15th Sunday of the Year Reflection
By Fr John Allen Green OFM – He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff — no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts — but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics. (Mk 6:9). And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece.” (Lk 9:3)
Contradictions can feel like we are standing on burning coal; we want to jump off as quickly as possible to stand on safer ground. Dictionaries define a contradiction as two things that cannot be true at the same time.
What are Contradiction and Paradox?
Contradictions and paradox appear to pull us into opposing directions. There are times when we are called to come face to face with those beliefs that would pull the carpet from under our feet; does Mercy trump Justice, retribution and compensation. Where do we stand when it comes to praying to a God of Peace that we may win wars that stem from fear, vengeance or greed?
We have reflected that faith and doubt have value in leading us to Truth and Wisdom. The gospel has also shown us how fear brings us to a rejection of that Truth and Wisdom; even to the rejection of Jesus himself. Many turn away from Jesus’ difficult words in some sort of pietistic haze; some will run to the comfort of the neat boxes of dogma while others turn away in disgust at what they perceive as hypocrisy.
As our brother, Richard Rohr so often points out, our binary, dualistic mind cannot deal with contradictions, paradox, or mystery, all of which are at the heart of religion. Sadly, a large percentage of religious people become and remain quite rigid thinkers because their religion taught them that to be faithful, obedient, and stalwart in the ways of God, they had to seek some ideal “order” instead of growing in their capacity for love. These are not bad people; they simply never learned much about living inside of paradox and mystery as the very nature of faith.
Richard Rohr therefore reframes the definition of a contradiction as two things that cannot be true at the same time by our present frame of logic. As long as we do not reframe our reality, as long as we insist on our own frame of reference, we will not be able to find the wisdom in paradox. “The kingdom of God” is Jesus’ term for the bigger frame, or what we often call “the big picture” or “in the light of eternity”. You’ve got to find some framework that allows you to stand back and look at the moment with the eyes of Infinite Love and Mercy. Then you’ll see that many things which appear to be contradictory through logical, egocentric, dualistic thinking might not necessarily be so to a nondual mind.
A paradox is a seeming contradiction that may nonetheless be true if seen in a different frame than my “rational” mind. A paradox is beyond the normal way of thinking. Contradictions are based on logic, a set of assumptions or expectations which we take for granted. Conversion, a changed mind, allows you to call those assumptions and expectations into question. If you’re still overly attached to your ego, you normally can’t let go of these opinions. It takes true transformation to allow you to look at yourself from a bit of distance, with some calmness, compassion, and the humility and honesty to know that you don’t know.
Its all about the Staff – Or is it?
Contradiction and paradox therefore calls us into the centre to come to some new way of seeing, some new way of understanding; to bring us to insight and that lightbulb moment that will challenge us to forever change our worldview.
So let us now together step onto the hot coals and deal with a contradiction that has been set before us; what is the instruction of Jesus to his disciples, to us as we are sent out into the world to proclaim the good news to all the nations? Why is the “staff” placed at the centre of this contradiction?
After the Jesus event, the staff is interpreted and seen as the cross impregnated and becoming one with the blood of Jesus the Christ, the central point of salvation history; becoming the very tree of life from which the antidote to sin and death becomes the food for the people.
Through the Jewish scripture, together with the Dead Sea scrolls and the dusty parchments of the Nag Hammadi library, there are seventy references to the staff that refer to this staff as a person, ‘the staff of judgement’, ‘the law-giver’, ‘the leader of the community’, ‘the One who pours out Righteousness’ and ‘the one who will teach us the way to walk during all the era of evil’.
The staff is also referred to as the ‘tent peg’ by which the nomadic Israelites claimed temporary ownership of the land on which they encamped; this is the land that always belonged to God.
The call to those disciples who are sent must be clear. They are to carry, to proclaim and even to give birth to the Word they have been given. But this is not their own Word and neither are they author of that Word. They are to rely and to lean only on that staff who is the person of Jesus the Christ, the Word from before time began. We are to claim nothing for ourselves and take nothing for ourselves.
A Night of the Pilgrims’ Journey
Once more the story continues, the early morning, sleeping yet awake; I am both the Observer and the observed.
I’m sent to provide food for the community but before I can return to the community with provisions, I become impatient and self-righteous and turn away from the community.
There is now no coin available for me to continue my journey;I join the throngs of people waiting on the platform for their trains to all the various destinations.
My clothes are tight and constraining like a shroud on a corpse, but there is no way is that I can loose myself from this cloying restraint. Suddenly the trusted companion is with me once more and helps me to throw off these bonds. A new identity like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon, and so I am able to continue my journey.
Three times I climb the mountain to its apexthere the water gushes up into the airthen falls in greater torrents down the cliffs and rugged outcrops into the valleys below.
Others have been before me and I am tempted to take what they have left behind for myself. As I turn away from this option, the trusted companion is once again with me I am led back to the beginning to start the journey again with my companion.
Once more I am a beginner; always a beginner with my companion, the “staff” of my support and comfort. I cannot take for myself that which the Lover freely offers; I can only bring to this journey my desire and my emptiness.