Fifth Sunday in Ordinary time


Isaiah 58:7-10
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Matthew 5:13-16


I’m sure that many of you, like me, have been following the online series about Jesus called “The Chosen.” I have been so impressed by the series that I bought the first two seasons on DVD as a resource, and I was delighted to see recently that the episodes of season 3 are now available to be watched online.

About 4 weeks ago, I watched episode 2 of season 3, which was about Jesus sending out his 12 Apostles on a mission in 2’s. I found it particularly powerful because the writers of the show don’t simply have the actors perform the Gospel story in a fundamentalistic, literal way but imagine each scene and what it would have been like for the real people involved.

In this episode, the writers imagined what it might have been like for the apostles to be sent out on a mission for the first time, and the way they were portrayed as responding to this was that they were stunned and shocked.

They had joined up with Jesus because they believed him to be the Messiah, and seeing his miracles, they clearly thought that they were on a winner because Jesus would do it all. But suddenly, they realised that they would have to take responsibility for the mission as well, and this transformed them from a group of confident and joyful disciples to people full of fear and self-doubt. In the episode they ask Jesus again and again, “so we are going to heal the sick and cast out demons?”

Jesus reassures them that he will give them his power to do so, and at the moment it will be a one off, but that eventually it would be a more permanent state. The 12 then gather to talk about it and Peter says, ‘Well, I guess this is what we signed up for.’

The scene was well designed because it is a scene that repeats itself with each of us whenever we hear the Church talking to us about how we are called to be involved with the work of evangelization.

We believe the Holy Spirit has been given to the Church, and that is passed on to each new generation of followers of Jesus. I think a lot of us hear this but think it doesn’t apply to me – that’s the job of the priests and the brothers and the nuns. When we are told that it applies to us as well, like the disciples in the episode of ‘The Chosen’ we are suddenly transformed into people who are full of fear and self-doubt.

What helped Jesus’ disciples to take up their responsibility for the mission was that, as we hear in today’s Gospel, even if they didn’t believe in themselves, they saw that Jesus believed in them, and in their love for him, they didn’t want to let him down.

About 20 years ago, I was in Toowoomba conducting a year 12 retreat, and I explained to the students that I was going to lead them in a guided meditation. I explained that in a moment I would get them to lie on the ground on their backs. I then would lead them through a relaxation exercise and then I would take them on a journey using their imagination.

I explained that I would get them to imagine that they were standing on a beach, and that they would go for a walk along that beach. Eventually I would get them to see that there was someone ahead walking towards them on that beach, and that someone would turn out to be God. I told them that when I got them close enough, I would give them the chance to ask God whatever they wanted to ask. I wouldn’t give them an answer, but rather I would let the God they encountered give them whatever answer God would give, and then I would bring them back.

As they were settling into position, one of the students, a girl by the name of Juliet, came to me and said, “I’m not sure I’m going to get anything out of this because I don’t believe in God.” I burst out laughing and said to her, “It doesn’t matter that you don’t believe in God. What matters is that God believes in you.” She did a double take, but shrugged her shoulders and settled into her place.

After the day of retreat, before the students went home, Juliet gave me an envelope with a note. This is what it said:

Father Ray, I’ve been thinking about what you said today about God believing in me, even if I don’t believe in him, and after meditation this afternoon I feel really strange because I saw Him. Instead of answering me, He hugged me. I don’t know why but when He did, I started to cry and I’m sure I will walk away from this retreat a changed person thanks to you. I will never forget it.”

Fr. Ray Sanchez CP is the leader of the Oxley community and responsible for Parish Missions and Retreats throughout Australia and NZ.