AMOS 7:12-15; PSALM 84; EPHESIANS 1:3-14; MARK 6:7-13
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FR. DANIEL EVBOTOKHAI
FIVE THINGS WE MUST KNOW ABOUT MISSION.
The Gospel reading today presents us with the “Mission of the Twelve”. The twelve here refers to the disciples. Jesus began the third stage of his ministry by organizing a mission throughout the province. He gave them the authority and power to heal the sick and cast out evil spirits. A reminder that mission demands restoration of souls back to God; care for the sick and other spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The mission of the twelve is the basis of our faith today. If they had not related the message we probably would not have know Christ. Mission keeps the Church alive. If the Church does not send, it will end. If the Church must continue to grow there are five things we must bear in mind about mission.
- Qualification for mission: “He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out …” (Mark 6:7). The qualification for mission is call and obedience. Jesus did not choose these men because they possessed special skills or knowledge. All that happened was that he called them and they followed. In following they learnt the purpose of their call and eventually they were sent on mission. Beloved, the call to be a disciple is a call to make disciples. We have been called at our baptism and the purpose of our call is not materialism, popularity, and others. Rather, the purpose of your call is to make disciples of all nation. Beloved, all of us who have been baptized are qualified for mission. Wherever we are, we are to express Christ.
- The urgent nature of mission: “Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the road except a staff—no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on an extra shirt …” (Mark 1:8-9). This explains the urgent nature of mission; it shows that mission takes priority over our comfort and convenience. Usually when people want to make journey outside their immediate territory they ensure their comfort, feeding and shelter. They take their time to get themselves set for journey in order to avoid discomfort. In mission, comfort is not the first thing. Oftentimes, we prioritize our comfort over mission. Most ministers seek for comfortable avenues and juicy zones; while many lay faithful continue to pose excuses when faced with a pastoral or parish commitment. Many contend with visitation to the sick, less privilege, lonely and the aged. I once reminded a young man severally to visit a sick brother in his neighborhood. This young man kept on postponing for a long time; he gave several excuses until he later heard of the death of this brother. Let me end the story there. Oftentimes, we think that mission is all about traveling, posters, and digital records. There is more to mission. We often neglect daily routines of mission all because we cannot sacrifice a bit of our comfort. Beloved, the call to preach is urgent and the time frame is very short. Therefore, in our daily routines let us do the best we can.
- Distractions in mission: Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the road except a staff—no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on an extra shirt …” (Mark 1:8-9. Mission is very demanding. Anyone who is not able to control his or her appetite can’t succeed. “No bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on an extra shirt” – simply means no distraction. Distractions could be emotional, financial, material etc. Basically, issues of money, bread, and wears are the highest form of distraction today. Many of us ministers are already caught up in this web. Many are addicted to these things; and the mission of Christ is sacrificed to fulfill them. The world today is tensed across these lines. Many Christians struggle to understand how it is possible to be in Church and remain simple. Prosperity is judged on the basis of matters like unbelievers. Many preachers compete with unbelievers over material things. No doubt we need these things but we must not be obsessed by them – in sincerity only a little is necessary. Prosperity is the growth of one’s soul not one’s pocket. Parishioners behave likewise – they compete with themselves over wears, money and shelter. Beloved, unless we focus on Christ we may gain the whole world and suffer the loss of our soul (Mark 8:36).
- The message of mission: Jesus sent them out to preach the message of repentance. All the prophets of old preached repentance, John the Baptist preached repentance, Jesus preached repentance and the disciples did the same. In our own time the message of repentance is rarely preached in most churches. Most preachers are concerned with other themes and rhymes. Beloved, let us remind the world of the need to repent.
- Reliance on God: “Jesus instructed them to take nothing for the road except a staff—no bread, no traveling bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on an extra shirt …” (Mark 1:8-9). Jesus’ instructions to travel light would make the disciples to depend on God’s provision and power rather than on their own resources. All baptized must learn to depend on God. We must not rely on own understanding over these things. When we empty ourselves for him he fills us in his own way. Thus, Jesus was helping his disciples to understand the need for absolute dependence on God so that in the days of trials and hardship they will manifest unwavering faith in God. In the first reading God said to Amos ‘Go, shepherd, and prophesy to my people Israel’. God relocated Amos from his lucrative job to mission. We must learn path of detachment and cling to the master whenever he calls. How many of us and still make such moves today? How many of us like Moses can forgo the palace for the wilderness? Beloved, true missionaries depend on God not man.
Finally, beloved in Christ, mission demands cooperation, we must continue to assist ourselves. We must join hands together; either as clerics or lay faithful. Jesus sent them out two by two because he desires proper collaboration. The task is enormous – if we don’t collaborate the goal will be defeated. Again, we must be ready for opposition and resistance. Jesus said them ‘where you are refused as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet’. Oftentimes we are too defensive and protective when we are aware of people’s slights and insults. Beloved, Jesus invites us to shake off and leave spite, ridicule, rancor, resistance and unfriendliness behind.
