15th. Sunday of Year (B)
(Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-10; Mark 6:7-13)
This sending out by the Lord of His chosen Twelve had two purposes: salvation was to be proclaimed and offered first of all to the Chosen People; and, at the same time, the Apostles were being prepared for the commission Jesus would give them after His Resurrection, to go out and preach His Good News to all mankind.
Let us look at this preparation of the Apostles. Above all they needed to gain confidence in the Lord Who was sending them out on their first mission, because this mission to the Jewish people would be much easier than the one to come, which would be directed first of all to the sophisticated pagans of the Roman Empire, and then to the ignorance and violence of the largely uncivilized world beyond. Jesus, however, apparently made this mission to the People of Israel more difficult for His Apostles by His injunction:
To take nothing for the journey except a staff -- no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts -- but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.
Nevertheless, when they returned, Jesus asked them:
When I sent you out without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?" They said, "Nothing." (Luke 22:35)
Evidently, their experience on this first mission to the People of Israel had been such as to give them confidence that the Lord would be with them in all their future needs.
Moreover, their being sent out without bread, bag, or money in their belt, with only sandals on their feet, and, according to Matthew and Luke, without even taking a staff with them, would have helped the apostles appreciate that they were on a sacred journey: for -- according to the Rabbis -- worshippers ought not enter the Temple precincts bearing staff, shoes (notice, sandals were permitted), or with a money belt. The disciples were, therefore, being manifestly sent out with those same dispositions of mind and heart ideally required for entering the Temple to worship and glorify God. The immediate purpose of their mission was to proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins to the people of Israel, a message which only they -- God’s Chosen People -- could at that time rightly understand and respond to; ultimately, however, they would be called to proclaim God’s salvation to the whole world, and, to undertake and serve that sublime calling, they had to learn first of all to put their whole trust, with confidence and joy, in name of the Lord Jesus.
Today the Catholic Church continues the mission of the Apostles, and the work required of her is still the same: a sublimely holy work to be done in the name and for love of the Lord Jesus, trusting in the Gift of God which is His Spirit; a work for the fulfilment of His Father’s plan for the salvation of mankind.
The response of men and women of our times and indeed, of all times, can be set out as Jesus put it before the Twelve. First of all, we might note that, according to St. Luke (10:3), Jesus warned them that He was sending them out:
As lambs among wolves.
With such a warning the Apostles should not have been surprised at anything. However, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus deals first of all with the response His disciples should give to those who would apparently welcome them:
He said to them, "In whatever place you enter a house, stay there until you depart from that place.”
Matthew (10:11-13) again adds a few more details:
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.
They were to enquire, literally “question carefully”, about who might be “worthy” enough to give them hospitality. However, the fact of giving hospitality would not, of itself, be sufficient. On entering that household, they were to give it their greeting and blessing, but if it proved to be unworthy, that blessing of peace would be lost to it and return to the Apostles. Jesus would Personally guarantee the blessing of His Apostles, and therefore that blessing was not to be pronounced lightly: the gift of hospitality was not enough, the giving had to be done in the right spirit:
If it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.
People of God, there is something there which modern people, even modern Catholic people, might find remarkable -- and indeed, somewhat unpalatable -- for it is quite obvious that for Jesus -- and He certainly wanted His disciples to have the same attitude as Himself -- those who received the Apostles sent in His name were the ones receiving a blessing, and they were the ones who should, ultimately be grateful. Not that the Apostles were not to be feel, or express, gratitude for such hospitality, but they were in no way to feel personally beholden to their hosts: for their hosts would be superabundantly rewarded by the Lord Himself through the blessing given by the Apostles for whatever kindness and assistance might have been provided.
This appreciation is confirmed for us when Jesus goes on to tell His Apostles:
Whoever will not receive you or hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.
Such a symbolic gesture of shaking off the dust from their feet in testimony against that place and the people living there would serve as an indication that the ban of the Lord was resting upon that place.
