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Janet D'Souza

When God Speaks

I will never forget the first time I preached. It was a very short fifteen minute talk on love. I had been practicing it for weeks, waiting for the time when I’d be invited to share the word. Then one day, the leader of this multi-faith group asked me to talk at one of the meetings. After I had given the talk, I went to my little prayer room and asked Jesus what he thought of it. “Not bad,” he said, “but that was you talking. Next time let me do the talking.” It took me a few months to figure out how that worked, but once I got it, I discovered the secret to powerful preaching. It is also the secret to making a strong defense of the faith, as Jesus says today, so its important we know how this works.

Allowing God to do the talking doesn’t mean you just go up in front of people without any preparation and start talking, believing the Spirit is gonna talk for you. It consists of: One, being filled with the Holy Spirit. Two, being filled with the word of God. Consequently, when the occasion arises, the Holy Spirit within you will help you bring out the right and relevant words you need to say at the time. Often, he will give you insights even as you are talking, things you have never thought of before, and I just love it when this happens.

We have several instances where we see this happening in Scripture. On the day of Pentecost, when Peter went out with the eleven and gave his first sermon, he was filled with the Holy Spirit who had just been poured out upon all of them. Then he began quoting rather obscure passages of Scripture. However, these weren’t texts that he was unfamiliar with. He had undoubtedly read them or heard them, and when he was speaking, the Spirit brought them to mind, and backed the words up with his power. The result: 3,000 people accepted Christ that day.

On another occasion, we find Stephen doing something similar. His example illustrates what Jesus said in today’s passage. I paraphrase: “When dragged before people, don’t worry about what to say, for the words will be given to you at the time by the Holy Spirit who will speak for you.” Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church. He worked great signs and wonders, which earned him the jealousy of many people. They hauled him before the Sanhedrin on trumped-up charges. In his defense he delivered this awesome sermon.

Three thousand people didn’t accept Christ as a direct result of Stephen’s preaching. However, there was a man standing there, listening to him talk. You know who that was? That was Paul, and although Scripture doesn’t talk about the impact it had on Paul, I am convinced it primed him for the conversion that would take place a few days later. Paul went on to become the world’s greatest evangelist and I am sure that Stephen would be credited with much of what he had done. Amazing, ya?

So, this is how it works. Therefore, if you wanna know what to say when you are suddenly called to preach, or if you find yourself having to make a defense of your faith, make sure you know God and know his word. And then let God speak for you.

1) Opening prayer
Father,
through the obedience of Jesus,
Your servant and Your Son,
You raised a fallen world.
Free us from sin
and bring us the joy that lasts for ever.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 10:16-23
Jesus said to his Apostles: “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

3) Reflection
• To the community of His disciples, called and gathered together around Him and invested with His same authority as collaborators, Jesus entrusts them with directives in view of their future mission.

• Matthew 10:16-19: Danger and trust in God. Jesus introduces this part of His discourse with two metaphors: sheep in the midst of wolves; prudent as serpents, simple as doves. The first one serves to show the difficult and dangerous context to which the disciples are sent. On the one hand, the dangerous situation is made evident; on the other, the expression “I send you” expresses protection. Also regarding the astuteness of the serpent and the simplicity of the dove Jesus seems to put together two attitudes: trust in God, and prolonged and attentive reflection on the way in which we should relate with others.

Jesus, then, following this, gives an order that seems at first sight filled with mistrust: “Beware of men...”, but, in reality, it means to be attentive to possible persecutions, hostility, and denouncement. The expression “will deliver you” does not only refer to the accusation in the tribunal, but above all, it has a theological value: the disciples who are following Jesus can experience the same experience of the Master of “being delivered into the hands of men” (17:22). The disciples must be strong and resist in order “to give witness.” The fact of being delivered to the tribunal should become a witness for the Jews and for the pagans. It bears the possibility of being able to draw them to the person and the cause of Jesus and, therefore, to the knowledge of the Gospel. This positive implication is important as a result of witnessing, characterized by credible and fascinating faith.

• Matthew 10:20: the divine help. So that all this may take place in the mission-witness of the disciples it is essential to have the help that comes from God. That is to say, we should not trust our own security and resources, but the disciples, in critical, dangerous, and aggressive situations, found help and solidarity in God for their lives. The Spirit of the Father is also promised for their mission (v.20). He is the one who acts in them when they are committed to their mission of evangelization and of witnessing. The Spirit will speak through them.

