“Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.”
Gayle and I were out for Chinese buffet one evening when one of the employees had what was later determined to be an aortic aneurism, and collapsed on the floor right behind me. Both of us had had CPR training, but in that moment of crisis neither of us could think clearly and neither of us had his cell phone on him. People were ignoring the young girl on the floor when someone suggested to me that maybe we should call 911. At that point, I regained my senses and called out for someone to call 911. The medical emergency was real. The situation was dire for the young girl. (She did survive, by the way.)
This evening’s Gospel reading has Jesus urgently calling for people who would minister. He said: “The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few. Pray for more laborers.” Why? Because the world we inhabit is hurting. People all around us have serious conditions and need healing RIGHT NOW.
And looking around, he points at his disciples and says: “You go and be healers! Go deliver people from mental diseases, physical, and all kinds of bodily ailments, including , but not limited to cancer, AIDS, and heart conditions. Heal them all—you have all the authority you need to do it.”
I imagine the disciples turned around to see who on earth he was talking to, until they realized he was talking to them.
“What do you mean, Jesus, we can’t heal people, we’re not Messiahs, we don’t even have a nursing degree or even CPR training. What do you mean: go and heal people? And what do you mean we have the authority? No we don’t. We don’t know what to do.”
In God’s Reign, those who have authority and those who don’t are quite often a different group of people from those we imagine. In our minds, there is always some kind of authority structure, reaching from the top down to the bottom. And we even apply this ladder principle to the spiritual leaders in our congregation. I found this online illustration called “the ladder of authority in the local church.”
The Priest: Leaps tall buildings in a single bound, is more powerful than a locomotive, faster than a speeding bullet, walks on water, gives policy to God.
Director of Religious Education: Leaps short buildings in a single bound, is more powerful than a shunting engine, just as fast as a speeding bullet, walks on water if the sea is calm, talks with God.
Lay Leader: Leaps short buildings with a running start and favorable winds, is almost as powerful as a shunting engine, is just a little slower than a speeding bullet, walks on water in an indoor swimming pool, talks with God if special request is approved.
Organist: Barely clears a prefabricated hut, loses tug of war with a locomotive, can fire a speeding bullet, swims well, is occasionally addressed by God
Member of the Parish Council: Makes marks on the wall when trying to clear tall buildings, says “Look at the choo-choo,” thinks he might have heard gunfire once in his neighborhood, can stay afloat with a life jacket, mumbles to himself.
Secretary: Lifts buildings and walks under them, kicks locomotives off the tracks, catches speeding bullets in her teeth and eats them, freezes water with a glance . . . For all practical purposes, she IS God.
What this humorous piece and Jesus’s message have in common is the fact that when it comes to spiritual authority, we cannot view it in terms of a corporate ladder. It is given to all of us because we are all recipients of God’s grace. We are new creations in Christ, and we share in the same Holy Spirit. Martin Luther made the phrase: “priesthood of all believers” prominent, and 450 years later, the Roman Church accepted that idea and enshrined it in the Second Vatican Council, referring to all of us as the People of God.
Each of us has what it takes to be a healer in our community, our neighborhood, and in our homes. “Freely we have received” and now we are called to “freely give.”
Jesus says it like this in our lesson: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”
If you’ve not been sleeping thoughout the readings at Mass, you might ask:” Well, don’t Corinthians and Ephesians among others suggest that there are different gifts for different believers?” The answer is: yes. Within the body of Christ, there are different gifts and graces and these relate to our own strengths and personalities. We will always prefer some functions over others, however ALL are called to be preachers and missionaries, all of us possess special gifts of discernment, evangelization, counseling . . . . all of us complement each other.
But when we are away from church, in our everyday life, Jesus says to us: “Go and be healers–all of you! The Spirit of God is empowering you.”
A neighbor or friend might share her story with you, how she’s at the end of her rope, not wanting to live another day. And you may sit down with your neighbor and the Holy Spirit will guide your thoughts, and you will hear amazing things come out of your mouth–words of life, of hope, of encouragement. And as you listen and give her the gift of your time, tears may run down her cheek and next she is thanking you just for being there. And you’ll know, it wasn’t just you talking, it was the divine spark within you that connected with the divine in her.
Jesus says to his disciples and to us: “You don’t need a degree, you don’t need a special gift, you don’t need to wait until you feel like you’re worthy or until you you think you have worked out all of your own issues. I am reminding you of your license to heal. Go to my lost sheep and bring them the healing they cry out for. Give freely as you have received freely. And I will be with you every step on the way. Trust me . . . just go.”
When we feel deficient or lacking in some way, we are repudiating the power of the Christ within of us. When we shrink from the task of helping someone on his or her journey to wholeness, we are greedily holding onto the many healings we ourselves have received. But when we open ourselves up to the majesty and awe that fills our spirit to the brim, we find ourselves standing hand in hand with all of those who have, for 2,000 plus years, followed the challenge of Jesus to bring God’s Reign into reality. The world, our world, is hurting. Our families are divided. Our neighborhoods are rife with violence and despair and depression. The harvest is great and the laborers are incredibly few. Let us begin the task of healing our world, one heart, one soul at a time.