Missionaries Should Wear Diamond Rings
Beginning yesterday we read for six days Matthew’s instruction on being a missionary. Jesus offers encouragement: “The gift you have received, give as a gift,” “When the hour comes you will be given what to say,” “He who welcomes you welcomes me,” money is not your goal, don’t be afraid, proclaim what you hear from the housetops! At times you will be offered the cup of cold water, or be invited to stay and eat a meal.
We also hear sobering observations: some are hauled into court and violence happens among family members. Like Jesus, you bring peace but also division.
God’s humor has no end. Imagine being a Christian missionary and then being called an atheist by pagans because you didn’t offer sacrifice to the gods!
We are missionaries, we are sent. Our moment is difficult. It deals with the virus pandemic, its resulting confusions and uncertainties. There are also painful expressions of hurt for what has taken root in our culture as acceptable yet is full of blind malice. The resulting upheaval for justice and equality for all men and women is frightening, both physically as gun violence soars, and armed people flashing weapons are common; and internally as values are challenged and discarded with no dialogue.
As missionaries, we go making the announcement, “The reign of God is at hand!”
Hosea today tells us to remember. God remembers as a mother would her tender love for Israel. She asks Israel to remember too; and stir up your love again.
I discovered a ‘missionary’ in the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins recently. Becoming a Roman Catholic while at Oxford, later a Jesuit in the mid1800’s, he brought division in his family. He knew privilege from his education and social class, but he also knew what it meant to be a victim when others’ decisions limited his freedom. In Dublin and Liverpool, he saw industrialization destroying the poor and the environment, both he loved, both were precious to him. He was a missionary in his prayer and speech that England would find her way to union with Rome. Hopkins was an ordinary missionary like us in the faithfulness of friendship and in pondering and mourning the many suicides of his companions from university days.
In The Wreck of the Deutschland, his first major poem he sees a dying nun as a symbol of confidence in God. She calls out, “Christ, come quickly”. In a poem only months before his death, when he was beaten up by discouragement, he uses the beautiful words, ‘immortal diamond’. Like Hosea he remembers, he remembers the nun, and says of himself, ‘across my foundering deck shone a beacon, an eternal beam…I am all at once what Christ is since he was what I am…is immortal diamond.’
Can we explain being a missionary? Shipwreck and hope, feeling lost, a sharper vision of what Christ’s love asks, a growing love that makes painfulness sharper. It is being Christ, it is that immortal diamond, ‘the reign of God is at hand.’
Father William Murphy, CP is the pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Jamaica, New York.