“Take nothing with you”
“Let our faith in God flourish!”
by Michael J. McCann
One has to love the gospel of St Mark. I know, I do.
It is the writing of a young man, and as with many a young person, St Mark is in a hurry to get where he is going, and many a detail, which we would love to know, is irrelevant to him. Only the facts important to him are listed.
The events in today’s gospel took place in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown where Jesus was amazed at the disbelief of those who listened to him as he preached in the synagogue.
St Mark then simply says “he summoned the Twelve”. No details of how, when or to where. We are supposed to remember that, a couple of chapters back in the gospel, the referred to and so-called Twelve were Jesus’ closest disciples, otherwise known as his Apostles.
Now Jesus was not sending his pairs of missionary Apostles to far-off cities or countries. We know this, for the simple reason, that they were very soon back to Jesus reporting on their successes. The places which they visited were clearly within walking distance, there and back.
I always find it most interesting that Jesus told each of them to go only with a solid walking stick or staff, as if to ensure their own minimal security against anything or those who would harm them. They were told to wear sandals. Was it the case that some normally did not? But they were not to bring a change of clothes. For everything else, there was to be trust in God and in those whom they met.
And so, the first six pairs of missionaries of the new Church, the community of those faithful to Jesus, set off “to proclaim repentance”.
This is quite extraordinary in that one would expect the Apostles to first tell all and sundry of the love of God for mankind. But no!
It is first to be an urging to regret wrongdoing, an emptying of the soul of its sins, of a stating of remorse for having offended God. It is a missionary appeal to conscience that wrong has been done in the individual’s life, and that regret for that wrong, through the medium of God’s inspiring grace, will allow faith to flourish.
Let us regret what wrongs we have done! Let our faith in God flourish!
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
1st Reading – Amos 7:12-15
Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, said to Amos, ‘Go away, seer;’ get back to the land of Judah; earn your bread there, do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel; this is the royal sanctuary, the national temple.’ ‘I was no prophet, neither did I belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets,’ Amos replied to Amaziah ‘I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it was the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.”’
Amos was a herdsman who tended sycamore trees when God called him to prophesy to Israel at the royal sanctuary at Bethel. Aware of his shortcomings, Amos undertakes the journey to Bethel in the prosperous North to proclaim its failure to act justly towards the poor. Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, rejects Amos’s criticism of the king and the powers that be and banishes him from the place. To undermine him, Amos is also unjustly accused of profiting from his ministry. Amos responds by saying that his prophetic task is God’s choice not his and that he cannot be bought by priests or kings to make politically convenient statements. Amos’s loyalty is to God and the message God asked him to preach to unjust and oppressive people. His loyalty also gives rise to a question for each one of us. Are we on the side of justice or on the side of social or political convenience?
LORD, Adonai, you chose Amos and sent him to the centre of royal power in people’s lives to proclaim your justice, your love for the poor and needy. Like Amos, we too are chosen. May we trust in your living word. May we become bearers of your compassion and concern. May we reach out to those in need and be active on behalf of people who are troubled and oppressed. Help us to recognise when we avoid the truth and collude with what is politically convenient. Grant us the wisdom that sits by your throne. Grant us the courage to do justice and live humbly by your word. May your compassion and light be our guides. Now and forever. Amen.
Our psalm today continues the prophetic message of justice and unfailing love, expressing as it does the longing of a suffering and deprived people for restoration, healing, justice and peace. Can you see the link to God’s breathtaking love and fidelity? Do we remember God’s awesome love, especially in moments of difficulty and distress? Do we respond lovingly to God’s call to each one of us to be loving and compassionate in our dealings with each other? Have we embraced the call to loving-kindness, truth, justice and peace as core values in our lives? Do such values guide our dealings with people and the earth our home in ways that favour genuine well-being and prosperity? Do justice and loving-kindness walk before us and prepare the way of our steps? Are we compassionate and faithful people?
