July 5, 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Four year ago, the Chicago Cubs led the Major League baseball standings virtually throughout the season. They ended the year with a .640 winning percentage, won 103 games and lost only 58. What a year that was, especially, winning the World Series in Cleveland and ending the 108-year drought in a MLB world series championships.
But this year is not four years ago. Last summer the Cubs fully settled back into mediocrity. This summer Wrigley Field sits empty, due to the coronavirus. No one is playing professional baseball anywhere. News reports indicate the minor leagues have cancelled their season all together and many teams probably face bankruptcy.
I asked several Cubs’s fans recently why the post 2016 teams have not produced the same results as last 2016. They had many explanations to offer. Some say pitching isn’t as strong as it was, or the big hitters aren’t getting the hits and runs. I suppose all these explanations make sense. If a baseball team is not hitting well, or the defense makes mistakes or the pitchers are slow to go, it takes a toll on how well a team does.
Former Cubs coach Joe Maddon once called a team meeting for a mid-summer all-star break meeting. His goal was to regroup, direct and inspire the team. The team appeared to be living in the aftermath of their historic 2016 victory. They had to get their act together and focus on the task at hand. That historic mission lays behind them, they had wallets filled by million-dollar paychecks and are years older and maybe a little banged up and tired. The motivation, driving the team may not be the same; we saw the results.
It’s a stretch to draw an analogy between the Cubs and the disciples of Jesus, but a point can be made. Consider the situation the disciples find themselves in. They have embarked on a historic mission. In fact, their mission is almost beyond comprehension. They have been called to be disciples of Jesus and through him to represent the body of Christ on earth, as the Church. Can you imagine that? We have twelve disciples from the most disparate and desperate of circumstances called together to lead an movement that intends nothing less than the redemption of humanity. Give me a break. How can that be? It would have been easier to organize those disciples into a baseball team and win the world series, than to say they become the body of Christ on earth and redeem a fallen humanity. But that’s what they intend to do.
Now the issue is this. How shall this task be accomplished? How do twelve disciples motivate themselves to accomplish the purpose God sets for them? That’s no easy task to accomplish. Look at the Gospel for this Sunday and see what it reveals about this process. Here Jesus calls his own mid-season meeting. He needs to inspire his own disciples; he chides the people who reject or criticize his ministry as well. It’s a little Biblical trash talk going on here.
He says his critics are like children playing in marketplace who try, but fail to encourage other children to play with them. He argues people criticized John the Baptist for his ascetic lifestyle and say he has a demon. But, when Jesus comes along and eats and drinks, like everyone else, they call him a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners. They criticize anyone who comes in God’s name.
Jesus lays out precisely what is at stake here. He says, “All things have been handed over to me by my father, and no one knows the Son except the Father and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” In other words, Jesus is the revelation of God’s will and purpose for them. God reveals himself in Jesus Christ. People may reject Jesus, but they reject God as well.
He wants his followers to know nothing is impossible or magical about what he asks of others. He says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for you souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” A yoke is a harness, like the yoke over the shoulders of an ox. But Jesus’ yoke is not restrictive; it provides a useful structure. His yoke is easy. It’s really a gift, a practice that harnesses for us a pathway to a new and fulfilling life. “Learn from this gift, this way that I offer you,” Jesus says. “My burden is light.” Jesus offers a way of forgiveness and grace.
Think, for a moment, about the situation of Jesus and the disciples. Together they form a team and their work is the ministry God sets for them. Let’s use the baseball team analogy we began with. Jesus fills the role of a coach and the disciples comprise his team. This team is not battling or fielding or pitching well so to speak. Times are not easy. The other team may be called the Pharisees or the scribes or the Romans or gentiles. They have been playing “hardball” with the disciples. The disciples are behind in this game. They need motivation. It’s the ninth inning and they need to rise to the occasion
Jesus calls his players together in the dugout and hopes to inspire them. A baseball season is 162 games long, twice as long as that of hockey and basketball, which both clock in at second longest at 81 games each. Over the years, there have been countless instances of teams who struggled in the beginning only to turn it around and win later. Ministry is like that. It doesn’t always matter where you come from, but it matters what you achieve. Jesus believes God motivates and empowers them and us for ministry. God will accompany his disciples and that will make the difference.
Hitting a baseball is hard to do. When the All-Star game rolls around in July, most of the players, representing the best of the league, may hit for a .300 average, which means they succeed at their goal only three out of every 10 times. These players know to be the best at what they do, they must be prepared to fail about seventy percent of the time. Those odds do not discourage them. They swing at whatever opportunity comes their way, knowing, when they succeed, that’s what wins the game. Jesus wants his disciples to step up to the plate and swing for the stands. God is with them. They will succeed with God’s purpose, ministry and mission achieved.
Today our Gospel inspire us to ministry, even when we are discouraged. God has a purpose, revealed in Jesus Christ. He gives us direction and empowers us, even when the odds seem stacked against us. Let God inspire and direct you through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.