What have you learned from traveling? There are things I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made on the road: keep your money in multiple places, keep a change of clothes in your carry-on, leave for the airport with time to spare. There are things I’ve learned from the people I’ve met: smiles speak when words fail, people everywhere have warmth in their hearts, raw fish is good, human angels appear when you are lost.
Today’s readings take on an interesting meaning if you read them as lessons learned by early evangelists from their travels. Today the Church remembers Saint Mark, Evangelist. By tradition, Mark was a follower and interpreter of the apostle Peter. He is the John Mark of Acts, whose mother had a house in Jerusalem. A speaker of Greek, he wrote what many believe was the first-written of the Gospels. He was not an eye witness to Jesus life, death, and resurrection, but he told stories as if he was. He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on the First Missionary Journey that began to spread the Good News beyond the Palestine region where Jesus had lived and preached.
What did Mark, Peter, Paul, and the other evangelists learn on their missionary journeys that helped them? Before Mark wrote his Gospel down, he must have heard and told the stories it contains many times. He must have learned which stories people remembered most; he probably also learned how to use those stories to get people to hear about how God cares for us through Jesus.
In the first reading, we hear advice about how to BE when we travel for God: “Clothe yourself with humility.” “Cast all your worries upon him (the Lord) because he cares for you.” “Be sober and vigilant, on guard against the Devil.” “Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing your brothers and sisters throughout the world undergo the same sufferings.” “The God of all grace…will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.” That all sounds like sage advice from someone who had already practiced what he was preaching.
In the Gospel we get advice from Jesus through Mark’s words about what to DO when we travel for God: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” We hear the great fruits of doing this: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” We hear there will be signs as it is done: driving out demons, speaking new languages, picking up serpents or drinking deadly things without harm, healing of the sick.
Such readings may be troubling for us. There were two snakes in my yard last week; I did not pick them up. I try to preach the Gospel, but I’ve never laid hands on someone and had them healed. God is more likely to clothe me with humility by letting me fail at something than I am to deliberately put it on. I do cast my worries on the Lord, but I am not sufficiently on guard against the Devil that I always recognize temptation in time to completely resist it. I forget, some days, that my little sufferings are indeed little.
How can I apply the readings today to my life? Must I be like St. Mark or St. Peter to be an evangelist? Must I be that good? Must I be willing to tell the story in a foreign land? Must I be willing to pick up a snake? Pope Francis is tremendously reassuring….while also challenging me. He says:
“Today, as the Church seeks to experience a profound missionary renewal, there is a kind of preaching which falls to each of us as a daily responsibility. It has to do with bringing the Gospel to the people we meet, whether they be our neighbors or complete strangers. This is the informal preaching which takes place in the middle of a conversation, something along the lines of what a missionary does when visiting a home. Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly and in any place: on the street, in a city square, during work, on a journey.
In this preaching, which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is a personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word….” (from Evangelii Gaudium, paragraphs 127 & 128. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/index.html)
A daily responsibility to preach? That is challenging! If I follow Pope Francis’ advice, I will really need to clothe myself in humility, because just bringing up God in a conversation can be hard. Still, when I do that from a sharing of my own experience, rather than telling someone else what to do, it sometimes leads to a God conversation. It sometimes leads to something deep—at least somewhat worthy of the name evangelist.
Lord, help me today to see the opportunities in my ordinary Saturday for following St. Mark and Pope Francis. Let me start by taking an interest in someone—their joy or their sorrow. Let me bring the love of Jesus with me wherever I travel today—to the supermarket, the park, or miles from here. Clothe me with humility. Let me trust you, Lord, especially when I catch my breath because you have given me an opportunity to speak of your love. Help me then to know what to say and how to say it. It might be a simple, “Godspeed” as I say good-by, or it might be saying a prayer with my neighbor who must have surgery. Whatever it is, Lord, let me represent you well. In Jesus name, Amen.