"Saints Next Door"

"Saints Next Door"

Homily for the Third Sunday after Pentecost

June 18, 2023

"Saints Next Door"

Homily for June 18, 2023
The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 9:35–10:8

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James sone of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

I realize that All Saints’ Sunday is months away in November, but before we turn to this morning’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, I want briefly to visit All Saints’ Sunday.  A former spiritual director once told me, “There is a flip side, almost a dark side, to celebrating the Church’s saints.”  He explained that while on the one hand we can be inspired by the saints, and that the saints’ example can urge us to “all virtuous and godly living” (BCP, p 245), yet on the other hand celebrating the saints can cause us to lose sight of our own lives and that “virtuous and godly living’ in our own circumstance will look similar to but very different from the lives of the saints in the Church’s calendar.  Pope Francis writes about “saints next door,” and (I love this phrase), “the middle class of holiness” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6–9), by which he means ordinary Christians living extraordinary yet perhaps hidden lives.  “Those parents who raise their children with immense love,” he writes, “those who work hard to support their families… the sick… the elderly… In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church (Gaud et Ex, 7).  The Church may life up and celebrate its famous saints, yet the Church is spurred on primarily by the “holiness that the lord shows us through [its] humblest members,” writes the Pope (Ibid, 8).  Each of us is called to follow Christ and to share in his mission, yet—given our own unique, particular circumstances—our following, our discipleship, will look similar to but different from not only the Church’s famous saints, but also our fellow Christians.

Back to this morning’s Gospel lesson… to compare the various Gospel’s lists of disciples I find fascinating.  For example, in John’s Gospel the one whom the Synoptics call Bartholomew instead is called Nathanael (see John 1:43–49).  In Luke’s Gospel, the one whom Matthew and Mark name as “Simon the Cananaean” is called rather “Simon the Zealot” (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13).  And it is in Mark’s disciple list and only in Mark’s disciple list that Jesus calls the sons of Zebedee, James and John, “Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17).

Perhaps even more interesting than the lists themselves might be where each evangelist places their disciple lists.  For example, though in Mark Jesus calls the disciples from a portentous and fitting setting—“[Jesus] went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted” (Mark 3:17)—the scene ends rather incongruously with, “Then [Jesus] went home’ (3:20).  In Luke—where Jesus likewise calls his disciples on a mountain—in a lovely Lukan touch Luke writes that Jesus called his disciples only after “he spent the night in prayer to God” (6:13), and then afterwards Jesus “came down with them” (6:17) and preached the so-called Sermon on the Plain.  Matthew, however, couches his disciple list within the context of mission.  Previous to calling the disciples, in Matthew Jesus is on a mission.  As we heard at the opening of today’s Gospel,

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.

Jesus is “teaching… and proclaiming the good news… and curing every disease and every sickness.”  “Then,” writes Matthew,

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

Matthew’s disciple list is not merely a register of the disciples’ names, but rather is an induction into apostleship.  And the apostleship into which the disciples are inducted commences immediately.  Matthew writes,

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions…: “Go… to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.’

If you notice similarity between Jesus’ instructions to his disciples and Jesus’ own mission of “proclaiming the good news… and curing every disease and every sickness,” it is intentional.  By placing his disciple list within the context of Jesus’ mission, Matthew makes clear that the disciples’ mission is an extension of Jesus’ own.  Though (as Matthew will later write), “a disciple is not above the teacher,” yet Matthew fully expects that the disciple will “be like the teacher” (10:24–25) and will participate in Jesus’ mission, to “proclaim the good news” and “to cure every disease and every sickness.”

Which brings us back to All Saints’ Sunday and the celebration of the Church’s saints, as well as to those who occupy “the middle class of holiness,” those whom Pope Francis calls the “saints next door…” Jesus’ call to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew—“Proclaim the good news… Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons”—is also Jesus’ call to us.  The passage of time has not made an exception for us; we yet are called today to do as Jesus’ first disciples did; that is, to “proclaim the good news… cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”  But as with the lives of the Church’s saints, our own lives will look similar to but different from the lives of Jesus’ first disciples.  Our own proclamation of the good news, and our own curing of the sick and raising of the dead, will vary depending on the particular circumstance in which God has placed each of us.  For some, our discipleship will be lived out as we raise children, or in loving our spouse, or in showing hospitality, or in being generous, or in persevering in prayer, or in yet trusting in God when we are in pain or are ill, or in—no matter the circumstance in which we are placed—manifesting the fruits of the spirit (of which Paul writes in Galatians), manifesting: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22).  All of us are called today to follow Jesus as the first disciples did then and to share in his mission to “proclaim the Gospel… cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”  Depending on our life’s circumstance, our discipleship will look similar to but different from theirs.

It is my hope today that each of us knows that Jesus calls us by name, that Jesus is inviting us to follow, that he is inducting us into apostleship with him, to help him carry out his mission.  And I pray that we may do so faithfully and may recognize that it is enough to occupy “the middle class of holiness”—we need not be heroic, and we are not failures if we are not famous—and that it is enough to be, simply and with God’s help, a “saint next door.”

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