Our readings today give us a great summary of discipleship and what it means to be church. In our first reading Ezra is overcome with the guilt of his people, and acknowledges that guilt before God, describing what happened to the people in exile after the Babylonians conquered Israel and destroyed the Temple that Solomon had built.
But Ezra also acknowledges that even though the people were in exile as a consequence of their sins, God had not abandoned them! And so, after the Persians conquered the Babylonians, they allowed the Israelites to go home. As Ezra says, “Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of God and restore its ruins. God has shown mercy and given new life to the people to rebuild the Temple.
Even though God may let us suffer the consequences of our actions, He does not abandon us! God shows us mercy time and time again, and continually offers us new life. But this new life is not meant to be lived just for ourselves. In our first reading the Israelites were to rebuild the Temple. In our Gospel reading, Jesus sends out the Twelve to proclaim the Good News and drive out demons and cure diseases. He tells them to take nothing for the journey except themselves, and so rely on God for what they need. In a way, Jesus is sending the Twelve out to do what the Israelites did earlier. He sends them out to help people not rebuild the Temple, but rebuild their lives. If there are some who are not ready to be healed or refuse to have their lives restored, they are to simply move on and shake the dust from their feet as testimony.
God has given us not openly a second chance, but a third and a fifth, and maybe even a hundredth chance, and we are called to be instruments that God uses to give others another chance as well. May we be about building up, not tearing down, and may the Good News be always proclaimed through us!
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.