Willing to be Vulnerable

07-07-2019Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

They say “in the good ole days” that small-town newspapers used to wrap up their reports of a gathering or event with “A good time was had by all.” This was just how it all was said. People were to conclude that some good food and good company were shared. Thus indeed it was a good time for one and all.

In the scripture in the Old Testament this weekend, there is a similar type line: “The Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.” Those servants are us. Note how the Lord’s power is expressed in positive terms in nourishment and warm comfort. We are the fortunate receivers of this kind of power. The line is the summary of a vignette in which Isaiah gives us an image of the city of Jerusalem as a nursing, comforting mother. Imagine, in knowing this, our hearts and spirits are lifted up and grow.

Our Gospel of this weekend has Jesus sending seventy-two disciples out two by two. Where they will first go, he will follow. Do you realize that this is contrary to the usual expectations of a teacher and his disciples? The teacher is expected to go first, and then and only then the disciples. But not in today’s reading. Today, the disciples prepare the way for the master, who will come later.

Their own preparation is spare and to the point. They also will go as sheep among wolves. That in itself seems to be a really scary arrangement. Given this mode of discipleship, the disciples might be expected to ask what defense they have. It appears there is none. Indeed, they are not to visit the unsuspecting population with messages and warnings. They certainly are not to go well-armed with thought-out arguments or skills of oratory and debate. They are to move about the countryside empty-handed and barefoot. They are to carry no supplies. They are to go as people expecting to be received. They are to knock on a door, any door. They are to wish the householder peace, shalom, God’s healing salvation. They are to share in the hospitality offered them — exactly no more, no less.

This, Jesus seems to hint most blatantly, is the setting in which miracles can happen. The house of peace and generosity of spirit is precisely where the place of God’s saving presence is. Fine foods, aged wine, or a well-lit and warm room are not essentials. It simply has to do with generosity of spirit and vulnerability.

Do we always realize it is always this way? With this attitude, we Christians can expect the good times to happen. When our heart swings open, salvation begins. We are healed, darkness is cast out, and malice crashes headlong to the earth. This is God’s salvation right at the front door. This is God’s power, made manifest in comfort and nourishment. This is what being created anew feels and acts and looks like.

By the way, the closing lines of Paul’s letter to the Galatians are a dramatically impassioned plea, as only our Saint Paul could stage. He opens his heart and bares his soul — for their sake. He has no shield or sword here. He is vulnerable. The word comes from the Latin word meaning “to wound.” Paul is willing to be wounded. Indeed, we know he has been. He has his own unnamed weakness and scars to prove it. None of this in fact matters. In no way does it stand in the way of his ministry and service as a Disciple of the Lord.