• Matthew 10:21-22: Threat-consolation. Once again the announcement of threat is repeated in the expression “will be delivered”: Brother will betray brother, a father against his son, the sons against the parents. It is a question of a true and great disorder in social relationships, the breaking up of the family. Persons who are bound by the most intimate family relationships – such as parents, children, brothers and sisters – will fall in the misfortune of mutually hating and eliminating one another. In what sense does such a division of the family have to do with witness on behalf of Jesus? Such breaking up of the family relationships could be caused by the diverse attitudes that are taken within the family, regarding Jesus. The expression “you will be hated” seems to indicate the theme of the hostile rejection on the part of the contemporaries and of those He sent. This phrasing can also apply to the larger community, using the sense of the word “brother” as we have done earlier. The community of Israel will find one against another as those following the Good News will be persecuted and rejected by those remaining in the old law. The strong sense of Jesus’ words find a comparison in another part of the New Testament: “Blessed are you if you are insulted for the sake of Christ’s name, because the Spirit of glory, the Spirit of God, rests upon you. No one of you should suffer as a murderer or thief or evil doer or as a spy. But if one suffers as a Christian, do not blush, because of this name, rather give glory to God.” The promise of consolation follows the threat (v.3). The greatest consolation for the disciples will be that of “being saved,” of being able to live the experience of the Savior, that is to say, to participate in His victories.

4) Personal questions
• What do these pronouncements of Jesus teach us today for understanding the mission of the Christian?
• Do you know how to trust in divine help when you experience conflicts, persecutions and trials?
• In what ways have you been persecuted? Was it for standing with Jesus or was I in the wrong? Did I find strength at any of these times, or did I fold?
• Has the Spirit spoken through you to others?

For further study
In all the day-to-day interactions with others, in business, the market, in school, and in community and family, it is often difficult to discern whether persecutions that day were for His name or our own views and wants, and whether the Spirit did the talking or our own pride did. St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, wrote the Spiritual Exercises to help one discern the action of the Spirit in one’s Life. The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar points out that the Exercises direct one to choosing God’s choice in life, a self-abandonment to God, which is ultimately what today’s Gospel says to do. There are many books on St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, besides his original work, which explain what and how. Take time to read one or more and perhaps practice them.

5) Concluding Prayer
Give me back the joy of Your salvation,
sustain in me a generous spirit.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will speak out Your praise. (Ps 51:12,15)

Reading 1      IS 6:1-8

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings:
with two they veiled their faces,
with two they veiled their feet,
and with two they hovered aloft.

They cried one to the other,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!
All the earth is filled with his glory!”
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.

Then I said, “Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember that he had taken with tongs from the altar.

He touched my mouth with it and said,
“See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
“Here I am,” I said; “send me!”

Responsorial Psalm       93:1AB, 1CD-2, 5

R. (1a) The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

The LORD is king, in splendor robed;
robed is the LORD and girt about with strength.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

And he has made the world firm,
not to be moved.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting you are, O LORD.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

Your decrees are worthy of trust indeed:
holiness befits your house,
O LORD, for length of days.
R. The Lord is king; he is robed in majesty.

Alleluia       1 PT 4:14

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you,
for the Spirit of God rests upon you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel        MT 10:24-33

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“No disciple is above his teacher,
no slave above his master.
It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher,
for the slave that he become like his master.
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,
how much more those of his household!

“Therefore do not be afraid of them.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul;
rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy
both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin?
Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.
Even all the hairs of your head are counted.
So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.”

1) Opening prayer
Father,
through the obedience of Jesus,
Your servant and Your Son,
You raised a fallen world.
Free us from sin
and bring us the joy that lasts for ever.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 10:7-15
Jesus said to his Apostles: “As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words, go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.”

3) Reflection
• The Gospel today presents the second part of the sending out of the disciples. Yesterday we saw that Jesus insists on directing them first toward the lost sheep of Israel. Today, we see concrete instructions to carry out the mission.

