Scripture Readings, Sunday, July 14, 2024

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Amos 7:12-15

Ephesians 11:3-14

Mark 6:2-13

Many, many years ago, on the Sunday before Christmas, a young man in his teens in the parish I served at the time chose to take his own life, mostly for reasons known only to himself. I spent many hours with the family that day and in the days following. One memory stands out amid the many that still linger with me, a day that was filled with so many tears as well as with a quiet but unspoken anger. It was something the father of the family told me that Sunday, something he said with much conviction, as I remember it: that if each of us could put all the pieces of our lives in the middle of the road along with all the pieces of everyone else’s life, we would each pick up the very same pieces we laid down.

I’m not sure everyone would agree with his thinking. In fact, I suspect many would not. Yet that father seemed to believe it, that he would choose to pick up the life he had and not someone else’s, regardless of what others would say or do. Now, as I think back upon his comment so many years later, it seems to echo much of what the Scriptures of this Sunday seem to say — that we are sent by our God, that we are sent into the lives we find ourselves living with all their good and all their bad, with all their joys as well as their pains and sadness. We are not sent to live someone else’s life, only the one each of us has been given.

I’m not sure why the father believed what he said to me that day, perhaps because for him to have rejected the tragedy brought about by his son that day would have meant to have also said no to all the good his son brought into his life as well, to have said no to his son’s very presence for the time they had together. Life, it seems, comes as a package, not a smorgasbord from which we are able to pick and choose. The only choice we have seems to be how we will respond to the life each of us has been given, into which each of us has been sent.

I would not want to suggest that God assembles our lives ahead of time, ahead of our birth, as if God assigns misfortune to some and not to others. Why each life unfolds as it does, none of us can sort out. Certainly, many factors enter into life — the choices we make or do not make, the harm others to do us as well as the harm we do to others and to ourselves, the cultural and familial situations in which each of us finds ourselves — they all shape and form us into the lives we lead, all so much beyond our realizing or understanding. In the end, our life is the life into which we’ve been sent and not into some other life of our own wishing or imagining or choosing.

So here we are with the lives each of us has been given. The Letter to the Ephesians this week says that God created us to be holy, though I’m not all that sure what it means to be holy. I’m pretty sure it’s not about saying lots of prayers, or doing lots of penances, or looking downcast when we’d really rather be looking upcast — though there’s nothing really wrong with any of those if that’s what people really want to do. I think maybe being holy is living well the life we’ve been given to live, the life to which we’ve been sent, though what living life well means can all too often put us in a quandary as well.

I think Jesus lived his life well. He was faithful to its comings and goings, to the people he met along the way, to traveling light and to overcoming the evil that sometimes seems to make a home in life. All of that is a part of what it meant for Jesus and so for us as well, I think, though in the end, it all brought him to the cross. We too never know the ending until it happens, and all of that can take some trust in God on our part.

The Letter to the Ephesians also says something about God having made known to us the mystery of his will. Now for that, too, I’m never quite sure what it might mean or look like. I never get any messages about what God wants me to do, and I’d put money on the fact that you don’t either. So that brings us back to living life well as best we can in the image of Jesus.

So, there we are — created to be holy and to do God’s will, but seldom knowing with much certainty what either might look like, except maybe to live as best we can the life to which we’ve been sent.


What does living life well mean for you?

Would you pick up the same pieces of life that you laid down?