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Friday, 10 July 2015

15th Sunday Year B 2015

15th. Sunday, Year (B)
(Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-10; Mark 6:7-13)

Jesus left Nazareth profoundly shocked by His townspeople’s personal disdain and lack of faith.  According to St. Mark, He had always intended from the very first moment of choosing His Twelve Apostles, to send them out to proclaim the Gospel for which He Himself had been sent:
Hearing what He was doing, a large number of people came to Him also from Jerusalem, from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan, and from the neighbourhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told His disciples to have a boat ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush Him.

He went up the mountain and summoned those whom He wanted and they came to Him.   He appointed twelve (whom He also named apostles) that they might be with Him and He might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.   (Mark 3:8-9; 13–15)

After His rejection at Nazareth Jesus carried on preaching in the villages around but His mind was somewhat pre-occupied: He was beginning to appreciate that it would not be He Himself who would bring Israel, let alone the nations, back to God: at least, Israel would not repent and be converted back to the Lord in direct response to Himself.  The saving message would be, indeed it had to be, His message, for He Himself was the only and ultimate Good News; but others would have to continue the proclamation of His Gospel to its prescribed fulfilment, since He Himself, though being the very Son of God incarnate, would never be Personally acceptable because He was known as Jesus, Son of Mary from Nazareth.
Faced with such a situation Jesus began to think of how His future Church would be able to proclaim His Good News to the whole world and offer His saving grace to all who would believe in His Name, be they Jews or pagans.  Jesus, therefore, decided to send out these twelve disciples, for a limited period of time and exclusively to the symbolic whole of Israel (twelve tribes), on what we might call a trial run.  
Jesus also gave His Apostles strict instructions regarding the preparations to be made for the journeying ahead of them:

He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, and no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

Now these were no random instructions, for they were of such a nature as would not fail to impress upon the Apostles that they were being sent out on a holy mission: for these same requirements would equally have fitted them for entering the Temple in Jerusalem.  Thus, it was with a similar attitude and a like intention to that of worshippers entering the Temple that they were to embark upon this mission Jesus was entrusting to them, it was to be a holy mission for God’s glory above all.  It was, undoubtedly, also to be for the well-being of those to whom they were going, because according to Mark, Jesus:

            gave them power over unclean spirits,

whereby they would be enabled to go through Israel preaching the coming Kingdom of God, and overthrowing the power of the devil by casting out unclean spirits and calling people to repentance.  This decision to send them out was made by Jesus perhaps with the hope of noting people’s response to His disciples proclamation so that He might thereby profitably adapt the final mission of His Church; but more importantly, He may also have been wanting to see how His Father would bless the mission as a foreshadowing of His Church, because Jesus was always attentive to even the slightest manifestation of His Father’s will.

As you can see, this sending out of the Twelve -- intended by Jesus from His initial choice of them (cf. Mk. 3:13-15) -- is extremely significant for us who are His disciples and members of His Body, the Church.  We should therefore try to appreciate not only the physical arrangements for food and clothing; not only the spiritual powers He gave the Apostles for their work; we should also carefully note the personal attitude Jesus enjoined on them:

In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.

They were not to move about from place to place.  That could easily happen; for example, modern, good, kindly and considerate, Christians on such a mission might well think -- and secretly praise themselves for thinking thus – that it would be only right and proper for them to move from house to house so as not to be too much of a burden on any one household.  However, it is clear that Jesus here is telling His Apostles to be in no way apologetic for needing and accepting some help on their mission.   Indeed St. Matthew insists on this point, for according to him, Jesus said to His missionaries:

Now whatever city or town you enter, inquire who in it is worthy, and stay there till you go out.  And when you go into a household, greet it.  If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. (10:11-14)

Let me make it clearer: Jesus is saying, “Inquire who in the town is worthy to shelter you.  Have every confidence, because the blessing you bring with you is truly God’s blessing of peace, but it is only for those who are worthy.”

