11th July, 2021

Statue without arms on a pedestal

My friend, from now on I want YOU to become my hands

Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mk 6: 7-13

As I pondered this Gospel a few days ago, I remembered a story of what happened in one small town during the Korean war. Well, during many bombings, this little and inconspicuous town suffered very badly, because at some stage of this terrible war it became the target of extremely aggressive attacks by enemy forces. Not only people suffered from this dramatic attack, but also many beautiful buildings were destroyed and ruined and literally within a few hours this pretty town turned into rubble. When the hostilities ended, people immediately began to rebuild their homes, schools, but also the local priest asked his parishioners to help him rebuild the ruined parish church. First however, he asked the American soldiers to help him with something which was very heavy, he asked them to put the statue of Jesus back on the column, which had fallen from the pedestal during the shooting, destroying both of the outstretched hands of Jesus. The soldiers immediately and without hesitation offered their help to the elderly priest in what he asked them to do, but also offered their help in rebuilding the damaged hands of the statue to restore it to its original appearance. To everyone’s surprise the priest was not interested in restoring the statue, but he asked the soldiers to leave it as it was slightly damaged, without hands. However, on the pedestal, he decided to put something else, a large inscription which said: My friend, from now on I want YOU to become my hands!

Perhaps some of you would like to ask me why I started my Sunday reflection by telling this story that happened many years ago and very far away in Korea? Does it have anything to do with the Word of God that we meditate on today? Or maybe this story has something to do with our daily life? I think the answers to both of these questions are: YES! but let’s start with the Gospel first. Today’s Gospel tells us that after Jesus ascended into heaven, the Apostles – in a sense – became his hands, because from that particular moment of sending them to different places, they were doing exactly what Jesus used to do in His earthly life. They preached, they healed the sick and cast out unclean spirits. I think we can easily imagine Jesus telling them something very similar to what we heard in this story at the beginning of my homily: My friends, from now on I want YOU to become my hands. In addition to giving His Disciples authority over unclean spirits, which could have been very encouraging for them, as each of us would like to have authority over evil – but as we heard – Jesus told them something more that might have been a bit discouraging. I think each of us – after listening more or less carefully to the Gospel – wondered why Jesus gave his disciples such bizarre – I would say – and quite strict requirements.

Take nothing for the journey – He said – no bread, no spare tunic…

Maybe I am wrong, but I think that if today, such or even similar requirements were given to candidates for the priesthood or for bishops, we wouldn’t have any priests and bishops at all. Also, I don’t think I would be brave enough myself to become a priest as it would certainly be too big a sacrifice for me. But what Jesus wants to tell us today, and what he wants to encourage us to do is first of all trust in Him, trust and deep faith that He always provides us with everything we need to be happy, and to be effective and credible missionaries for all those who yearn and who want to receive the message of the Gospel. Of course, this is the message that we need to proclaim not only here in the church, not only from the lectern, using even the most beautiful words, but mainly through the testimony of our daily lives. All of us, not only as bishops and priests, but also as spouses, parents, students, teachers, we are all entrusted with a very specific task. Obviously, living in the modern world, in the 21st century, we need a lot of material things: we need food and not only bread – I guess – we need cars, computers, money, mobile phones, access to the Internet and social media because all these things help us be more effective in our mission; all these things help us to evangelize better and reach out especially to young people who are the future of the Church! But today Jesus wants to remind us that – as His disciples – we do not have to worry too much; we do not have to plan everything and fear for our future. I am convinced that Jesus wants to tell us that it is always worth leaving some room in our lives for God, allowing him to act and work in us.

Let us ask God today for true freedom – especially from our excessive concerns for material things, for food, for money, for our bank accounts and so on, because only then – only free from all these excessive worries and concerns – will we be able to become the hands of Jesus, and – like the Apostles – we will be able to carry out His mission to build the Kingdom of God, right here and now.
Fr Gregory