HOMILY:It’s been about 8 years since one of my favorite television shows, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, went off the air, and even though I've seen every episode at least a few times, I still love watching the reruns. Probably because being a member of a very Italian-American family I'm able to relate to the story lines a great deal.... well more than even relate, sometimes I swear the writers have been spying on me, my friends and family and have lifted some of our entire conversations (what non-Italians would see as "people fighting/shouting at each other")
One repeat I caught the other day was when Ray's mother-in-law enlists his help in throwing a surprise party for his wife Debra. The long and short of it, the forever lazy and often foolish Ray ends up telling Debra about the forth-coming surprise, gets direction from her on how the party SHOULD be run (changing her mother's planned theme from an English Tea Party to a Chinese dinner). As if that wasn't bad enough, moments before Debra returns home with her friend Amy, who had kept her away all day, Ray blabs to the entire family that Debra already knows about the surprise, and in fact helped in the planning of the event. As she walks in and feigns surprise, the assembled guests are noticeably less enthusiastic about the party. The awkwardness is so uncomfortable, that even after repeated viewings (and knowing the whole show is fiction) I still feel the tension.
Probably because I remember being at a surprise party for a friend in college where something similar happened. It was in the middle of the summer, we had all travelled several hours to gather at another friends house for this planned surprise....which was a big deal. People had taken off of work, had to get up early for a somewhat lengthy drive, carpooled, parked at a somewhat remote distance (so as not to raise suspicions why all these out of state cars where parked at this house) And literally 20 minutes before the party, the birthday girl's college roommate blabbed "she knows." (I'm trying to remember what precipitated that blunt -- and awfully timed revelation) Watching her walk up the path and attempt to do an Oscar-winning performance was painful. What was worse was when a friend decided to call her out and very directly said "We all know you know...Why are you Surprised?" OUCH! That question, while a fair one, was really harsh at the time. And at least momentarily took some of the joy out of the moment.
Which is why Jesus, thankfully as gentle, as loving, as kind as he is as he refrains from asking the same thing in today's Gospel. We heard how Jesus had appointed 72 to go in pairs into towns, to proclaim that Jesus was coming to them, to spread this message. He charges them to share His peace, to offer His healing to the sick... He promises they will survive among the "wolves" even as they act like lambs. This is hardly a new experience as we heard in the First Reading. Isaiah the prophet tells how The Lord has promised his servants that the power of God will be revealed in similar ways and when it does, The Lord's servants "heart shall rejoice...[their] bodes flourish...[and] the Lord's power shall be known."
Yet, curiously, we hear that when the 72 return to Jesus after doing what he asked them to do, this sense of amazement "LORD EVEN THE DEMONS ARE SUBJECT TO US BECAUSE OF YOUR NAME!" There's a part of me that, if I were in Jesus shoes (or sandals I suppose) would have wanted to ask the question "Why are you surprised?" Jesus had already "planned the party" so to speak, and invited them to be participants, and explained what was going to happen. Did they not trust Jesus' plans, His direction? Did they not believe that He would fulfill what He had promised them? The reaction seems to show, at least to some extent, probably a little bit.
But Jesus doesn't let their foolishly being surprised ruin the party. Indeed, he knows the depths of their hearts -- and ours as well. How all of us -- past and present disciples -- we want to believe that following Jesus, that listening to His Call, His direction will result in amazing things occurring. That peace and healing will flow -- that the evil one will be discharged from our midst. Yet for some reason we hesitate. We hear His call in our hearts and our souls and balk at many times, and in many ways. Maybe it's at a moment when we're among family or friends and some emotionally charged topic comes up -- like saying that we believe that marriage was designed by God to be shared between one man and one woman for life and that anything that changes that (whether it's divorce, cohabitation, or redefining it to include any two people) is not God's plan, but humanity's plan [considering the terrible effects of "no fault divorce" and wide acceptance of people simply "living together" have had on the institution of marriage and society itself, that should be enough reason for us to pause and ask ourselves -- when has it ever worked out well for humanity to follow its own plan instead of God's? but I digress] And yet in that, and many other "hot button" conversations -- abortion, care of the poor, the sick -- Christians back down from speaking anything remotely connected to their faith -- we balk from listening to Jesus' call, recognizing our role in proclaiming His Gospel in a loving way because of fear... Fear of not being liked. Fear of not being accepted. (While ignoring the fact that those challenging our beliefs seem not to have any such fear...)
Or people hesitate believing in Jesus' call, His direction in other ways. The Lord calling a couple to be open to more children; The Lord calling a man or a woman into following Him as a Priest or a religious; The Lord calling a student into deeper relationship with Him that might result in a change of major/change of direction in terms of career, change in the "circle of friends" they've been hanging onto.
In whatever ways The Lord calls and challenges us to go forward, its a true reality that everyone of us experiences that pause, that hesitation, that fear that we can give into which can leave us stuck in inaction. That reveals a lack of trust or perhaps areas of "unbelief" that exists in our heart... to which we cry as a father once did begging for Jesus to do something for his sick son "Lord I do believe, Help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24)
The not so surprising thing for us to hear today is that Jesus does desire to do just that - help our unbelief... to see those fears, those areas lacking in trust in Him and His calls in our lives disappear.
What should be equally unsurprising is: that's not just going to magically happen. Like the 72 in today's Gospel, we need to take those initially daunting first steps... We need to make some movement that indicates we are moving, responding as He's directing us despite our fears, our lack of trust... and that we are open to the wonders, that comes in serving The Lord. Wonders that include A Joy, a Peace, A Love The Lord has promised to us again and again - which when we ultimately do respond to Him and eventually experience should come as no surprise to us.