That blessing of peace for the host household was quite special; however, it was by no means the only blessing the Apostles carried with them, for we are told:

They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

Many in that town or city would, indeed, have had good reason to rejoice at the Apostles’ coming.  As yet, however, I haven’t even mentioned the greatest blessing the Apostles brought with them, the blessing for which not just some would rejoice … no, the supreme blessing being offered by the Apostles was for all in that town or city: it was the blessing of having the Good News preached to them and being given the opportunity to believe in the name of Jesus and, through repentance, have their sins forgiven:

            So they went out and preached that people should repent.

These were truly Apostles of peace: peace, first of all, among the members of the household that would charitably shelter them; and then, a much more wonderful peace: peace with God to all who, welcoming their preaching and believing in the Jesus they proclaimed, would repent of their sins before God for love His Son.  These Apostles were those of whom the prophet Isaiah had spoken hundreds of years ago:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,  who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns!" (Isaiah 52:7)

That such Apostles, men with such a message and such blessings to bestow, must be in no way apologetic, that was the very purpose of Jesus’ command, for they came, were sent (just like Jesus Himself) bearing unique gifts from the only and most sublime God of Israel; but, on the other hand, they must be in no way proud or avaricious, because the gifts they bring are, indeed, from God: gifts of His gracious giving alone, theirs but to humbly bestow in His Name.

People of God, Christians should in no way feel any need to apologize for God; above all they should never present, portray, themselves as more understanding and sympathetic than God either by their words or their attitudes.  Sad to say, however, such posturing seems far too common today among those who try to win human approval by apologizing for or watering down whatever is decried and opposed as being too strict or demanding for modern society in the Gospel.

Do you think that I am being too critical of modern tendencies?  I think not, because Mark goes on to tell us what was Jesus’ final bit of advice, indeed His final command, to His Apostles about to go on mission:

Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgement than for that city!

Now, many, very many, seemingly good Christians of today -- by that I mean those who are considered good Christians by modern people because they are so acceptably kind, considerate, and adaptable, rarely allowing principles to occasion, let alone cause, offence or hurt in any way -- many, very many, of such Christians, I say, would never condone such an attitude today.  And that, of course, forces us to ask ourselves the question: “Who is right, the Gospel or some of the popular modern presentations of it?”   Or, put in another way: “Who are we, Catholics and Christians generally today, following?  Is it, as indeed it should be, Jesus and His Gospel as proclaimed by His Church, or what many popularity-seeking moderns, including scholars and religious figures, like to present as the modern understanding and presentation of the Gospel? Is it Jesus, or those, the self-styled compassionate and understanding ones, who like to step forward whenever the Gospel of Jesus, the proclamation of Mother Church, threatens to get ‘out of sync’ with popular modern attitudes and practices? 

For example, Mark tells us (10:6-7) of Jesus’, not just attitude to, but rule for, Christian marriage.  And note that it is not simply concerning sexual activity, but about what is absolutely fundamental in their relationship.   Jesus says:

From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother.

Jesus there interprets the Scriptures and states that, in the beginning male and female, men and women were made, and so still are, complimentary to each other; each made with the other in view.  ‘For this reason‘ they may be joined in Christian marriage.
There are indeed other such issues, because the whole of Jesus is rarely portrayed by those who seek popularity (for Jesus, of course!).  There are two aspects of Him Who is both truly God and perfectly man (Matthew 11:28; 10:37-38):

Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.

The first quote presents the Jesus Who gives us His all for our eternal fulfilment; the second tells us what we ourselves have to aspire to, and be willing to offer if circumstances (such as, for example, modern persecutions) temporarily require it, in return.  The first is easy to proclaim and provokes acclamation and rejoicing even from self-seekers.  The other presentation of Jesus needs time and teaching, sacramental grace and spiritual awareness, that its hearers may slowly understand and gradually respond to it with love and ever greater self-giving. 
Of which Church are you a member, of the Church that has suffered and endured throughout the centuries to maintain the divine fullness of truth about Jesus, or of some pleasing, comfortable, up-to-date version, which seeks to maintain not principles and teaching but popularity and prestige?