Practice Makes Perfect

Homily for 15th Sunday
by Deacon Scott D. Gilfillan

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two… He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. Mk 6:7-13

Practice makes perfect. You may have heard this phrase growing up. Practicing a free throw, or a band instrument, or swimming. Practice is necessary to get better at a chosen activity.

‘Practice makes perfect’ is also one of the lessons that comes from sending the twelve on a mission and instructing them to “take nothing for the journey – no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” You might ask, “What exactly are they practicing?” The answer is faith.

It is hard to connect this gospel with our lives. Who would go on a journey with no money, no food, no GPS, no phone? Who would go on a journey into unknown territory with just the clothes on his back, the sandals on her feet? In fact, when we go on a journey we’ll do just the opposite – pack as much as will fit in our car!

As hard as it is to connect this gospel with our lives, we must not dismiss it by thinking, “Gee, that’s the kind of faith the disciples have. But not me.” A closer look at the scripture will reveal that Jesus didn’t send the apostles on this mission because their faith was perfected, but because it needed some practice to shore up what was lacking.

In the phrase immediately before the sending of the twelve, the gospel says something ominous: “Jesus was not able to perform any miracles in that place because of their lack of faith.” Change the pronoun to make it more personal. Jesus was not able to perform any miracles in ‘your’ place because of ‘your’ lack of faith.

How did Jesus respond? The next sentence continues: “He went around to the villages in the vicinity teaching.” One translation says it this way: “And then he went on a teaching tour.”

The progression is then (1) lack of faith, (2) teaching tour, (3) sending of the apostles. In other words, after seeing their lack of faith and connecting this with a lack of corresponding miracles, Jesus went on a teaching tour. Parents would call this a ‘teachable moment.’

When Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles because of ‘their’ lack of faith, the disciples may have been part of the ‘their’. In other words, they probably weren’t filled with this heroic faith, they were just like us, filled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear. But, by going on a journey empty-handed – by practicing the faith – they were able to fill what was lacking. In the end, they were amazed at their ability to expel demons and heal the afflicted. That is what practicing the faith will get.

It is in the practicing where the faith grows. It is easy to get the impression we need to have great faith to do great things. Our faith only grows, however, when we obediently follow the will of God and take a step into the unknown and uncertain. In other words, the action brings about the faith, the faith isn’t a prerequisite for the action.

To practice your faith, get out of your comfort zone. Follow God’s lead, even into situations where you’re not in control and you don’t know the outcome, into situations where you’re going to be vulnerable, exposed, and maybe humbled. This doesn’t have to be a missionary journey to a foreign land but could be signing up for a new class at the Y, or stopping by a non-profit and asking how you can help, or altering the usual, tiresome dialogue in a relationship that has been estranged.

God is calling you to a deeper relationship. God is calling you to a deeper commitment. God is calling you into a deeper expression of service. God is calling you to love, forgive, and accept the differences of others. Sometimes we hold back and say to ourselves, “If only I had a little more faith.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Obedience comes first, faith follows.

Don’t be afraid to venture into the unknown. That’s where the faith grows and the miracles take place. The last thing you want is for a gospel writer to chronicle your life and say, “Jesus was not able to perform any miracles in ‘your’ place because of ‘your’ lack of faith.”