How much joy do you have in your lives?
How much joy do you have in your lives?
It’s a funny question isn’t it – in today’s world, the usual question would be, how happy are you?
But I’m not sure joy and happiness are the same thing. And for me the key difference is that joy comes with a sense of peace and also a sense of something beyond ourselves. Joy is not just about us!
In the first reading we heard today, Isaiah tells the people to rejoice with Jerusalem – this is a communal activity – we rejoice together.
In the second reading Paul tells the Galatians to work for the good of all, asking them to restore one another in a spirit of gentleness – but also warning them that we reap what we sow, and so to sow to God’s Spirit, for that is the way to peace and eternal life.
And then we get onto the gospel reading. How did you react to this reading? Did it make you feel uncomfortable?
How do we relate to it in today’s world? It seems to me that Jesus is making his disciples totally reliant on the goodwill and hospitality of those they encounter – taking away their material resources. The only thing he seems to give them is the power to give or take away their peace from the places they enter.
This isn’t a situation many of us ever find ourselves in. We live in a culture which values self-sufficiency, autonomy and independence. We don’t want to appear to scrounge off others, we don’t want to be at their mercy. And who can blame us?
But reflecting on this passage brought back memories of the months I spent backpacking after university, before starting work. I had a very limited budget and at times was entirely reliant on the generosity of those I met – not to survive as such, but rather to enjoy and appreciate the places I visited.
In New Zealand we met someone who gave us a room for a night free of charge as it was awful weather, and we were supposed to be camping in a tent which really wasn’t waterproof. In the US, I met someone who gave me some money, so I could visit the local art gallery and get a good meal. And there were many more such encounters. These generous actions were unprompted but changed my whole experience of those places – and we made friends in the process.
Accepting generosity from others is powerful – it does something for relationships when you remove yourself from a position of power and make yourself vulnerable, when you accept what others have to offer.
People become more open, more connected, when we need each other, when we are able to give as well as receive.
So maybe Jesus command to his disciples isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Maybe they were more likely to be able to have real conversations and share Jesus peace with those whom they received from…. when they weren’t in a position of power, but rather welcome guests, who arrived with a message of good news, and nothing else.
The interesting thing from the gospel today is that the disciples were joyful when they returned to Jesus. It was not that everyone was nice to them, but that they had seen the power of God’s peace – they had been able to heal people, the demons had submitted to them – they had brought good news to many.
I wonder what we can learn from this. I wonder if we were more willing to let go of stuff, if we were less concerned with our own personal success and happiness, what the impact would be… would we be more joyful? Would we have a greater sense of peace?
Now I’m not suggesting we go out and sell all we own and start walking the streets – but I am saying that I’m sure most of us have more than we need, and indeed, hold onto stuff that actually gets in the way of our joy.
Because stuff can and does get in the way of relationships – we can all work too hard to earn more money, so we don’t have time for those we care about.
We can all care so much about certain possessions or activities that we put them before relationships and people.
What would life look like, if we always put people first? What would it look like if we were willing to earn less, own less, do less?
De-cluttering our homes and our diaries is commonly understood to be a very healthy thing to do – personally, the sense of relief I get after a large clear out, is huge.
But this isn’t just about possessions. What about the other things we hold onto that get in the way of our joy?
The disciples were sent out with nothing – which would have been scary – and they were told to shake the dust of their feet from the villages where they weren’t welcome – leaving the rejection behind, not carrying it with them.
Are Anger, Fear, Unforgiveness also things we need to learn to let go of?
So what is the task Jesus sets before us?
As Debie Thomas writes: “ The task is to live simply and vulnerably. The task is to rely on the grace and hospitality of others. The task is to stay in one place — to encounter, to engage, and to go deep. The task is to live as guests, sharing our faith with others as if they're our hosts, the people we depend on for sustenance and shelter. The task is to speak peace, first and last. The task is to let go in love. The task is to believe always in the abundance and nearness of God’s economy….
“[and] when we do what Jesus asks of us, when we travel this path of vulnerability, humility, and peace-making, evil trembles, demons fall, the world changes. God’s kingdom comes.”
Jesus says “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” – this is something we need to keep rejoicing in today and every day – God loves our world, he loves the people in it and he wants us to know his joy and peace.
So, let’s try and remember this when we are worrying about life, when we are overcomplicating things, when we are busy and stressed – and let’s think about what we can leave behind so that we are better able to receive God’s joy, peace and love and are better able to share these gifts with our world.