15th SUNDAY YEAR B

THE MISSIONARY CODE OF CONDUCT

Amos 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Having prepared his disciples by letting them witness his miracles and learning from preaching, as we heard in the last three Sundays, Jesus decides that it is time to send them out on the mission that he has prepared for them. He sends them off two by two to the surrounding hills and villages of Galilee. They are to perform their practicum in ministry.  It is their opportunity to put into practice all that Jesus has been teaching them, to experience first-hand how to preach the Kingdom of God on their own.

Jesus gives them authority over unclean spirits and tells them that they should live simply.  He coaches them to be brave and not to be disheartened if their preaching meets with deaf ears. He instructs them to take nothing for the journey especially things of comforts and security like food, travelling bag and money. He tells them to take only the minimum requirements for the journey: walking stick and a pair of sandals which can give protection against wild beasts and snakes and the rough roads of Palestine at that time. He urges his disciples to travel light for greater mobility and availability in their mission. As it were, Jesus lays down some guidelines for his would-be workers. He gives them a code of conduct.

1. THE SENDING OF THE TWELVE ON THEIR MISSION

We are told that all the apostles were sent. None was excluded. This means that the proclamation of the gospel is not the task of only a few members of the community.  Every disciple should feel that he/she has the need to share with others the gift each one has received. In other words, all of us are called by God to be proclaimers and witnesses to others of God’s Word. Vatican II document entitled Apostolican Actuositatem (on the Apostolate of the Laity) no. 3 says: “Incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the Spirit through Confirmation, the laity are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself.” So whether we are accountants, lawyers, clerks, doctors, musicians, or executives, teachers or whatever, we are sent out “to preach, heal, teach and witness to the good news,” in short, to evangelize.

Regardless of one’s status, no one is excluded from Christ’s mission. These disciples were simple men who belonged to no establishment. They were just simple country folk, “uneducated and ordinary men”, as the Sanhedrine (the supreme Council of Israel) would later testify (Cf. Acts 4:13). But Jesus chose them nonetheless. You too can be chosen. In fact, you are chosen. God calls simple humans to minister to other humans on his behalf because God takes our humanity seriously. Christ became one of us, flesh. We call this the “Incarnation” and this means that God takes our humanity seriously, perhaps more seriously than we may do ourselves. Because God takes our humanity seriously, God calls some of us to minister to others on his behalf.

Today, many people in authority are reluctant to involve other people in work, especially the so-called “ordinary people”. Hence people are left with a feeling of worthlessness, a feeling that they have nothing to contribute. Yet, it is good for people to be involved not only in a scheme to help other people but more especially in a scheme to help themselves. It makes them responsible. It helps them grow; and it builds a community spirit.

On the other hand, there are people who do not want to involved in community building. They ask that work should be given to ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’. This practice is all too common. All healing is left to doctors and nurses. As if there were no wounds of the mind and heart that ordinary people could help heal with their care-giving. All teaching, even that of handing on the faith to small children, is often entirely left in the hands of teachers. As if parents were not the first and most important teachers and evangelizers of their own children. Of course, we need experts for specialized jobs. But non-specialists too have a lot to contribute and often have a warmer heart. The sick, the lonely, the unloved, stand not so much in need of medicine as companionship—someone who will listen to them. Old people need someone who will spend some time with them. The young need someone who will show an interest in them. This is work that we all can do. It does not call for expertise—only a caring heart. In no sense could the disciples of Jesus be called experts. Yet we see how Christ did not hesitate to involve all them in his work.

Most of us are like Amos the Prophet in the first reading.  We say as he did, “We are no prophet, nor have we ever belonged to a company of prophets.”  Like him, we can say that we are mechanics, accountants, teachers, students, farmers and salespersons.  But also like Amos, the Lord calls each one of us and says to us, “Go! Prophesy to my people.”

2. JESUS SENT THEM TWO BY TWO

He did not send them individually; they needed company. In going out two by two the disciples could support each other. Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. Only Mark mentions this detail in his Gospel while Matthew and Luke do not speak of it on this occasion. But in another passage, Luke says: “After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two.”  This has a profound meaning that needs to be explained. Indeed, it amounts to saying that the disciple of the Lord is never alone: he is always accompanied by another disciple of the Lord, that is, a man or a woman not chosen by the disciple himself, but rather a person whom the Lord himself chose to be his companion and helper in the apostolate.

Christians are not people who practice their religion alone and deal with God, each one by him/herself. We are called to live in a community, and a community is made up of a number of people. This is why evangelization cannot be done on the basis of everyone for him/herself, with each relying on personal inspirations. Whoever spreads the gospel must be united to the brothers and sisters of the community. We are called to serve as a team. Moreover, healing takes place in the community of believers. Our Lord says that wherever two or more gather in his name there is a special power. We are called to be a welcoming people.

3. RELYING ON GOD’S PROVIDENCE

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to take: one tunic, one pair of sandals, a staff and nothing more. In Matthew’s text, even the staff and sandals are forbidden (Mtt 10:10). No material resources are allowed. The mission is to be accomplished in absolute poverty. The greatest treasure which the twelve carry with them is the good news of Jesus. They have to let go of their securities – a fixed abode, workplace, possessions, money. They must trust that Jesus knows what he is doing; they also need the good will of those they visit. In return, Jesus shares with them his authority over evil, and his power to heal.

