Our Missionary Who, What and How, Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time (B), July 16, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
15th Sunday of OT, Year B
July 16, 2006
Am 7:12-15; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:7-13

1) Jesus’ love for us was so great that not only did he want to save us, but he wanted to involve us in our own salvation and in the salvation of our family and friends, even those we don’t know. From the beginning of time, he wanted us to be co-redeemers with him. It didn’t have to be this way. He could have stayed in our world until the end of time, physically, traversing every country himself. He did not have to ascend. But he wanted to ascend so that we could fulfill the mission he would give us, to bring the good news of salvation to the whole world.

2) So from the beginning of his public ministry, not only did Jesus preach in word and deed, but he prepared his disciples to do the same. He trained them to preach; he gave them his own authority to cure the sick and cast out unclean spirits. He was trying to form them to be more and more like him, who himself was God the Father’s missionary. He did not merely state, “Do what I say,” but said “follow me.” And so Jesus told them to deny themselves and pick up their Crosses, just as he did. He told them to pick up towels and serve others just as he girded himself and served them. And he told them to follow him in the mission he had received from the Father, the baton of which he would pass off to the tandem of them and the Holy Spirit. That baton was passed to the apostles and first disciples. They passed it on to others, who in turn handed it to others. That baton, that saving and salvific baton, he hands to us anew today.

3) Today’s readings focus on this mission given to us by the Lord, this great gift of a share in His own mission of the salvation of the world. They summarize, to a large degree, all that Jesus and the Church he founded have taught in other places. I’d like to break this missionary vocation we have into four simple parts:

a. To whom the Lord gives this mission;
b. What the message is we’re called to proclaim;
c. How he wants us to deliver that message; and
d. To whom he wants the us to bring this message.

4) The first part is to whom Jesus gives the message that he wants passed on. I would pray that by this point, almost 40 years after the second Vatican Council, everyone here already knows the answer. It’s not just to Bishops, or to priests, or to religious brothers or sisters, or to missionaries. It’s to all of his disciples; it’s each one of us — and that includes you. By our baptism, we’re called to share in Christ’s own prophetic mission. This universal mission grew in stages. Jesus first trained the 12 and then sent them out (Mk 6:7-13). Then he trained 70 and sent them with the same instructions (Lk 10:1-12). Before he ascended into heaven, he instructed 500 on the mountainside and told them “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the goods, baptizing … and teaching them to carry out everything I have commanded you” (1 Cor 15:6; Mt 28:18-20). That mission continues down to this day and Jesus wants us — and in some sense needs us — to carry it on. In the first reading, we see whom the Lord chose as his prophet at a crucial time in Israel’s history. He didn’t choose one of those who was always in the temple. He didn’t choose one of the bright scholars of the Sacred Writings. He chose Amos, who was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. Likewise with the apostles he didn’t choose the scholars of the law or the ones with a reputation for being brilliant rabbis to proclaim his Gospel, but raided the wharves and the tax tables. The Lord in his wisdom often chooses those who might in the eyes of the world seem less fit for a task to be his messengers, because he knows that with his help, they are the ones truly most apt to fulfill it. The Lord has chosen us. Only one out of five people on earth is a Christian and he wants us to evangelize the rest. The Lord has certain audiences in mind for each one of us.

5) Now we turn to the second question: What are we called to preach? We’re not sent out with our own message. We’re not sent with the instruction to go out and wing it. We’re sent out as ambassadors of Christ with Christ’s message, the the same message he himself preached. This is easy to see in today’s Gospel from St. Mark’s Gospel, on which the Church is having us concentrate this year. St. Mark writes that as soon as Jesus returned from his forty day fast in the wilderness, he came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the Good news” (Mk 1:15). Jesus states a fact and gives an imperative. The Kingdom of God is at hand; therefore, change your lives and base your lives on this Gospel. When Jesus sends out the 12, as we read in today’s Gospel, it’s with the same message: “They went out and proclaimed,” we read, “that all should repent.” He gave the same message to all the disciples before his ascension: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Lk 24:47-48 ). The fundamental message of Jesus, which he passed on to his disciples in that great sending forth that continues right down to this Mass, is one of the need for conversion and the great news that God will help us. The central and fundamental message of Christ is two-fold, as the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis used to write very succinctly. The first part is the truth about us, that we’re not the people we should be, that we’re sinners in need of conversion, not just once but continually. The second part of the message is the crux of the good news: salvation is possible through the forgiveness of sins. The very name of Jesus means “God saves.” Jesus sent his first disciples out with that message — that good news — of the call to turn away from sin and live in the kingdom of God. Likewise he sends each of us with that message, as sheep in the midst of wolves, in the context of a culture in great need of conversion in so many areas. To be credible missionaries, though, we first have to enflesh this message, to live it. It’s no surprise that among his first missionaries, Jesus had chosen some great sinners — Peter, whose first words to the Lord were “depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:8 ); Matthew, a hated tax-collector; and later Paul, who used to torture and kill Christians. They were able to preach that conversion from sins was possible and that God comes to reconcile sinners. They were living testimonies of the salvation Christ sent them to preach to others. They went from sinners to saints. The Lord calls us preach this same message not only with our lips but with our lives.