LORD, Adonai, may my mind and heart be alive in your word today! Fill me with your loving-kindness! Make me a channel of your peace and justice! I rejoice in your glory! May it dwell deeply in our families and in our land! May kindness and truth dance together in our lives! May justice and peace sing new songs in the land! May your Spirit save me from folly! Remind me that we all depend on you for life! Bless the land! Bless all living things! Bless the cosmos of which we are all a part! At the altar of the world we sing our praise to you. Now and forever. Amen.
2nd Reading – Ephesians 1:3-14
Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us with all the spiritual blessings of heaven in Christ.
Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence,
determining that we should become his adopted sons, through Jesus Christ
for his own kind purposes,
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved,
in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins.
Such is the richness of the grace
which he has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose,
the hidden plan he so kindly made in Christ from the beginning
to act upon when the times had run their course to the end:
that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head,
everything in the heavens and everything on earth.
And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own,
chosen from the beginning,
under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things
as he decides by his own will;
chosen to be,
for his greater glory,
the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.
Now you too, in him,
have heard the message of the truth and the good news of your salvation,
and have believed it;
and you too have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise,
the pledge of our inheritance
which brings freedom for those whom God has taken for his own, to make his glory praised.
St Paul leads us in a marvellous prayer of praise to our loving God who endlessly loves and blesses us in Christ the beloved. Do you see how this prayer stresses the Trinitarian nature of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Can you see how it exalts the great love with which we are chosen in Christ before the foundations of the world? We are called in love to oneness with God. We are invited to learn how to see everything from a position of oneness and compassion, to be holy and without blemish in God’s transforming presence. How convinced are you that we are all blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens? How convinced are you that each one of us is adopted in Christ and sealed with the living presence and promises of the Holy Spirit? Have you embraced forgiveness? Have you opened your life to the riches of grace God lavishes upon us? Touched by that vast flood of grace, are we ready to be witnesses to Christ in a society turning from God?
Lord Jesus, we glorify Abba-God with you today! We glorify the Trinity! We dance our praise and gratitude in the refreshing rain of your spiritual blessing! We rejoice that we are chosen in you and through you! We rejoice to be able to walk with you and talk with you! Make us holy! Cleanse us of every blemish! May the Spirit’s promises blossom in our hearts and minds! You are the Beloved! In you every grace and blessing flows with lavish generosity, like precious nard and fragrant oil upon our heads! May you be blessed and praised every moment! May you be glorified and acclaimed! In you we touch God’s endless choice and love, God’s endless compassion and mercy! Call us again to oneness with your amazing Trinity! Call us to the beating heart of your healing Love. Now and forever. Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 6:7-13
Jesus made a tour round the villages, teaching. Then he summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs giving them authority over the unclean spirits. And he instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no haversack, no coppers for their purses. They were to wear sandals but, he added, ‘Do not take a spare tunic.’ And he said to them, ‘If you enter a house anywhere, stay there until you leave the district. And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.’ So they set off to preach repentance; and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.
Our gospel today underlines Jesus’s desire to spread his word and to invite men and women to continue his mission in the world. They are called like Amos to announce and bring into being God’s vision for the world rather than unthinkingly accept the preferences of the powers that be. Like Jesus, they are to confront the powers of darkness however and wherever they are present in the world and in people’s lives. Jesus reminds them to let go of anything that blocks their mission. They are to travel light, to trust and depend on others, and be content with what is offered to them along the way. He reminds them about rejection. He also reminds them to be ready to shake the dust of such places and experiences off their feet and move on. Jesus wants us to be people who make God’s love and care real in the world. That is what it means to be a true disciple. Am I up to the challenge of being a living witness to Christ?
Lord Jesus, today you remind us of your ardent desire to spread your word of life. You invite us to join you in your mission in the world. You call us like Amos to bring into being your glorious vision for the world. You encourage us to confront the powers of darkness however and wherever we meet them. You inspire us to let go of all the things that block our commitment to you. You urge us to travel light through the earth our home, to trust each other, and let go of our self-centred greed. Show us how to shake off the dust of painful experiences as you did, especially those of false witness and rejection. Touch us with the grace to move on. Most of all, inspire us to be bearers of your unfailing love and kindness! Make us living witnesses to your never-ending Trinitarian compassion! May you be glorified! Now and forever. Amen.