• Matthew 10:7: The objective of the mission: to reveal the presence of the Kingdom. “Go and announce the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.” The principal objective is that of announcing that the Kingdom is close at hand. This is the novelty which Christ brings to us. For the other Jews there was still a long time before the coming of the Kingdom. It would have come only after they had done their own part. The coming of the Kingdom depended, according to them, on their effort. For the Pharisees, for example, the Kingdom would be attained only after the perfect observance of the Law. For the Essenes, when the country would have purified itself. But Jesus thinks in a different way. He has a different way of reading the facts of life. He says that the hour has already arrived (Mk 1:15). When He says that the Kingdom is close at hand or that the Kingdom is already among us, in our midst, He does not mean to say that the Kingdom is just arriving at that moment, but that it is already there, independently of the effort made by the people. What they all expected was already present among the people, gratuitously, but the people did not know it, nor perceive it (cf. Lk 17:21). Jesus is aware of this, because He sees reality with different eyes. He reveals and announces to the poor of His land this hidden presence of the Kingdom in our midst (Lk 4:18). It is the mustard seed which will receive the rain of His word and the warmth of His love.

• Matthew 10:8: The signs of the presence of the Kingdom: accept the excluded. How should the presence of the Kingdom be announced? Only through words and discourses? No! The signs of the presence of the Kingdom are above all concrete gestures or acts, done gratuitously: “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out the devils. You received without charge; give without charge.” This means that the disciples should accept within the community those who have been excluded. This practice of solidarity both criticizes religion and society which exclude and proposes concrete solutions.

• Matthew 10:9-10: Do not take anything for the journey. Unlike other missionaries, the disciples of Jesus should not take anything: “Provide yourselves with no gold or silver, not even with coppers for your purses, with no haversack for the journey or a spare tunic or footwear or a staff, for the laborer deserves his keep.” This means that they have to trust in the hospitality of the people. The disciples who go without anything, taking only peace (Mk 10:13), show that they trust the people. It shows a trust in grace from God to act in people and to provide for them. It is certain that they will be welcomed, that they will be able to participate in the life and the work of the people of the place and that they will be able to survive with what they will receive in exchange, because the laborer deserves his keep. This means that the disciples should trust in sharing. It is also another way of respecting the poor, by not taking from them, and of contrasting the Good News with the laws of the time that demanded payment and tax for so many things. The social structure of the day was built on taking. Jesus builds a structure and community built on giving freely. By means of this practice they criticize the laws of exclusion and recover the ancient values of community life.

• Matthew 10:11-13: To share peace in the community. The disciples should not go from house to house, but should seek people of peace and remain in that house. That is, they should practice stability. Thus, through that new practice, they criticize the culture of accumulation which characterized the politics of the Roman Empire, and they announced a new model of living together. Once all these requirements were respected, the disciples could cry out: The Kingdom of God has arrived! To announce the Kingdom does not mean, in the first place, to teach truths and doctrine, but lead toward a new fraternal manner of living and of sharing starting from the Good News which Jesus has brought to us: God and Father and Mother of all men and women.

• Matthew 10:14-15: The severity of the menace. How is such a severe menace to be understood? Jesus has brought us something completely new. He has come to rescue the community values of the past: hospitality, sharing, communion around the table, acceptance of the excluded. That explains the severity toward those who reject the message, because they do not reject something new, but their own past, their own culture and wisdom! The objective of the pedagogy of Jesus is to dig out from the memory, to recover the wisdom of the people, to reconstruct the community, to renew the Covenant, to rebuild life.

4) Personal questions
• Today, how can we put into practice the recommendation not to take anything for the journey when going to a mission?
• Jesus orders His disciples to look for people of peace, so as to be able to remain in their house. Today, who would be a person of peace to whom to address oneself in the announcement of the Good News?
• Why would stability, as in not going from house to house while staying in a town, be important?

For further study
Most, if not all, monastic traditions include a vow of stability – to stay in one place. Take some time to read the ancient rules which guide our various communities, such as the Rule of St Benedict, St Albert, St Bruno, and so on. The authors of these rules often explain why a particular rule is made, and from where in the Gospel it is inspired. This can give insight into these instructions of Jesus and a historical perspective on the development of Christianity through the Middle Ages.

