Making a difference

14 July 2024 15th Sunday Year B

Giovanni di Pietro di Bernadone was wealthy, popular and influential. Yet, he renounced his wealth, privilege and lavish lifestyle to follow Jesus and to proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Francis of Assisi, as we now know him, embraced poverty, dressing himself in a coarse woolen tunic, the dress of poor Umbrian peasants.


In today’s gospel, Jesus sent out the Twelve, selected from among his disciples. He sent out the disciples in pairs, emphasising the importance of community. The disciples went forth together to preach the good news, drive out demons and heal people. Jesus also gave them specific instructions about travelling light: they were to bring no food, money, or even a spare tunic. They were utterly dependent on the providence of God and the hospitality of others.


Our call to discipleship is a profound call to live and love radically. In his encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis encourages us all to follow the example of St Francis who embraced simplicity and poverty, sowed seeds of peace and love, and walked alongside the least of his brothers and sisters. Pope Francis describes St Francis’s attitude of “fraternal openness” which allowed him to “acknowledge, appreciate and love each person”.


This call to live simply does not mean that being poor is in itself a virtue. In fact, poverty often exists because of unjust social structures which widen gaps between rich and poor and do not provide for those in need.


Rather, we are called to be free from accruing status, possessions and self-importance, in order to commit ourselves deeply to living the gospel. This attitude grounds us in an entirely different set of values from those held by the world. It also emboldens us to strive to create just social structures which distribute wealth equitably and empower the weak.


Jon Owen, who leads Wayside Chapel, Sydney, is a contemporary example of this call to live Jesus’s commission. The Wayside Chapel, which has more than 600 volunteers, supports the homeless, drug addicts, domestic violence victims and refugees. It provides showers, emergency clothing, and free meals, as well as counselling, employment support, and social activities like bingo and music jam sessions.


While studying at university, Jon felt the need to work for Urban Neighbours of Hope. He left an upwardly mobile path in life to take vows of poverty in order to work with the disadvantaged. Later, with his wife Lisa, he opened their Sydney home to those in need, including refugees, former criminals and recovering drug addicts. Jon’s attitude that “no one is a problem to be solved but a person to be met” has inspired him to reach people who would otherwise remain unseen.


May the radical love of Jesus inspire all of us to make a difference in our communities and in the world today.


Sophie Clements

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