Fr Galadima Bitrus (OSA)
CREDENTIALS FOR A CREDIBLE PROPHETIC AND APOSTOLIC WITNESSING
Last week, the readings of the Liturgy helped us to reflect on the challenges of being a prophet, especially among one’s own kin. Today, the readings continue to expose more challenges of being a prophet, with particular focus on the credentials of the prophet to credibly speak truth to power as exemplified by the institutions of the royal palace (the king) and the royal sanctuary (the priest) in ancient Israel (1st Reading). Alongside the concern with the credentials and credibility of the prophet, today’s readings also touch on the credibility of those entrusted with the apostolic mission of witnessing to Jesus’ Good News of liberation from sin and principalities (Gospel), as well as the kind of things that a Christian should consider evidence of being specially chosen and blessed (2nd Reading).
In the 1st Reading (Amos 7:12-15), Amos is accused by the palace priest of conspiring against the king and that the country cannot endure the things he was saying (cf. 7:10-11). Truly, Amos had spoken some bitter truth that was understandably intolerable to whom it concerned. He had received visions to the effect that the Lord had resolved to punish Israel and not condone anymore her iniquities: “I will pardon them no more. The shrines of Isaac shall be laid waste, and the sanctuary of Israel reduced to ruins; and I will turn upon the house of Jeroboam with the sword” (Am 7:8-9).
When he was attacked for telling this bitter truth, it was his credibility that was targeted, not the content or veracity of his message. The palace priest (Amaziah) tried to accuse Amos of assuming the prophetic duty to earn a living: “Seer, off with you to the land of Judah! Earn your living (lit. “eat bread”) there, and do your prophesying there. But don’t ever prophesy again at Bethel; for it is a king’s sanctuary and a royal palace” (7:12-13).
At this, we see Amos making a frantic effort to defend his credibility and reputation, appealing to the fact that it wasn’t joblessness or search for means of livelihood that pushed him to the prophetic ministry but he was called and sent by God while having, in fact, two (thriving) businesses: he was both a herdsman and a farmer. The prophetic ministry was for him, therefore, not a profession or a career by means of which he was to earn his living but simply a mission. In fact, he did not choose to be a prophet nor was he born into the prophetic ministry; he was rather chosen and sent at some point of his professional life. For he said: “I am not a prophet nor a prophet’s son; I am a breeder of cattle and a tender of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me away from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel” (7:14-15).
In the New Testament, Paul at some point of his ministry had to face the reality of this kind of challenge. While considering it justifiable that a sower of spiritual good can reap material benefits and that those who proclaim the gospel can get their living by the gospel (cf. 1 Cor 9:11-12a.13-14), he nonetheless acknowledges that attachment to those material benefits can be an obstacle in the way of the Gospel of Christ, hence, he had to, in many ways, renounce those rights so that the gospel may not appear to be a commodity for sale or a way of earning a living for the minister nor a burden to the faithful (cf. 1 Cor 9:12-18). Instead, Paul could say to his congregation: “You remember our labour and toil, brethren; we worked night and day so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God” (1 Thess 2:9; cf. 1 Cor 4:12a).
Clearly, this shows that it is not sufficient for one to be a carrier of the truth but that one must also be a credible carrier of such truth. An important aspect of the credibility of a prophet is tied to his relationship with possible material benefits. Unless a prophet proves not to be attached or dependent on material benefits connected with the exercise of his prophetic ministry, his credibility is at risk. And if the messenger is not credible, that affects the credibility of the message too.
The 2nd Reading (Eph 1:3-14) is a benediction and a prayer of thanksgiving to God for “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (v.3). The prayer identifies a number of things considered as constituting the totality of spiritual blessings from God to those who have heard and believed the Gospel of Christ: for being chosen to be holy and blameless in love (v.4); for being freely and graciously destined to become God’s adopted children (vv.5-6); for the grace of redemption and the forgiveness of sins (vv.7-8); for God’s revelation of the mystery of his will and plan to gather at the end of time, all things in him (vv.9-10); and for the gift of the Holy Spirit, who ensures that these blessings in Christ become permanent in the lives of believers (vv.11-14).
Surprisingly, none of these blessings for which Paul blesses God borders on material prosperity which often dominates our own benedictions, prayers and hymns of thanksgiving. This passage calls us back, therefore, to the things that specifically constitute the blessings of being a Christian. It is not our material prosperity that should be counted as God’s marked blessings for those who have heard the word of truth and the gospel of salvation and believed in Christ but the fact of being called to be holy and blameless in love, to become God’s adopted sons, the gift of redemption and forgiveness of our sins, the revelation of God’s will and purpose, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. These constitute the hallmark of a Christian’s blessings and should, therefore, be at the heart of our benedictions and prayers and hymns of thanksgiving.
The Gospel Reading (Mk 6:7-13) is the first account of the commissioning of the twelve in the Gospel of Mark, situated just after the account of the rejection of Jesus by his own kin and in his own country home of Nazareth (Mk 6:1-6). The commission account consists of an introduction in v.7 which states the call and sending of the twelve two by two, vested with authority over unclean spirits, and a conclusion in vv.12-13 which is a report confirming that the disciples indeed went preaching repentance and indeed manifested authority over unclean spirits. As we read, “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed many who were sick and cured them” (6:12-13).