6) That leads us directly to the third point: how Jesus wants us to deliver the message. He gives several specifics in the Gospel: “He sent them out two by two… and 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.” Jesus’ point was not to give the Church a particular dress code to last until the end of time, but to form his disciples so that their message would be credible. One could have the musical ability of Mozart, but if the piano were out of tune, the music would turn people off. By these instructions, Jesus was “tuning” his instruments. First, he wanted them to preach the Gospel just as he himself was accustomed to deliver it; Jesus lived by the very instructions he was giving to his disciples. Secondly, he wanted to cultivate in them the virtues of the Kingdom, so that they would be able to preach this message not just with words but with their whole demeanor. By these instructions, Jesus was calling them to be humble, to be simple, to be dependent on God’s providence. He didn’t want them trying to preach his Gospel for self-aggrandizement or profit; he wanted them to be doing it in clear union with God and simple zeal for other’s salvation. By sending them out two-by-two, he was also helping them to learn how to grow in love in their missionary journeys. Pope St. Gregory the Great 1400 years ago taught that the reason why Jesus sent them out in pairs was so that they could learn how to love each other, to be patient with each other, to learn how to forgive each other each day. (It’s hard to love when you’re alone, which is the reason why God who is love must be a Trinity of persons.) Most of the disciples Jesus sends out in pairs are married, and they have a mission by their simplicity of live, their dependence of God, their acceptance of his providential will, to give witness to their families, neighborhoods, and cities and towns that the Good News is real, and has filled them with joy. Before St. Francis of Assisi sent out his friars two-by-two to preach the Gospel, he would instruct them, “Preach always, and if you must use words.” He wanted them to proclaim by their joy, the source of their joy; by their love for each other, the One who loved them first and commanded them to love like Him; by their poverty of spirit, that their treasure was in God, and so forth. Likewise the Lord wants each of us to incarnate the message we proclaim. There’s a story of a priest who was a great orator who was frustrated by the fact that his parish didn’t seem to be responding to his message. He asked some parishioners one day why his words didn’t seem to be getting through. The parishioners responded, “We can’t hear you, because of the noise of who you are is louder than your words.” The same thing can happen with any of us. If we want to be credible ambassadors of Christ, we need to practice what we preach.

7) That brings to the fourth and last question: To whom are we sent to proclaim the message? We’re sent to proclaim it to the whole world, but beginning with the one we look at in the mirror each day, and, then after we’ve heard the message and tried to put it into practice, to those with whom we come into regular contact. We’re called to proclaim the good news of repentance and the forgiveness of sins to spouse, to children, to parents, to friends, to colleagues at work, to fellow students, even on occasion to priests and to bishops. In some ways, this mission is much more challenging than going as a missionaries to dangerous missionary territories overseas. To announce the Gospel to those we know well requires tremendous conversion, because those closest to us can most readily see if our actions are contradicting the words we’re trying to proclaim. They’ll know right off the bat if we’ve put into action in our own lives the message we’re proclaiming to others. With those closest to us, we can’t get away with subtle arguments and beautiful words, but we have to LOVE them into conversion, we have to radiate to them the salvation we’ve received from Christ and his zeal for souls. But at the same time, those closet to us are the ones to whom, with God’s help, we might be the most effectives instruments God can use to bring to them the message of conversion and salvation. We know them, just like they know us, and we know what buttons to push and not to push far better than any foreign missionary might. Moreover, if they’re away from the practice of the faith, or have never practiced, then we will have far greater access to them than any priest, nun, or missionary. A priest cannot obviously get to where you work to proclaim the Gospel; that’s why the Lord is sending you. A religious sister cannot proclaim the Gospel day-to-day in your home like you can. A missionary from Africa can’t get through to the people with whom you go to school, or play sports, or shop, or dine, like you can. To paraphrase the great St. Teresa of Avila, Christ has no body on earth now but yours. No hands to serve others but yours. No feet to bring the good news, but yours. The greatest gift we could possibly give to anyone is the gift of Jesus, his words, his teaching, his very life and love in the Sacraments. In involving us in his mission, Jesus wants to give us the joy of seeing his salvation dawn in others, in becoming the greatest benefactors anyone will ever have, because we are the ones called by God to bring them the greatest treasure.

8 ) On that point, in the Lord’s name, I would like to ask everyone to apply today’s Gospel in one specific way: to try to be the Lord’s instrument in trying to invite the Christians we know , in our families, among our friends, acquaintances and associates, back to Mass. As I often say by analogy, if I were to announce to you that next Sunday, here, a Catholic billionaire would here at this Mass giving out checks worth one million to anyone who would show up, I think all of us would use the phone, use email, use the post office, and even go door to door, to alert those who know and love to come and receive this gift. Many of us would spread the news so that those we love, like us, could hit the jackpot. But what is being offered here next Sunday is far more value than a million dollars. Jesus wants us to use those means to notify those same family and friends that HE’s here, waiting to give them eternal gifts that don’t have a death tax, and that moths and rust cannot destroy.

9) In the second reading today, St. Paul prayed: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.… He has made known to us the mystery of his will, … a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God the Father wants to involve us in that plan, to gather for him, to gather with his son. May the Lord help us to be grateful for this call and strengthen us ever to be faithful to it!