Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time – 1 July 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones


13 Ordinary Time B – July 1, 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2-6, 11-13; 2 Corinthians: 7,9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Most graduations are over and so are the speeches. The themes were often the same: Congratulations on what you have achieved. Strive to be the best you can be. Good luck in finding a job!

Every so often, a speech is more challenging, like the one author Michael Lewis gave at the Princeton University Baccalaureate. He said: “Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them … and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.” [1]

In a similar way Andrew Delbanco writes, “… at the core of the college idea is the notion that to serve others is to serve oneself … providing a sense of purpose … countering the loneliness and aimlessness by which all people, young and old, can be afflicted.” [2]

It seems that both writers are saying if you and I want to feel good about ourselves, if we want to avoid feeling insignificant, or worse yet, depressed, let’s do ourselves a favor … let’s go out and help someone.

This compassionate idea may be hard for us to grasp as the gap between people who are wealthy and poor continually widens. It is a puzzling challenge for college graduates who owe thousands of dollars in student loans. It is difficult to understand when societies like ours are still debating whether they have a responsibility to assure the good health of all its citizens.

Consider though how lucky some are to have a job, good health, partners, spouses, children, friends. But what about those whose lives have changed drastically because of an accident, a disease, unemployment, a broken relationship. It is not easy to say they are merely unlucky — is it? Some blame God saying it’s God’s will. Others believe it is bad luck. Still others will blame themselves. What do you think? [Paused here for congregation participation] 

The book of Wisdom this morning gives us a clue to understanding the miracle stories in Mark’s gospel — stories about two women who were in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Wisdom tells us that God does not deal in death; that all creation is meant to be imperishable. Somehow death, symbolized by the serpent, entered the world and changed everything. God had to take action to save humanity from death. In the psalm today we praised and thanked God for “rescuing us.”

Note that the author of Wisdom is speaking not about physical but moral and spiritual death. [3] These are two aspects of death (spiritual and moral) that, today, are gripping diverse cultures, dividing citizenships, challenging religious authorities, questioning belief systems.

God may be defined in many ways. We all have our pet names for God. One way is to try to understand God as a process — a never ending pouring out process (kenosis) [4]

God gave something of God in the act of creation. The same thing happened in the birth of Jesus and in the infusion of the holy Spirit. God is continually at work in acts of creativity and relationships. God’s hospitality knows no limitation, it has no boundary. Unlike God we have limitations. There is only so much we can give before there is no more.

Both gospel miracles are references to faith and trust in God. They are about the possibilities of salvation, the task that God set out to do because evil lurks everywhere. However, there is more to the stories. Jesus felt that something left him when he healed the woman. Part of Jesus was spent, poured, as he ministered to her. The reading from Paul this morning said Jesus left behind riches so that we would not be poor and that all peoples would experience the abundance of God here on earth.

In human relations something of us, part of our own abundance, is spent when we willingly give ourselves to others — our lovers, our children, strangers. This is not true when someone, deprived of equal rights and the freedom to choose, is coerced or forced into some form of subordination.

The idea of giving something of oneself became apparent to me several years ago. While designing a hospital chapel in Owensboro, Kentucky, I commissioned a sculptor to fashion a statue of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, the young girl in today’s gospel. Sadly and without warning the young artist died suddenly before completing the sculpture. We decided to use it anyway. It now stands in the hospital garden unfinished. Parts of Jesus and Jairus’ daughter are missing from the statue. It serves as a reminder that the work Jesus started is not done.

The word church is derived from the Greek ἐκκαλέω and literally means to be called out. As members of this church, like new college graduates, you and I are summoned to do something to strengthen ourselves, to establish our identity and to strive for success. However, we are also called to give something of ourselves back to society. Princeton University graduates were challenged by Michael Lewis like you and I are challenged by the Word of God today. What can we do to help those who are experiencing what one might call “bad luck?”