Although his views were rejected, Jesus did not stop preaching the Kingdom. He chose a group of disciples to be more intimately associated with his mission. He entrusted his authority and his word to them. Their “food for the journey” was to be freedom, from persons and from things. They were not to bring with them the things they needed for their daily survival. Instead, they were to depend on the people who received their message. Those who do not receive them or listen to them will be held responsible for their attitude and will miss out on the opportunity to draw close to the kingdom, freed from their demons and illnesses. We have to admire this Jesus, preacher of God, whose failure among his own people led him to redouble his efforts by letting himself be represented by a group of friends. And we should not forget that an apostle sent by Jesus should not be preoccupied with having all he needs for the journey, nor with the welcome he is likely to receive. The Lord’s mandate is enough to make the Kingdom become a reality. Having the Lord’s gospel as their occupation, and the order from Jesus to preach it, should leave their hands and hearts free for their mission. The Christian takes the place of Christ in the world and enjoys his power.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
Jesus has gone back to his own country and has begun a new stage in his ministry. However, it did not get off to a good start. In Nazareth he had to endure the contempt and incomprehension of his own people (Mk 6, 1-6a). Still, he does not get discouraged. He reacts to their incredulity by preaching in the villages close to Nazareth (Mk 6, 1.4). He will not stop travelling around and he will not cease to be concerned with the people who follow him. He devotes himself more intensely than ever to the Kingdom, but that does not keep him from concentrating on the education and formation of his disciples. He now takes a new and decisive initiative: he will send a small group in his place and with his power.
To offer others what his own people had rejected, he decides to choose a group of disciples who will represent him, and preach in his name and with his authority. Jesus does not let failure get the better of him. He reacts to the opposition of his own people by choosing a group of disciples who will share his life and his work. He multiplies his efforts by increasing twelve-fold the number engaged in his personal mission. It is clear, then, that the mission of the twelve begins within Jesus’ own mission and is part of it. He gives them all his power (Mk 6, 7), and some rules of behaviour (Mk 6, 8-11). His apostles take his place and act in accordance with his directives. They are his representatives if they go where he sends them and do what he tells them.
This account is instructive. What matters is not what one might want to know about the facts of the mission, but what the evangelist thinks is essential for his readers to know. The intrusion in verse 9 is significant, even if somewhat ungrammatical! The severe demand imposed on the missionaries comes from Jesus himself, and the evangelist wants us to hear it in Jesus’ own words. The twelve apostles will do what they have learnt from Jesus, and they will do even more. Mark has not yet told us that Jesus anointed the sick with oil, but his apostles did so (Mk 6, 13). The obedience required of disciples is more than just mimicking the master’s actions. The apostle who keeps to the instructions received, will know what the Lord expects of him at any given moment.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
In this account of the mission of the Twelve, the Gospel brings home to us one of the decisive marks of our Christian identity. The disciple of Jesus is sent into the world to preach the Kingdom of God. It is only in this way that he represents the Lord, preaching his gospel and acting in his place and with his power. When he sent them out, Jesus transformed his disciples into apostles. He made these apprentices the new messengers of the Gospel. Jesus had good reason for not wanting them to remain always with him, enjoying his presence. They were the privileged witnesses of his teaching and his power, and, because the Kingdom of God had to be preached, he sent them out into the world as his personal representatives.
Nowadays Christians are inclined to think that the world and the society in which we live, even our place of work and our family, have little or nothing to do with our faith and with God. After years of being misunderstood by non-believers, and under subtle attack in our own day from forces that are hostile, we have withdrawn from the world. We think we can live our faith, and the demands of faith, quietly. We find it easier to develop a more private, personal relationship with God. And as a result, our world, our society, our workplaces and our homes, do not often hear us speaking about God, and hardly ever see us speaking to him. We may not intend it, and may not even notice it, but our efforts to live our faith privately make it more difficult for others to have faith.