When Jesus gives these instructions, he wants to keep his disciples from the risk and dangers that the gospel might be in some way linked with economic advantages or to material privileges. Those who have studies the history of the Church realize that when she disobeyed these orders of the Master, and the church leaders trusted in goods of this world, the work of evangelization was greatly impaired.

The announcer of the gospel is allowed to bring a staff with him/her. This is a symbol of Moses freeing the people of Israel from Egypt. A staff is a simple stick but it represents the might of God.  With that poor and fragile piece of wood, Moses worked wonders in front of the Pharaoh (Ex 4:2), divided the Red Sea (Ex 14:16), and made water to spring from the rock (Ex 17:5). In order to free people from the slavery of “unclean spirits”, the disciples of Christ carry only a staff, which means they can count only on power of the word of God.

One the other hand, God provides for those whom he calls to preach. The goal of a minister should not be to enrich him/herself, but rather to serve the Lord and trust that he will provide. At the same time, we see that God uses us, the Church, to meet those needs. This is an uncomfortable subject for any preacher to talk about because it seems a little self-serving. But, nonetheless, it is important to explain what Jesus was saying. The body of Christ has a responsibility to provide for those whom God has called to the work of preaching and teaching. Ministry is not a business. Preachers do not sell anything. But those whose work is preaching and teaching still should have their needs met. We can help priests and pastors be effective by providing for their financial needs, so they can focus on ministry instead of worrying where their next meal will come from.

The other way we care for those who minister is to not treat them like employees. Sometimes parishes and their parishioners act like it is the priest’s job to do whatever needs to be done because he is the one getting paid. Not every job in the Church is the pastor’s responsibility! In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the error of this approach. The apostles were so busy managing the food ministry that they did not have time to preach and teach. The solution was to hand that ministry over to other trustworthy believers so they could get back to the work God had called them to do. Every one of us has a role to play; we cannot fall into the trap of thinking that we have hired people to do the work God has given to us.

We should provide for those who faithfully serve the Lord in full time ministry—whether they are priests, pastors, missionaries, or something else. That means meeting their financial needs, but it also means doing our part in ministry so that they can do what God has called them to do.

4. A POOR CHURCH FOR THE POOR

According to our Lord, his disciples are to depend on one thing only, the power and grace of God! Pope Francis wants a poor Church for the poor. He bases his wish on today’s gospel text. In his address to an audience on Saturday, 16 Mar 2013, when he was newly elected, the Holy Father said that we, Christians may be reasonably well-to-do, but we should have a critical attitude to wealth and capitalism. The kingdom of God has little to do with affluence: it is all about simplicity of life and sharing with the needy.

The apostles are to trust in God’s providence. They have authority from Jesus. He does not ask of them more than he does himself: he already has left family and home and has become a wandering preacher. He lives on the margins of society; he battles against evil, and invites people into a deep relationship with God. Therefore, Jesus opposes all forms of domination, and wants us to do likewise. So he stands by the poor and the outcast, he liberates those who are possessed by demons or dominated by sickness.

These instructions in Mark’s gospel indicate the way of proceeding for the disciples whom Jesus sent out. Communication of the good news had to be by word of mouth, and depended on travelling missionaries. Many listeners could not read, and Jesus stressed not so much the message as the medium, i.e. the lifestyle of the preachers.  At that time, as now, people judged the message of Christ by the life of the messengers more than by the words they spoke. Dom Helder Camara, the saintly Brazilian Bishop of the dispossessed, used to tell his catechists, who were speaking to illiterate people: ‘Sisters and brothers, watch how you live. Your lives may be the only gospel your listeners will ever read’.

5. ANTICIPATING REJECTION

The Twelve are sent out knowing they may be rejected (Mk 6:11). Their mission will meet with rejection and opposition. But that should not make them to fear, because Jesus with them at all times.

Jesus strictly instructs them to stay at the house they originally enter. They must not be preoccupied with finding better and more comfortable accommodations. This would violate the customs of hospitality as well as give the impression that the disciples were concerned primarily with themselves and their own comfort.  Besides to leave the house that has welcomed them would be to insult their kind host. If they were rejected or if no one received them in that place, they were to depart immediately.

He tells them to shake the dust off their feet at the door of the inhospitable householder or at the end of the village if the villagers refused to hear them and go to a more hospitable environment.  Of course, the gesture of shaking the dust from one’s feet was, in effect, equal to cursing that place. With this commission and with these instructions, the Twelve are depicted as heading off to preach repentance. This action also signified that they were cleansing themselves of all pagan contamination. The entire mission of the disciples reflects the post-resurrection community of Mark but remains rooted in the mission and ministry of Jesus.  However, the essence of their preaching was that the Kingdom of God is coming and they have to prepare themselves by repenting from their sins. At the same time, they were given the power to cast out demons, anoint the people with oil and heal them, and more importantly, preach the proximity of the Kingdom of God. Jesus today is inviting us to cooperate with him. He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom.

CONCLUSION

We are all prophets and we preach the Gospel in the way we live out our lives as parents, workers, students, retirees and whatever walk of life we live.  The thing to remember is that the command of Jesus is always there for each and every one of us, regardless of age, education or occupation. ‘Go! Prophesy to my people’.

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