Resilience over Perseverance

Mark 6:7-13

A number of commentaries that I have looked at pertaining to this gospel focus on the faith-producing attribute, “perseverance.”  And that makes a good deal of sense as we hear that Jesus tells the Twelve to only take a walking stick and sandals. We infer from this that he desires a rugged determination and perseverance in order to rescue the lost.


But as I immersed myself in the reading more deeply, I got a sense that a more relevant word for the day should be “resilient”. We may look at perseverance and resiliency as cousins. We may even use them interchangeably, but I believe that what is called for here is more than “determination” or “grit”, which is at the foundation of perseverance.


The apostles were being told to do more than just endure – they were told that when they are rebuffed, leave that place, get back up on their feet, move on to the next house in faith, and trust the mission - be resilient


I read an excerpt from a book, “Life’s Messy, Live Happy” by Cy Wakeman, a mom of 8 boys, that contrasts perseverance and resilience. It’s kind of a secular essay, but the underpinnings of faith can be seen readily. 


It says, “Perseverance is all about how I can muscle my way through, how I can survive my trials, I’ve got to do this on my own. If it’s going to be, it’s up to me.” Perseverance is more inwardly focused.


Resilience on the other hand is about our thoughts and actions intertwined with others. It’s about having a firm, reliable acceptance of reality (Jesus is saying as much in the Gospel, knowing that not all homes will be receptive). Resilience is also about having a deep conviction that the mission is meaningful.


Perseverance can be an important part of being resilient, but those with resilience see the meaning of the journey and are adaptive and creative.


The world was treated to an amazing story of resilience over the past weeks as we watched another kind of rescue mission, of a boys’ soccer team and their coach who were trapped in a flooded cave system in Thailand.  Think of the collective resilience of all those who triumphed:


Let me recount some of the events that led to this rescue, as we look at that mission as a metaphor for rescuing in the context of faith: First, after the team fails to return home, they’re reported missing and search efforts begin. Initial rescuers at the site reportedly find the team's bicycles, footwear and other belongings close to the cave's entrance.


Media and volunteers start to gather at the site as heavy rain continues to complicate the search and rescue process. Family and members of the community reach the cave, praying and holding vigils. Three days in, divers from the Royal Thai Navy arrive, and footprints are discovered.


Government officials, including the Deputy Prime Minister visit the site.

Rescuers consider other routes into the caves. Teams of soldiers search for alternative entrance points and the authorities consider drilling into the mountain to get access. Days continue to pass with little success.


Diving and survival specialists from all around the world arrive on the scene to help. Family members and officers are pictured fainting, as desperation deepens and weather conditions deteriorate.


Another group brings in pumps to try to help reduce the water levels in the cave, but continuing rain intermittently suspends those efforts.


The Prime Minister visits the relatives at the site, encourages them to be hopeful. "They're strong young men”, he says. The world's media gathers at the site, staking out in the muddy conditions to convey the latest news. People of all faith traditions offer prayerful support.


Once there is break in the stormy weather, supplies and air tanks were able to be brought into the cave as the rescue teams advance.


The soccer team’s coach was hailed as major contributor to the boys’ survival as he led them through meditative exercises while waiting.


Then finally, nine days after the team went missing, divers found all of the boys and coach. Medical aid and food is brought in to the team, as rescuers finally found the best way to get them out to safety.


I’ve named here a whole litany of contributors to the triumphant rescue of this soccer team: various rescue teams, divers, government leaders, the coach, cave specialists, the media, the medical professionals, and those praying around the world. The purpose of laying out this whole tapestry is to illustrate that to rescue the lost took, and takes, much more than one, or maybe even multiple peoples’ perseverance. It takes a collective resilience, spawned from a commitment to a successful mission.


This to me is the essence of the message from Jesus today. Be resilient. When we encounter the lost, those that need to hear the good news of Christ’s love, but have rebuffed our efforts, that doesn’t mean that we have failed. Nor does it mean that all hope is lost for that person.


We need to remember that God has been, and will continue to be persistent in giving that lost person countless opportunities to be rescued from the cave of darkness where they reside. He’ll keep trying until the very end. However, he may not keep trying through you, or doing it through your persistence, trying to rescue them through the one and only escape hatch that you have prescribed for that individual.


Shaking off the dust from our feet sometimes means nothing more than moving away from the idea that we are the only ones who must save others from their sins. Shaking off the dust, letting go, can be difficult.


Letting go doesn’t mean we’ve failed. In Thailand, just because the first set of divers may not have been the ones who ultimately saved those kids, that didn’t mean that they failed, and it doesn’t mean that they weren’t partially responsible for the rescue, and the final victory.


God sometimes turns the work over to other people. It’s important for us to prayerfully consider what God wants us to do in a given “save situation.” As it says in the second reading, “In him we were chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the one who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.”  God is in control. He is the one who accomplishes all things, not us. Our job is to stay connected to him. Listen for his promptings. He’ll direct the mission in his way, in his time.


Now in listening to this message, our thoughts might naturally go to our own sons or daughters, that nephew or niece or close friend, who is in that cave of darkness, who needs rescued. How we long to hear the words, “mom, dad, what time is Mass this weekend, I’d like to go.” Boy, that would be music to our ears, wouldn’t it??


When it comes to our own kids or friends who are among the lost, the message here is don’t ever give up hope. Remember that there are other rescuers and other escape hatches out there which God has deployed on your behalf, and more to the point, on his behalf.


Another question to consider: What is it Jesus is telling us to do once we have been rebuffed and we’ve kicked the dust from our feet? An important part of resilience is the moving on to the next lost person, or the person who needs their faith reinforced. There are millions and millions of rescue missions going on concurrently, at the same time.




That guy sitting next to you on the airplane, the woman behind you at the checkout line, the young fellow working out next to you in the gym – they are all someone else’s son or daughter, and more to the point, they are our Father’s son or daughter. The ten minute window that you may have with them may contribute in a small yet significant way to their rescue, though you may never end up knowing anything about the final outcome.


Having perseverance is commendable but resilience is about seeing the bigger picture, and having the conviction to know that God uses all of us to achieve his will, to rescue the lost, and heal the broken.


And so we pray today: “Dear Lord, we ask for your blessing on those family members and friends of ours who are among the lost. Use us as you wish. If it’s not directly through our words or deeds that the rescue takes place, that’s ok. When we are rebuffed or rejected, give us the humility and resilience to try another plan of action or to step aside, knowing that your efforts to save them go well beyond our meager abilities. May your Holy Spirit enlighten our hearts and minds for our own sake and for the sake of those you want to reach through us.”




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