I was really fascinated by the giant python snake that laid coiled up in a zoo cage in the beautiful Philippines island of Bohol. I was more shocked when the zoo keeper showed me many pictures of past visitors to the zoo who had entered the same python’s cage with him and had taken pictures with part of the python draped over their necks. He invited me to do the same thing, trying to convince me that I had nothing to fear because the snake had been raised to eat only chickens. I vehemently refused to do such a thing, even if it was true that the monster snake had been raised to be vegetarian!
What a silly risk! Wrapping a python over our necks so we can take a picture and maybe upload it on our Facebook pages and get a couple of “likes” for that. We sure do not have qualms when it comes to taking risks for the sake of excitement, thrill, pleasure, reputation, popularity, novelty, material gain, etc.
But why is it that we become overly cautious and reluctant when it comes to taking a risk for Jesus, to follow Him in mission and to make others know and love Him more? We begin to ask, “Will I be successful?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Will I be happy?” “What will it cost me?” “Will people accept and appreciate me?” Our bravery in taking risks in life seems to disappear when it comes to following Jesus more closely and being on mission for Him.
Jesus describes the life of discipleship as one of constant risk taking and confronting dangers, “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” To be on mission for Jesus is to be in constant risks from both men and demons. Jesus assured us of this Himself, “You will be hated by all on account of my name…when they persecute you in one town, flee to another town.” (Mt 10:22,23) We face the ever present possibility of being rejected, “Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets.”
We will also be tempted and tormented by demons when we choose to be on mission for Jesus. Declaring to be on mission for Jesus, we will surely experience the wrath of “the full force of the enemy,” because Jesus has appeared to “destroy the works of the devil.”(1Jn 3:8)
The truth is that, despite the many risks involved in being on mission for Christ, we can never know Jesus intimately, experience the power of His grace, or know the deep joy of belonging to God as His children if we are reluctant to risk anything for the sake of being on mission for Jesus. The experience of the seventy-two disciples in Luke’s Gospel show us this.
They embraced the risky mission offered by Christ, freely becoming “lambs among wolves” for the sake of making Jesus known and loved more. After the mission, we are told that “the seventy-two returned rejoicing.” Through this mission, they also gained deeper knowledge of Jesus and an experience of the power of divine grace, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Their joy became more interior, their knowledge of Jesus became more lively and intimate, and divine grace became more real for them.
Jesus points us to three proven ways in which we can begin to be on mission for Him despite the risks and dangers involved in this mission. The first way of being in mission is through apostolic prayer i.e. a prayer that begs for what brings greatest glory to God – the salvation of souls. The disciples are asked to go beyond merely praying for their personal needs but to pray God-centered prayers, “Ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” Such a prayer allows the grace of God to move us into mission with courage.
Secondly, we embrace the risky mission when we are ready to trust in God alone for all things, “Carry no money bag, no sack, and no sandals.” Such radical trust in God alone gives God a chance to act in our lives. We cannot be on mission for Jesus if any part of our trust is in something other than God.
Thirdly, we have the courage to be on mission for Jesus no matter the risks when we are people of good will. This good will means that we seek in all things the greater glory of God and the eternal good of others in all conditions. We choose never to wish others evil but that they come to share the same peace that we have found in Christ. Whether they are disposed to accept us and our message or not, our message and wish for them remains the same: “Peace to this household.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we may have grown despondent about the evils and chaos in our world today. It even seems that human hearts have become impervious to divine grace. But Jesus assures us that many souls today are indeed ready and properly disposed for conversion, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” The laborers are those who are willing to labor with Christ and for Him and take risks for the salvation of souls purchased by the blood of Jesus. The true laborers are few because we are so busy trying to remain in our comfort zones and avoid all risks when it comes to being on mission for Jesus.
Let us listen to St. Paul’s account of the risks of his mission to the Gentiles:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been ship-wrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journey, in dangers from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:24-27)
He ends his letter to the Galatians with these words, “For now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” By embracing this risky mission to the very end of his life, he has come to know the risen Christ, experienced the power of His grace, and he does not find his joy in anything earthly, not even in circumcision or in the observation of Jewish laws. His only source of contentment is the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” because by this cross, he now experiences the joy of belonging to Christ even as he risks being wounded for Christ in his apostolic ventures.
How can we read about such contentment and joy from a life of risks for Christ and still be reluctant to take risks for Christ? We do not embrace a life of selfless service because we are afraid of being criticized and mocked by others if we fail or make mistakes. We condone grave evils in our families and parishes because we want to maintain our relationships and public acceptance at any cost. We see the evil of homosexual unions being accepted by many and we keep quiet because we are afraid of being called homophobic. We have a shortage of priests and religious today because we are reluctant to risk our careers and comforts for the sake of bringing the hope and truth of Christ to others. But as long as we are reluctant to take a risk and be on mission for Jesus, our idea of Jesus will be infantile, our experience of His grace will be insufficient, and our inner joy will be lacking and erratic.
Jesus comes to us in today’s Eucharist with His grace to bear witness in a world that is growing more dangerous every day. He took a risk for us by becoming man and dying on the cross so that we can know God as our loving Father and know the incomparable joy of being God’s children called to full communion with Him, “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
We are so comfortable and used to taking risks in this life, even silly risks for trivial gains. Let the grace of this Eucharist move us to risk all things for the sake of Christ and His mission to all the world. This is the only way we can know Him and let His joy abide in us even in this world of constant risks.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!