In the legislation of the book of Deuteronomy, the people of Israel were instructed (13:17):
Nothing from that which is put under the ban shall cling to your hand.
The Rabbis’ teaching explained that anything of this sort, clinging to a person, was metaphorically called “the dust”: for example, “the dust of an evil tongue”, “the dust of usury”. With such a background we can understand the significance and awesome threat implied in the Lord’s command to His Apostles:
Shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.
Who would, however, be so foolish as to incur the ban of the Lord?
That, of course, our first reading taken from the book of the prophet Amos showed us; for Bethel was the royal sanctuary of the Northern Kingdom of Israel which had separated from Judah, and the Lord had sent Amos to warn the Israelites of the dangers threatening them. However, when Amos proclaimed there the word of the Lord, Amaziah, the priest at Bethel, told him to pack off back to Judah saying:
Off with you seer! Flee to the land of Judah and there earn your bread by prophesying! But never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary, and a royal temple."
Amaziah however, even though he was the chief priest of the royal and national sanctuary, was only one priest. Was he really typical of the Israelites: what were the people as a whole like? Listen to Amos speaking (3:15) in the name of the Lord of others in the Northern Kingdom:
I will destroy the winter house along with the summer house; the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall have an end.
Obviously, prominent Israelites of the Northern Kingdom ignored the word of the Lord because they were engrossed with their enjoyment of the ‘dolce vita’: winter and summer houses as splendid as if they were made all of ivory; and just listen how they lived it up!
Woe to you who lie on beds of ivory, stretch out on your couches, eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall; who sing idly to the sound of stringed instruments, and invent for yourselves musical instruments like David; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint yourselves with the best ointments, but are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. (Amos 6:4-7)
People of God, you know very well that there are very many such people in our modern and prosperous Western society who, in like manner, are relatively replete with – and wholeheartedly delight in -- possessions and pleasures, power and prestige; and, though being Catholics by reputation, they have no concern for the well-being of Mother Church. Anxiously seeking the approval of men in all things, they have no confidence or trust in the Word of the Lord. Will the ban of the Lord be on them? Was it on the luxurious Israelites in Samaria? Hear the prophet’s words:
(They) are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph, therefore they shall now go captive as the first of the captives, and those who recline at banquets shall be removed. (6:6-7)
Listen again to the prophet Amos (7:17) speaking this time directly to Amaziah the priest in charge of the royal sanctuary:
Thus says the LORD: 'Your wife shall be a harlot in the city; your sons and daughters shall fall by the sword; your land shall be divided by survey line; you shall die in a defiled land; and Israel shall surely be led away captive from his own land.'
That, People of God, is the background to Our Lord’s words to His Apostles:
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.
Oh! dear People of God, compare Our Lord’s directions for those ministering His grace to the lost sheep of Israel with the prescriptions of those in Mother Church today, both high and low, who almost beg people to come to church, to receive the Eucharist and other sacraments – notably baptism and confession – as it were at bargain prices (!) or even no cost at all (!!), traditional requirements of holiness being watered down or washed away, supposedly to demonstrate modern love! Love of a sort indeed, but not Jesus’ love; rather is it that human emotionalism which imitates and would destroy true spiritual devotion, seeking neither Gospel fidelity nor Christian charity, but social acceptance and popular approval above all!
But what are the promises of the Lord? What are the blessings He wants to bestow on us; what are the blessings reserved in heaven for those who embrace His Gospel and, by His Spirit. live through love in and for Him? Listen to our second reading again:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, to the praise of the glory of His grace. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins; in Him also we have obtained an inheritance. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in Whom -- having believed -- you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, Who is the guarantee of our inheritance to the praise of His glory.
Elsewhere Paul -- finding himself quite unable to express the wonder of our calling and the blessings that await us -- simply contents himself with quoting the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, may those promises be fulfilled, those blessings be bestowed, upon you who are now listening to the Word of the God with faith and who will later go out from this gathering enriched with Jesus’ grace to seriously try to live your daily lives with authentic Catholic love and devotion.