We are often surprised at things that happen, ordinary everyday happenings or extraordinary events, in which some, often the weakest and most vulnerable, suffer greatly. We frequently complain that the ordinary person in the street does not count any more. People’s rights are overlooked, especially the rights of Christians. But if we are silent about God, and keep him hidden or keep him to ourselves, we are leaving the weak and defenceless without a protector in a world where they count for very little. When God is absent, the world becomes less human, more selfish and inhospitable. And this is the result of our silence! We should never forget that it is not atheists who deny the word of God, but we, believers who have received the word, and instead of proclaiming it, prefer to remain silent. God is gradually withdrawing from our world, because there is nobody to represent him, and we, who should be his representatives, are forgetting him. Jesus did not abandon the world to its lot. He sent disciples to take his place, representing him with his Gospel, and with his power to resist evil.
If we continue to keep God to ourselves in order to protect our faith, we will lose our faith and the world will lose God. We must make room in our hearts for the present-day world, such as it is, and we must accept that we are being sent to it by Christ as his representatives. When we come to regard the society in which we live, our workplaces and our homes, as the place of our mission, then God will have a place there, and we will be his witnesses, authentic representatives of God. Faith is not preserved by keeping it for our own use, or by living it on our own, nourishing it in the intimacy of our own hearts, but by giving it to others and sharing it with the people with whom we live.
The gospel reminds us that the disciple of Jesus is not called to live his whole life close to Jesus. He should not pretend that Jesus is always at hand, or, as we might like to think, always at our disposition and our exclusive service. We must give to our world the faith and the joy which are the gift of the God in whom we believe, and the kingdom in which we hope. These are the gifts that we possess as believers, and which we owe to the world in which we live. As witnesses of God, all we owe the people of our day is our experience of faith. Everything else is unnecessary. When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, he forbade them to carry provisions or to depend on receiving a welcome. They were to give to the people they met what they had learnt during the time they spent with Jesus – the conviction that God is close at hand and that he is present in some concrete signs which signify the struggle against evil. That is all we have to do. We do not have to do anything else to fulfil the command of Jesus and be recognised as authentic disciples. We do not have to be richer or more intelligent than others, to be apostles of Jesus. It is enough to know that we have been sent as his representatives.
The disciple of Jesus cannot stay at home, no matter how easy it might be to live the faith in privacy or with those who share it. Let us not forget that the Church, this Church which was born two thousand years ago, started with a dozen apostles who went out to the world. Their only food for the journey was the command of Jesus. Their only riches were his power at work in them. Anyone who wants to belong to this Church, must feel that he or she has been sent by Jesus and must act accordingly. If we never speak about God to our family members or our friends, even in moments of difficulty, how can they believe that our faith makes a difference to our lives? If our neighbours and acquaintances cannot see our faith, how can we convince them that we are people of faith? We must proclaim with our lips what we believe in our hearts. It is not possible to keep hidden for long our genuine convictions and sentiments. If we do not speak about God to the people around us, it will not be long before our faith dies, if we have ever had faith. We need to become aware again of our mission, and recover our pride in being witnesses to God in our world, and the satisfaction of carrying out in the world the mission God has given us.
We are challenged by this Word of God which seeks to reawaken in us our identity as apostles. The world of today needs our faith and our witness, even though it does not say so. Precisely because it does not ask for our witness, the world has need of believers if it is to learn to believe. If we have experienced God’s closeness, we cannot keep quiet about our experience. Jesus granted us this experience because he wanted to share it with many others through us. If the disciples of Jesus, who know that they have been chosen and sent by him, continue to keep quiet and not to bear witness to him, who will convince the world of God’s love? This is our task and our responsibility.
In the words of St Paul, we thank God for our vocation to be Jesus’ representatives in this world of ours, and we pledge, like Paul, to dedicate our lives to bearing witness. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … who chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless, and to live through love in his presence, determining that we should become his adopted sons through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes.” May God bring to fulfilment the good work that he has begun in us, in calling us to follow Jesus and to proclaim his gospel!