Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, Jesus sends His Twelve apostles out in “pairs” to preach repentance, and to cast out many devils, and anoint and cure the sick.  In this mission, Jesus instructs the apostles to serve without taking anything for the journey; to rely on the hospitality of what they receive . . . We as disciple of Jesus in today’s world have much to learn from this Gospel event. 

Let us begin by clarifying that Jesus sent His apostles out in pairs because it is wise to do so.  It is dangerous to travel alone to unknown places and should there be any disputes and false accusations, there would be another witness to speak the truth. 

As for Jesus insistence on His apostles to travel light, and not even to have a spare tunic, which is needed to provide protection from the cold night air, Jesus wants His Apostles to have greater trust in God to provide for the lodging they need for the nights.

And, as for not taking any bread, haversack and money with them, Jesus wanted to ensure that the apostles’ mission of preaching, healing and casting out evil spirits are not to be associated with making money.  In other words, Jesus wanted to ensure that the apostles’ pastoral and spiritual services are to be done out of their commitment and love for God and not done for any material selfish-gains.  

And as for “shaking off the dust from their feet for those who do not welcome them and their message, the gestures are not so much a divine condemnation of the place, but a testimony before God that the town has refused to hear God’s Word, and accept the Good News of the Son of Man. 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, upon hearing all these instructions and demands of Jesus for His apostles in today’s Gospel, many of us may be feeling that we are unworthy or unwilling to take up the challenges of being a disciple of Jesus.  Many of us would give ourselves various reasons and justifications to convince ourselves that we are not able to meet the demands of Jesus.

For some of us, we may feel we are too attached to our material wealth and possessions, and not willing to give them up because we tell ourselves, we need to provide for our children’s needs and future.  For others, we value and treasure our “comfort lifestyles and comfort zones” and thus may not be willing to trade the “securities” of our lifestyle that we are used to.  Thus, we are not willing to expose ourselves to the sacrifices of our lives, to serve God’s call to be His disciple in today’s world; regardless of what Jesus’ call may be.  Worse still, for many of us, we may very quickly have (sub-consciously) made up our minds and not allow the truth of Jesus’ invitation and challenges of the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds and seep into our hearts. 

In other words, I believe it is not unreasonable to say that many of us here would not ponder further and seriously Jesus’ challenges of His Gospel today, as soon as this Mass ends.  We would conveniently get on with our lives as usual and thus, “shut” off the option of living more fully in accordance to Jesus’ ways because we tell ourselves that the unknown future is too fearful and filled with too many sacrifices, and we are not prepared to face them.  How true are all these for you and me as we stand before God in this Eucharistic celebration? 

My sisters and brothers in Christ, there is a story of a man passing by some elephants and noticed that each of the elephants had one of their legs tied down with a thin rope.  There we no other chains or no cages or walls to prevent the elephant from breaking free and escaping into the jungle.  He then went up the trainer and asked, “Sir, how is it that your elephant do not attempt to escape?  The rope is so thin and to break free would be so easy for the elephant.” 

The trainer replied, “when these elephants were very young we used the same thin rope to tie them down.  Every time they try to break free from the thin rope, they get beaten and punished.  But, every time they obey and sit still, they are rewarded with some food.  And so, as they grew older and stronger, they were conditioned to believe that there is no need to break free from the rope that is holding them down because it is easier to remain in their “comfortable zone” than to try to “Break free” and get beaten for it.  So, all these elephants grew up thinking and believing the same way as when they were when they were young elephants.” 

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this simple story, in many ways are also challenging the many pre-conceptions that we have on what we can do and what we cannot do for ourselves, for our loved ones and more importantly for God.  Before Jesus sent His apostles out on their mission, He probably knew that they were insecure and fearful individuals, who like all of us, wanted to hold on to their materialistic securities and the comfort zones of their lives. 

And, so Jesus challenged them to “break free” of the false securities of their lives and formed them into more mature disciples who were able to trust in God’s Providence to provide for their needs and protect them from dangers.  This is the same invitation and challenge that God is presenting to you and to me today, as we are gathered here to listen to His Gospel.  What would our response be like? 

Again, in all probability, while some of us may be open, others would hesitate and still others will very quickly not even want to consider Jesus’ invitation as an option before we even give ourselves and give God a chance . . . As in the illustration of the elephants, many of us have pre-conditioned ourselves into thinking that the securities of our lives are found in the material possessions we have and within the “comfort zones” of our familiar living.  As such, we are not to challenge ourselves to step outside our “comfort zones”. 

In reality, if we are to reflect more deeply on our lives, we will realise that only God and our love for Him, and His Love and Protection for us can give us the true and lasting securities of our lives.  To try to provide for our “own securities” is to fall into the “false securities” that the stories of the elephants have pointed out to us.  In other words, our only true securities in our lives on earth is really to build our lives and hopes in God. 

For some of us, our unfounded fears are that if we are to accept Jesus’ invitation to trust Him more fully in the way He wants us to live the Gospel challenges daily, we may stand to lose all our wealth, time, comforts and freedom to enjoy in our lives.  And as such, we conveniently convince ourselves that such selfless living is beyond us . . .

There is a story of a new clock that was ticking away on the shelf - two ticks to the second as any good, self-respecting clock should tick.  Then, the clock began to think about how many times it was going to have to tick. “Two ticks to the second means 120 ticks per minute,” and this also means I have to tick 7200 ticks per hour, 172,800 ticks per day, and 1,209,600 per week for 52 weeks, and a total of 62,899,200 per year.”  Upon realising this, he became depressed and was heading for a nervous breakdown. 

The clock was taken to a psychiatrist who asked, “Mr Clock, what’s your problem; how can I help you?” “Oh, doctor,” wailed the clock, “I have to work so hard; I have to tick two ticks a second and 120 ticks per minute and 7200 ticks per hour, and . . .” “Hold it,” the psychiatrist cut in, “How many ticks do you have to make at a time?” “Oh, I just have to tick one tick at a time,” was the reply. “Then let me make a suggestion,” replied the doctor. “You go home and try ticking one tick at a time and don’t even think about the next tick . . . and how many more ticks you have to make . . .”  With this the clock left the psychiatrist with peace . . .

My brothers and sisters in Christ, to conclude, I would like us to first acknowledge that you and I are all good people and in all probability, we each desire to live a more wholesome and Christ-like life.  This is because we all know that such a life will surely give us the meaningful and fulfilling and happy life that we all long to have. 

However, in all probability, we too all have our unfounded fears of what being committed to loving Jesus more fully may demand from us.  IF we fear that we will lose our “comforts and securities” of our lives, as the apostles did when they responded “yes” to Jesus, and was sent out on their mission, and that such demands would be beyond us, as we are not holy enough, then as in the story of the clock, let us reminds ourselves, that all we need to do is to take one step and one moment and one challenge at a time . . .

And, as Jesus assures His apostles, in so-far-as we entrust our lives in God’s Providence and Protection, we will have nothing to worry about . . . This is because what is “beyond us” is different from what we are not willing to let go and entrust our lives to Jesus.  Let us beg God for the wisdom to open our minds and hearts to receive the His graces and strength to live the true life of being His disciple in today’s world and then through our generous response, experience the more profound depth of the fulfilment and the joy that God wants you and I to experience . . . in our lives while on earth and then in its fullness for all eternity in heaven. . . for to give up such invitation would be foolishness, but to accept such an eternal blessings would be the wisdom of the Gospel of our Risen Christ.

Stories adapted from: https://wattpad.com and https://philipchircop.wordpress.com

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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