1 Lewis, Michael. “Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie” Princeton University Baccalaureate, June 3, 2012

2 Delbanco, Andrew. College: What It Was and Should Be (Princeton University, 2012) in Roth, Michael, New York Times, July 10, 2012, page 17.

3 Fuller, Reginald H. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 319-322.

4 From the Greek κενόω — to empty out


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

4 thoughts on “Homily – 13th Sunday Ordinary Time – 1 July 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones

  1. Luck is always an interesting concept for us human beings. Of course, there are physical rules that we all are bound to; Even for our good friend and mentor, Jesus. The luck of the draw then, is part of what we have to deal with here. When we cross over, how we do, what are the good and bad happenings in our lives, what we are dealt, there are certain things that are given.

    But luck, good or bad, is overrated. We choose. We are responsible for much in our lives. Including physical body reactions to our choices about our thoughts and intentions. We create, because God has given us this gift: The freedom to choose, and to be responsible for our choices.

    it seems to me that choosing love over fear is our task to learn and practice. It can be for our fellow persons, caught in the physical rules, or those reaping the outcome of their choices. Either way, our own personal outpouring is what Jesus has called us to do.

    I so appreciate this homily.
    Thank you for this wonderful discourse and the space to reflect and discuss it.


  2. The best answer to the three options mentioned in Fr. Vosko’s homily this morning is probably all three although its most likely there is no good answer. In sports many may say success is a matter of luck. For example in Super Bowl XLII in 2008 there was two “lucky” events that occurred in one play. The first was Eli Manning’s lucky dodging of several New England defenders to throw a deep pass downfield that was caught “miraculously” by David Tyree. Tyree somehow had the presence of mind to use his helmet to hold the ball against as he was tackled to the ground; literally using his head. The actions of both players could be construed as luck, skill or even the will of God; perhaps a combination of all. The point is I guess that God given skills can result in a limited amount of luck based on a high degree will. That play resulted in a large measure to the Giants win over the Patriots. So much for sports analogies.


  3. While listening to Richard’s homily, I was reminded of something that happened in Haiti. If you believe in luck, Haitians have to be among the unluckiest people in the world.

    During my first trip in 1996, the 18 members of our group went in twos and threes to various points in and around Port-au-Prince to get the flavor of the culture. Two women in their late-20s or 30s went to a certain market. (Commerce in Haiti is mainly carried on by women street merchants using a little space on the ground to display their wares, anything from toothpaste to hub caps.)

    Both Americans had long hair. Admiring Haitian women started stroking it, saying, “You’re beautiful; we’re ugly. But it’s God’s will.”

    God doesn’t care if it rains on my picnic, which team wins a game or who has the winning lottery ticket. But God does care when people believe that they’re the throwaways of the world, living short, stunted lives just because of where they happened to be born.

    Unable to get their political act together? Or proud descendants of the forebears who won the only successful slave revolution in the history of the human race? (Look it up.) Expecting that the only other republic in the Western Hemisphere, which had also recently thrown off a European yoke would immediately recognize them as an independent nation? Or ignored because the US was still full of slaves who might take a lesson from other black Africans?

    Unable to get their economic act together? Or the richest colony in this hemisphere, producers of so much sugar cane that Napoleon funded his campaigns throughout Europe with the revenue from sales of that sugar? Or, having driven the French out, responsible for such a drop in the French emperor’s wealth that he was forced to sell 1/3 of what is now the US (Louisiana Purchase) at a bargain basement price?

    Slavery and colonialism by European Christians created the wealth that allowed the capitalist system to come into existence. Then the ‘great powers’ used the tools of capitalism (including war) to keep those who produced the wealth in servitude.

    If your heart has never been broken, I urge you to go to Haiti and see eager young men waiting, waiting, waiting for someone to hire them. I’m sure that this waste of human potential and human dreams for a decent life leaves God with a permanently broken heart, emptied out in grief for all the Haitians of the world.


    • Great comment Barbara. Says it all and puts things in realistic perspective. Haiti and certainly other poor nations here on the earth needs all the help the more affluent nations and individuals can provide.


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