The central section is a series of instructions structured into two blocks: vv. 8-10 which consists of instructions on how the disciples must carry themselves in mission, and v.11 which consists of how they are to respond to possible rejection.
We are often very familiar with the fact of being called and sent to preach repentance, as well as being given authority over unclean spirits. This is indeed the content of the mission. But Jesus is also interested about our being credible messengers and not simply messengers. For it is not sufficient to have the content; it is also important to have a credible and effective way of serving the content.
In this regard, Jesus instructs the carriers of his message to walk two by two, forming a credible community of witnesses, and not reduce Gospel witnessing to individualistic whim and caprice. This echoes the law of witnessing with regard to capital punishment. In Deut 17:6 we read: “A person shall be put to death only on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death only on the testimony of a single witness” (see also Num 35:30). This became a universal requirement of justice in Deut 19:15: “A single witness may not validate against a person any guilt or blame for any offense that may be committed; a case can be valid only on the testimony of two witnesses or more.” Similarly, St. Paul noted, “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (2 Cor 13:1).
In this light, witnessing to the Gospel of Christ is presented as a serious task bordering on life or death, salvation or condemnation, blessing or curse, hence, it needs the seriousness and guarantee of more than one witness, it needs community witnessing so to speak.
Messengers of the Gospel are also required to carry themselves with utmost simplicity. As we read in vv.8-9, “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.” In other words, carriers of the message of Christ must not overburden themselves with material possessions except their basic necessities.
This echoes the instruction on how to eat the Passover meal in Exod 12:11, with “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand”, which is clearly not a comfortable way to eat but a manner of eating while prepared to move on short notice.
Failure to heed to this pilgrim’s manual of Christ has continued to cast a shadow of non-credibility on many Christian ministers, who while often proving to be adept preachers of repentance and often clearly manifesting authority over unclean spirits, are overburdened and overwhelmed by an uncontrollable appetite for wealth and more wealth, their credibility often doubted on account of their obsession with comfort and prosperity.
This Gospel passage reminds us that to be credible, the Gospel’s lofty values of repentance and freedom from principalities must be served by humble, descent and rustic, if not, ascetic ministers.
Fr. Stephen Udechukwu
Do not take anything for your journey
Right from time God has used different people and prophets in carrying out the work of spreading his kingdom on earth. But one good thing is that when he sends anyone on this kind of or journey, He does not only define what he wants such a missionary to do He also makes sure he provides the needs for such a task or mission. In Exod. 3:10-12 God called Moses and made provision for his mission so also in Isaiah 6:1-13 God sent Isaiah on a mission and made provision for him. In Jere.1:4-10 God called Jeremiah and when he saw that Jeremiah was afraid He made provision by promising to be with him and when God sent Elijah to Zarepheth in 1King 17 He defined what he was to go there to do and provided for him.
Jesus for quite sometimes had been training his Apostles. He taught them the necessary things they need to know through parables and other means. And today in our gospel reading he sends them out on a mission two by two to go preaching in neigbouring country and towns. In order to accomplish this mission comes a warning in Luke 6:8-10. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics…
But come to think of it. Why would someone send me on a journey and tell me not to go with anything? Why would Jesus send his apostles on this kind of tough task and journey and still charge them to go with nothing. Still he told them in Mathew chapter 10, that they will be hated and persecuted and still he is telling them to go with nothing. What if they are not accepted?
We must note here that Jesus made this warning to stress the shortness of time, the urgency of preaching the word of God to the ends of the world. And so gathering extra material becomes a distraction and waste of time. Jesus did not want the Apostles to be distracted and so he warned them not to waste their time gathering. By this warning he simply mean that they should depend totally on his providence. He is the owner of the mission and so he will provide for the mission.
The bitter truth is that many of us have lost sight of our mission on earth because we are still gathering; we are still busy gathering and pursuing money, power and wealth. We are still engrossed in the material things of this world and so we are tied down from fulfilling our mission on earth. It is even more saddening, disgracing and disappointing when some men and women of God who ordinarily should know better sell themselves to the inimical and soul snatching act of pursuit of money, wealth and power. Little wonder 1Peter 4:17 says that judgment will begin from the house of God/altar. It is clear in Genesis 25:19-34 that Esau lost his mission, he lost God’s plan for him, he could not complete his journey because he was busy looking for extra food for the journey. Saul in 1Samuel 15 terminated his mission; he was rejected by God and so could not complete his task because he was after extra things. He was gathering, believing though he was gathering for God.
Amos as a prophet of social justice was able to fulfill his mission because he traveled light, he was detached and poor and because of this there was no way he could be silenced and so he was able to accomplish the mission entrusted to him. Many of us have been silenced from preaching the truth, we have been silenced from saying the truth, from preaching the gospel undiluted all because we do not travel light as instructed by Jesus in Our gospel reading today. And so we have lost our Christian mission. We must therefore bear in mind that for us to fulfill our Christian mission of preaching the gospel we must be simple, detached and trust totally in the providence of God.
As we continue in our Christian journey, may God give us the grace to always trust in Him, be simple and detached from material things of this world. Amen.
HAPPY SUNDAY AND GOD BLESS YOU.