Sunday, July 22, 2012

Jesus' Mission Goes on the Road

The 15th Sunday in Ordinary time

Mark 6:7-13

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick--no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them." So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Today’s gospel reading from Mark recalls a development in the mission of Jesus that concerns us all. He makes his disciples sharers in his mission. In Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus this comes immediately after his own townspeople have rejected him at the end of his Galilean ministry. If, during his earthly life, he is not to fulfill the great mission he has received from his Father in person, he will do so through his disciples. Initially he will employ the twelve collaborators who symbolize the New Israel through whose life the Savior will be present in every age.

We who take part in this liturgy have all been called to share in Christ’s great mission to the whole world. As we ponder this we should recall that God’s call is mysterious, originating in the eternal designs of God – as Paul writes, ‘Before the world was made, God chose us, chose us in Christ’. God’s call does not match our human expectations. Amos, the 8th century prophet, was a farmer who found himself charged with the daunting task of challenging the hypocrisy evident in the worship of the northern shrine of Bethel. The Twelve Apostles called by Jesus were an unlikely group, with backgrounds as varied as fishing, tax collecting and terrorism. Jesus sends them out with instructions that make very clear the seriousness of the task he is sharing with them: absolute reliance upon the ‘authority’ they have received from him, and an unselfishness and single-mindedness that will commend them to their listeners.

Their mission reflects the mission Jesus has been engaged in: the call to a ‘repentance’ which is open to what God is about to do, ‘casting out devils’ and healing the sick. (The modern reader should not be distracted by the gospels’ frequent references to exorcism. The culture of the society in which Jesus lived assumed – as many cultures do, even today – that ills and maladies, physical and psychological, are due to the influence of evil spirits. Jesus’ mission to triumph over all evil was inevitably seen as a conflict with evil powers.)

It is enlightening to compare the second reading’s summary of key themes of Paul’s thought with the themes the Twelve took with them on the missions on which Jesus ‘began to send them’. What Jesus promised as he announced the coming of God’s Kingdom was far from clear to them. They were sustained by their admiration of Jesus and the authority with which he had inaugurated his mission. The Christians for whom the letter to the Ephesians was written knew the fulfillment of all that Jesus had promised.

The blessings brought by the Paschal Mystery were beyond imagining for the Twelve as they told their hearers of the coming of God’s Kingdom. Paul, on the other hand, can tell the world of the ‘mystery’, God’s design from all eternity, as he ‘chose us in Christ’, and determined to bring the whole of creation ‘together under Christ’. In our text are many of the great themes with which our faith gives expression to the blessings brought by the Paschal Mystery: ‘grace’, ‘freedom’, ‘adoption’, ‘inheritance’ and ‘the seal of the Spirit’. It also tells us today of the importance of our community, and how this community is meant to pray together, support each other and grow together.

I think over the years we may have lost this aspect of community, and instead we get the Sunday Christian who comes to Mass, prays and goes home. No, we are a community and that implies doing things together – two by two – supporting one another, grieving with one another, sharing joys and sorrows, praying together, listening and discussing what God is saying to us. Only then are we prepared, as Jesus prepared his apostles, to go out to others outside our community and invite them to join us, and to bring our prayers, our healing, our help.

It is interesting to note how much a thing Mark makes of the poverty that Jesus sends his apostles out in. They are to have little to nothing. Their mind must be on the mission, not on their daily needs. “Give us this day our daily bread” was definitely played out in the apostles’ lives when they were out. They were to have sandals on their feet to allow them to travel distances, they had a staff which was a symbol of authority (one of the reasons Bishops today carry staffs) and they could take no sack to store up any food they might be given. Since they had no resources, they were to rely on God completely, and stay free of distractions. It would also mean that people would have to be hospitable to them, which is something that Jesus also was teaching and which became a principle of life in the early church.

Also, it let people see that they were not doing this for their own gain, but because they believed in the message. Not everyone will accept our invitation to join us, just as not everyone accepted the apostle’s invitation and message. When Jews used to come from Gentile territory they would shake off the dust on their feet before they entered a house. The Apostles were to shake the dust off their feet of any who would not accept them or hear their message. They were not to be discouraged, however. Their job was to bring the message. Success was in God’s hands, not theirs.

Finally, we learn exactly what the apostles did when they went out two by two. First, the preached repentance – which if you remember from previous homilies, meant turning your life around, changing your priorities, focusing your heart differently. In the Catholic church, we believe In the Sacrament of the Sick, and this passage is the Biblical basis for it. The apostles anointed the sick with oil and cured them. Today, when someone is sick, we use oil and anoint them. It used to be used only when someone is near death, but is much more widely used today for any sickness.

So, to draw to a close, I want you to realize that God is calling you to be a prophet. As we often sing: All That Is Hidden will be made clear. What you have heard in the dark, proclaim in the light. Listen to him. He will answer you. God is asking you to commit to your community our larger church community of this world, and when you are ready, be a prophet: go out to others in Jesus’ name, not worrying yourself about anything except sharing what you have heard from Jesus and carrying out whatever service you can do in the larger community. Let us pray that today we listen, answer and take action.

 Valentine Faith Community
Mass: 10AM Every Sunday
2670 Chandler Avenue
Suite 7 & 8
Las Vegas, NV 89120
702-523-8963 Rev Sue Provost, Pastor

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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