Empowered… To Be Vulnerable
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
July 8, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) on July 7, 2019 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20. 

Luke is called “the gospel of the Holy Spirit,” and the Spirit is definitely present in today’s gospel passage. We celebrate how Jesus commissioned disciples to be his “advance team” to the villages he planned to visit. Some translations say that Jesus commissioned seventy disciples; others say seventy-two. I think it was seventy, because of an event that happened in a book of the Bible called, appropriately enough, Numbers:

The LORD said to Moses, “Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel… and bring them to the tent of meeting. When they are in place beside you, I will come down and speak with you there. I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself.” (Numbers 11:16-17)

Each of us who have been baptized have received a share of Jesus’ Spirit. How graced we are! Let us give thanks for this gift of mercy!

Samaritans and Jews hated each other fiercely. In last week’s gospel passage, Jesus was rejected by Samaritans. What would happen to the Jewish disciples whom Jesus was sending into other Samaritan towns? The people first hearing Luke’s gospel would have been even more alarmed. In the year 52 AD, a group of Jewish pilgrims traveling through Samaria were ruthlessly murdered.  

Did these seventy disciples have special gifts or skills? No. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that approximately one hundred twenty people arrived with Jesus in Jerusalem, and some of these companions may have joined him farther south on the journey. Therefore, it seems that the main qualification to be sent by Jesus was simply to have been present at the time.

It must have been scary for the disciples to be sent to these potentially hostile towns. Would they be attacked? Would people listen to them? If the Samaritans listened, what were these missionaries supposed to say to them? Would the disciples really have the ability to cure the sick and drive out demons?

It’s hard to remember this, but all of us here know a lot more about Christian discipleship than the seventy people who were commissioned by Jesus. The seventy had only recently met Jesus, they had no exposure to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (because it hadn’t been written yet), and they didn’t know how the story would end. Unlike the seventy, we know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. We’ve all heard the gospel. We know that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and he will serve as judge on the last day.  

Nevertheless, I doubt many of us would feel confident enough to go down to Sixth Street tonight and proclaim the gospel, let alone to proclaim the gospel in a village somewhere in the world where most people were unfamiliar with or hostile to Christianity. And yet we’re called to have sufficient faith to do that.

How do we get to such a point in our faith? Well, our Scriptures have some ideas… but those ideas might be the opposite of what we’d expect. Paul says that from now on, no one will make troubles for him… because he bears the marks of Christ crucified. Through the words of Isaiah, God calls us to remain… as children, nurtured on the lap of Jerusalem. And Jesus himself tells the disciples that he is sending them… like lambs among wolves.

In learning to proclaim the faith, it’s similar to how we grow in any other sphere of our lives, be it in gaining intellectual knowledge, in acquiring work experience, and or in negotiating interpersonal relationships. In all of these areas, we need to stretch outside of our comfort zones, not allowing the anxiety we naturally feel to overwhelm us. If we wait until we feel completely comfortable and confident, we’ll never try to accomplish what God invites us to do!

  • We must be humble enough to acknowledge that we can’t do it alone… which paradoxically gives us the confidence that the Holy Spirit will provide whatever we need. 
  • We must not obsess about our own safety… or we’ll never find the energy and resources to care for others.

In another word, it’s about vulnerability. We won’t learn anything new in school unless we admit that we don’t have the answers. We won’t gain new skills in the workplace unless we ask others to help us. We won’t deepen our relationships with others unless we share our hopes and fears. We won’t grow in faith unless we occasionally take risks that require us to trust God.

The challenge about being vulnerable, is that it’s a lifelong challenge. Let me be clear: there are lots of situations when it’s inappropriate to share our ignorances, our deficiencies, and our anxieties. However, it’s all too common to use that excuse so that we never seek the people and places where we can articulate our personal weaknesses. In the past week, I’ve encountered two great resources showing us how to be vulnerable in new and enriching ways:

  • The actor Justin Baldoni has begun a project called Man Enough, in which male celebrities and experts get together and talk about serious issues outside of their comfort zones. This series is remarkable in modeling how to take risks within a circle of trust. I can’t recommend the Man Enough series highly enough, especially to men who don’t know how to talk about anything except the weather, politics, and sports scores. Grab a few buddies and watch the show together!
  • Secondly, I just finished reading Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande. Our fear of vulnerability is robbing many of us from living our last days on earth as we would want to. I recommend this book to professionals who struggle to admit that medicine has limits, and to family members who struggle to accept that our loved ones’ days on this earth are limited.   

When it comes examples of human vulnerability in the Bible, we need to look no further than the contradictions St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Here are paraphrases of a few of his contradictions:

  • We are filled with joy… because of our afflictions. (2 Corinthians 7:4)
  • The foolishness of God is wiser than our wisdom. (1 Corinthians 1:25)
  • When we are weak, then we are strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

The Holy Spirit has given all of us the afflictions, the foolishness, and the weaknesses we need to proclaim the gospel far and wide. Remember, the disciples returned from their missions rejoicing, amazed to find that the Spirit had given them the ability to bring peace, proclaim the gospel, cure the sick, and drive out demons. Jesus invites us to go out into the world as vulnerable as lambs among wolves. Why do so many of us insist on strapping on bullet-proof armor instead?