15th Sunday in Ordinary Time – 12th July 2015

"Go, tell my people"

Scripture Reading – Mark 6:7-13

Jesus 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.

REFLECTION

The message from the readings of our Mass to day is a most important and powerful message. It is a message from God. It goes like this; “Go, tell my people”, that God has blessed us with special blessings from heaven as his people. This message was given many times and in many ways going back centuries before Christ. To day we hear it from Amos (First reading) who was working as a shepherd when the Lord called him. The Lord told him to go and talk to the people of Israel as a prophet, to remind them of their status as God’s people; and that they are called to live lives worthy of that calling, to be holy and just in all their ways.. In the second reading, St Paul reminds us again of how God chose us in Christ to be holy and spotless and to live lives that are loving, and that we, are adopted sons and daughters, children of God. Indeed we are truly blessed to be chosen and called to such a high status, and given the designation, children of God. That is why we need to pay attention to how we live our lives and why we need to repent when we fail to live up to our high calling. In the Gospel today we read how Jesus sent out the Apostles to preach that very message, to preach Repentance.

The words Repent, Repented, and repentance are mentioned 100 times in the Bible. In the Bible the word ‘Repent ‘ comes from the Greek word, Metanoia, which means a change of heart. This is what Repentance is about; changing our hearts and minds, which results in a change of actions. It is about looking into our hearts and changing the way we live our lives. Pope Francis has said that ‘if you don’t listen to the Lord, if you don’t accept correction and if you don’t trust him, your heart has not yet repented’.

Each one of us is unique. There is only one of me. God created each one of us to fulfil a certain purpose in life. He says, “I have come that you may have life and have it the full”. Each one of us must look within to find ourselves, to search and to seek what we are called to be and to do in life. We are meant to discover within ourselves the God-given beauty, the potential, the talents and gifts that we possess. We are meant to use these gifts, the talents to become full authentic human beings. In this way we manifest in our own unique way the goodness and the glory of God. That is God’s dream for us. And that is what our life’s journey is about.

Being human we often fall short in carrying out God’s plan for us. That is why it is important that we take time to stop every now and then to look into our hearts and minds and change what needs changing. This can mean making a big change or conversion in the way we live our lives. Sometimes people lose their way in life, like the prodigal son, or the lost sheep. God in his great goodness and mercy leaves the door open for them to return.

Recently a young man told me that for a time he had lost his faith. But he had had a conversion and has a deeper faith now than before. It was just great to hear his story. Jesus tells us that there is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, than over ninety-nine virtuous men who have no need of repentance (Lk. 15:7).

May our gracious God and Father bless us all as we strive daily to live up to our Christian vocation.

INTRODUCTION TO LECTIO DIVINA

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.

LECTIO DIVINA

I. 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.

II. 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!

PRAYER

God and Father,
to those who go astray
you reveal the light of your truth
and enable them to return to the right path.
Grant that all who have received the grace of baptism
may strive to be worthy of their Christian calling
and reject everything opposed to it.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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PLAY AUDIO

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Music used in the reflection: “Waiting in the Rain” by Lee Rosevere (CC-BY-NC)