22 January 2018

Drafted for the Gospel

Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are things for which we want to be chosen.  As adults it’s often the job that we applied for, or maybe it’s the significant other that we’ve been dating, whom we hope will ask us to marry.  As children we may want to be chosen to be on the team with our friends on the playground, or for the school play.  I think we all know that the reality is that we often don’t get chosen for the things we want.  Maybe we don’t get the job; maybe we get dumped; maybe we don’t get the role we want or are not on the team we want.
A young man I know from when I was a priest in East Lansing, Cooper Rush, was chosen again and again for football teams, despite ever-increasing odds not to be chosen.  He was the quarterback for Lansing Catholic, holds records for an MHSAA playoff game, led Lansing Catholic one year to the State Championship (where, ironically, Lansing Catholic lost to Flint Powers).  He then was chosen to play quarterback at Central Michigan University, and was very successful at Central, going to bowl games and even holding a FBS Bowl Game record for most touchdowns passes in a Bowl Game.  Currently, he is a back-up quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys.  And besides being a good athlete, he is also an upstanding man.
The odds of him making it to the NFL weren’t that good.  One stat from 2015 says that there were 1.087 million high school football players.  Of those, 310,000 high school football players were seniors.  Of those, only 70,000 were chosen to be on an NCAA football team.  Of those, on 20,000 played on an NCAA team.  Of those 20,000, about 15,500 were college seniors.  Of those 15,500 seniors, 6,500 were scouted by the NFL, and only 350 were invited to a combine to show their football skills.  Of those, 256 players were drafted by the NFL.  The odds of being chosen for high school, college, and professional football are about 1.6 out of 100.
The odds of being chosen to preach the Gospel, however, are much better.  Every baptized person has been chosen, drafted, we might say, to preach the Gospel both by deeds and words.  And while we might not think of ourselves as a draft pick, we heard in our first reading and Gospel about some unlikely characters who are chosen.
In the first reading, we hear about Jonah being asked by God to preach to the citizens of Nineveh.  God asks Jonah to tell them to repent, to turn away from their sinful, pagan ways.  Jonah didn’t want to go; he hated Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire which had exiled the members of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Jonah even tried to run away, but God did not abandon Jonah or let him off the hook.  And even when Jonah preached repentance, he hoped that the Assyrians would not listen, so that God could destroy the pagan empire.  Probably not a first round evangelist.
And in the Gospel we hear about Jesus calling the first apostles: Simon, Andrew, James, and John.  They were not rabbis.  There were not the educated elite of Judaism.  They were fishermen.  But Jesus saw something in them that He knew would be important for having as disciple.  It wasn’t always obvious to others, though.  Peter always seemed to speak before thinking, denied Jesus during His Passion, and even almost ran away from his martyrdom in Rome.  James and John were the ones who asked for a privileged spot in the kingdom of God, in front of the line of the other apostles, and asked Jesus to call down fire upon the Samaritan towns when they wouldn’t receive Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem.  And even the other apostles were not seemingly the best catch: Matthew was a tax collector; Thomas doubted; Simon wanted to violently overthrow the Roman government; and they were all uneducated, simple people.  And yet Jesus called each of them to preach the Gospel.

You may not think it, but Jesus has also called you to preach the Gospel.  When you were baptized you were committed or you committed yourself to being a disciple of Jesus, to conforming your life to His, to sharing with others the good news of what Jesus has done for us (freeing us from sin and death).  You may not think you have what it takes, but Jesus does.  And even if you feel like you need to know more, that’s why we have Bible studies, and faith sharing groups, and formational events both here, in the greater-Flint area, and across the Diocese, events like the Men’s and Women’s Conferences.  If you don’t feel like you have what it takes, then work towards that goal of having what it takes.  Make your faith life more than simply coming to Mass on Sundays and holydays.  Get involved in deepening your faith and maybe volunteering in our parish ministries.  You might just be the one to bring another person to Jesus.