Disciples: A Motley Crew -
A Reflection on Matthew 9:35-10:4
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
By the time you are reading this, my father has come and gone for a visit. I haven’t seen him in almost a couple of years, and it was nice for him to visit. My father and I have been apart for more than half of my life, and when we do see each other, we both feel that due to time and distance, we have gone our separate ways. Because of this, we are so different from each other, and we seem to have different expectations of each other. What I turned out to be is probably what he did not expect. He wanted me to be a doctor, to have care and cure of physical bodies, and I turned out to be more interested in care and cure of souls. He wanted me to get married and have lots of children so he could have lots of grandchildren, but God did not will that marriage be my vocation. On the other hand, I also probably expected him to be a different kind of father than he was. He is a loving father, a good provider and protector of the family, but he also had many human foibles that perhaps irritated me, or annoyed me or made me ashamed. Because of these different expectations, for many years, we tried to change each other, to fashion each other into the kind of person we wanted each other to be. It was only within the last few years that we began to appreciate each other as the person we have come to be. For me, whatever quirks and imperfections my father had, I have come to realize and appreciate that he is the person that God called to be my father. This is the man. No one else. And it is this man, Pepe, as people fondly call him, in both his best and worst, who was called by God to give life to me, and to have a hand in raising me in the catholic Christian faith.
Not so long ago, I was reading a novel written by a monk, entitled “All We Know of Heaven.” It is a fictional story of a nineteen-year old teenager named Paul Seneschal who entered a monastery to pursue a “more spiritual life.” Paul was expecting a different kind of people in the monastery- perhaps more virtuous, more heroic, more ascetic, more “spiritual”. But soon enough, he learned that the monks of the monastery were fragile and broken people, subject to the same human idiosyncrasies, pettiness, fallibility, and sinfulness as any human being. In the monastery, Paul met people who held grudges against each other unto death, who struggled with spiritual doubts, who were beset by sexual temptations, monks who suffered from addictions and mental illness, monks who were lazy, petty and arrogant, and rigid, and judgmental and the list goes on. In fact there were nothing special or extraordinary about these men whom God called to the monastery. There were no grandiose spiritual feats and mystical glow about the life of the monks; in fact, the spiritual life is almost routinely boring except with occasional flashes of inspiration from on high, flashes, which are too far, and few in between. Yet, it is these ordinary men, unheroic in any sense of the word, whom God calls to live in deep intimacy with him in the margins of the world we call the cloister.
In the Gospel story of Matthew 9:35-10:4, Matthew speaks of the world as peopled with broken human beings who are harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. It is to these people subject to sin, sickness, death, evil and injustice that Jesus came to be the shepherd who will feed, nurture and nourish. But Jesus needs helpers in the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom. We read in Matthew’s Gospel that he chose twelve disciples. But what an odd lot of men he chose. By the world’s standards, none of them belonged to the rich and famous. In fact, some of the apostles like Andrew, Bartholomew or Jude Thaddeus we know almost nothing about. For the rest, well, they’re no impressive bunch of men either. There was Peter, impulsive and rigid in character, whom we know denied his Lord. In the list was doubting Thomas. There were the hot-headed Zebedee brothers, James and John, who saw themselves as superior to the rest of the apostles. And there was Matthew the tax collector, despised by his people as a collaborator with the oppressive Roman. There was Simon the Zealot, who would have been considered by the Romans as a “terrorist”, (or a “freedom fighter” by the Jews, depending on one’s own political allegiance), for zealots were armed militants against Rome in Jesus’ time. There was Judas Iscariot who was like Simon the Zealot, and thus could not accept Jesus’ way of non-violence. Because of his violent leanings, we know that he betrayed, for thirty pieces of silver, his Master who preached peace and advocated resistance against injustice not by violence but the power of love. But it was these men whom Jesus called, warts and all, to be his followers. It was these men, for better or for worse, whom Jesus called to be the foundation of our living faith, the princes of the Church, our spiritual fathers.
Like my father, or like Paul in the novel I read, or like the twelve apostles, we need not be anything but ordinary, fallible, fragile people in order to be called by God to be his adopted sons and daughters through Christ. In fact, in your baptism you have already been chosen, called, and given a mission by Jesus. In your baptism, you have been given the gift of divine calling and discipleship, and likewise, you are sent to share this gift with those whom God will call through your own feeble efforts. Even when we somehow make wrong choices, or even make mistakes along the way in trying to follow Jesus, the promise is that God always brings to fruition whatever plan he has, and to make perfect our imperfect ways. We need not worry about our own inadequacies for the mission at hand, because, as Matthew says, God ultimately is the shepherd and harvest master; we are simply his hirelings, his servants. We let God worry about the results of the harvest; our task is only to be faithful to our call. We can be confident, as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that God will work in us far more than we can ever imagine: “Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20, 21)
2005 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
"The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci. 1498 fresco in the refectory wall of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy.
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