5) Concluding Prayer
God Sabaoth, come back, we pray,
look down from heaven and see,
visit this vine;
protect what Your own hand has planted. (Ps 80:14-15)

Reading 1 HOS 14:2-10

Thus says the LORD:
Return, O Israel, to the LORD, your God;
you have collapsed through your guilt.
Take with you words,
and return to the LORD;
Say to him, “Forgive all iniquity,
and receive what is good, that we may render
as offerings the bullocks from our stalls.
Assyria will not save us,
nor shall we have horses to mount;
We shall say no more, ‘Our god,’
to the work of our hands;
for in you the orphan finds compassion.”
I will heal their defection, says the LORD,
I will love them freely;
for my wrath is turned away from them.
I will be like the dew for Israel:
he shall blossom like the lily;
He shall strike root like the Lebanon cedar,
and put forth his shoots.
His splendor shall be like the olive tree
and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.
Again they shall dwell in his shade
and raise grain;
They shall blossom like the vine,
and his fame shall be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more has he to do with idols?
I have humbled him, but I will prosper him.
“I am like a verdant cypress tree”—
because of me you bear fruit!

Let him who is wise understand these things;
let him who is prudent know them.
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
in them the just walk,
but sinners stumble in them.

Responsorial Psalm    51:3-4, 8-9, 12-13, 14 AND 17

R. (17b) My mouth will declare your praise.

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
R. My mouth will declare your praise.

Behold, you are pleased with sincerity of heart,
and in my inmost being you teach me wisdom.
Cleanse me of sin with hyssop, that I may be purified;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
R. My mouth will declare your praise.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. My mouth will declare your praise.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
R. My mouth will declare your praise.

Alleluia         JN 16:13A; 14:26D

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
When the Spirit of truth comes,
he will guide you to all truth
and remind you of all I told you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel           MT 10:16-23

Jesus said to his Apostles:
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves;
so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.
But beware of men,
for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.
When they persecute you in one town, flee to another.
Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel
before the Son of Man comes.”

Look Ma, No Hands!

 
Today’s passage is a continuation of yesterday’s, with Jesus giving more instructions to his apostles as he sends them out on mission. It is interesting to note that while Jesus, on one hand, empowers his disciples to heal the sick and drive out demons, on the other hand he calls them to total detachment, depending solely on the provision of God for their needs. It is an amazing way of living, which I call “walking in the supernatural”. What does it mean to walk in the supernatural?
 
 
Have you ever been to a circus? People of my generation would surely have been to one, but I am not sure if many kids have. We don’t have too many circuses coming to town these days, and those that do, don’t have a lot of the acts we used to see. Most of the animal acts, for instance, have been dropped, and while this is understandable — the animals were treated very badly — it has changed the flavor completely. However, one act remains and that is the flying trapeze. Performers jump from a very high platform using a trapeze — a bar hung by ropes — and then let go of the bar to be caught by another performer.
 
 
The flyer can do nothing. He can only trust that the other guy — the catcher — will catch him. If the flyer tries to catch the catcher, it could result in serious injury. But if the flyer simply extends his arms and waits to be caught, then his partner will catch him and bring him to safety, ready for the next jump. Walking in the supernatural is like that. It is a letting go of what we are holding on to, and flying in the UNCERTAINTY of the air, but with the CERTAINTY that there are a pair of strong and loving hands waiting to catch you. The catcher here is God.
 
 
This is what Jesus was asking the apostles to do. To let go of everything that they believed kept them secure and depend on him. This is what WE are being asked to do too. Too many of us who say we believe in Christ put our faith in the things of this world: our jobs, our wealth, our possessions. Following Christ is putting our faith in HIM and we can truly demonstrate this only when we let go of the rest. Isn’t it scary? Perhaps in the beginning, when you are starting to let go, but eventually you develop confidence, not in yourself as much as the one you are putting your confidence in, and then it stops being scary.
 
 
Think of the trapeze artist. He doesn’t just go up on a platform one day and jump. He has to practice. At the start, just climbing up to the platform on a narrow 24 foot rope ladder is scary. But after months of practice, attached to safety harnesses that allow him to swing and jump without fear of falling, he takes off the harness one day, confident enough to fly and know his partner has his back. It’s the same with God. It IS going to be scary in the beginning, but when you keep letting go, you eventually come to realize God is not going to let you fall, and then the fear goes away and you are left only with this amazing sense of exhilaration. There is nothing in the world like it. 
 
And, then, like the kid who lets go of the handlebars of his bike, you can say: Look ma, no hands!
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