Be Clever, Be Astute
Since before Christmas, most of our Sunday scriptures have taken us through the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. It started with the lineage of Jesus, traced not through the expected first-born sons, but through a hodge-podge of misfits of every kind. It has shown us that the birth of Jesus took place under some very unusual circumstances. We’ve seen, in fact, that Jesus’ life began in exile and continued out in the wilderness of the desert, where Jesus responded to the message of John the Baptist and received the assurance of God through a voice that pronounced him “beloved.”
In today’s Gospel the power of Jesus’ call is immediately evident – Peter, Andrew, James and John dropped everything to follow Jesus immediately. Jesus doesn’t have to pitch the idea nor persuade these individuals. Each has little reason to leave their current way of life. Each seemingly has a steady job. Most importantly they have familial ties to their vocations as family men and fishermen. Now, in this new lifestyle Jesus is offering them their security would come from life in a mutually supporting community, where the needs of each one is considered before one’s own. Jesus moved quickly and determinedly from one place to another … planting dreams, raising expectations, and opening doors of possibility.
The former Speaker of the House “Tip” O’Neill related a valuable lesson he’d learned early in his career. During his first political campaign, one of O’Neill’s neighbors told him: I am going to vote for you tomorrow, even though you didn’t ask me to! O’Neill was surprised and said: Why, Mrs. O’Brien, I have lived across from you for eighteen years, I cut your grass in the summer, I shoveled your walk in the winter; I didn’t think I had to ask for your vote! Mrs. O’Brien replied: Oh, Tommy boy, let me tell you something … people like to be asked!
A vital faith community will always be asking … inviting followers just as Jesus did. It is never enough to simply welcome people when they happen to visit. We must also invite them to join us in worship and ministry and witnessing our way of life. My mother spoke with great admiration for the Benedictine Sisters in Wilmington Delaware who had been her teachers in elementary school. When I asked her why she didn’t become a Sister. Her reply? “None of them asked me – so I figured I wasn’t worthy.” (Of course, I would not be here telling you this story if she’d been asked and said YES.)
We are now midway in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It is also WORD of GOD Sunday and National Sanctity of Human Life Day. This is annual observance when the church leads us in prayer for the sanctity of all life: to honor, respect and love all God’s people without reservation. Pope Francis reminds us:
“We don’t have the luxury to be fools because we have a very beautiful message of life and we’re not permitted to be fools. For that reason, Jesus says, ‘Be astute, be careful.’ What is the astuteness of the Christian? In knowing how to discern who is a wolf and who is a sheep.”
And when … a wolf disguises itself as a sheep, (the Christian) knows how they smell. “Look, you have the skin of a sheep but the smell of a wolf.” And this, this mandate that Jesus gives us is very important. It’s for something very great. Jesus says “Look, I come to bring life and for that life to be in abundance, and I am sending you so that you can advance that life, and so that it will be abundant.’
How beautiful is caring for life, allowing life to grow, to give life like Jesus, and to give it abundantly, not to permit that even one of these smallest ones be lost. That is what Jesus asked of the Father: “that none of those whom You have given me be lost, that all of the life that You gave me to care for, might be cared for, that it might not be lost.” And we care for life because He cares for our life.
Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing. Father, is that why there are so many wolves who want to eat us? Is that why, tell me? Who did Jesus kill? No one. He did good things. And how did he end up? If we go down the road of life, ugly things can happen to us, but it doesn’t matter. It’s worth it. He first opened the way.”
Pope Francis continues: “So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Don’t be fools, remember, a Christian doesn’t have the luxury of being foolish, I’m going to repeat this: An idiot, a fool – you can’t give yourself that luxury. You have to be clever, be astute! Care for life. It’s worth it! “
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB