This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mk. 6:7-13
“Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Today’s reading reminded me of my own journey of faith which began almost exactly 32 years ago this month (July 24th marks 32 years). I was only 17 years old back then, and I was doing my own thing, imagining my own future based on my own interests, and dreaming my own dreams about what I would do with my life. Then Jesus came along and said, “Follow me,” and the rest is, as they say, history! For the past 32 years, I have been on what has become a life-long journey to leave my own pursuits behind in order to do what Jesus wants me to do. I have not become the person I imagined I would be back when I was 17 years old. But I am becoming, I believe, the person that I was born to be.
But Jesus didn’t just call me into a personal relationship with him. No. He also called me to join him in the work of bringing other people into his growing family. Over the past 32 years, I can tell you that I have met people who have joyfully responded to this invitation, and people who closed their hearts to it.
The reading today is paired in the Lectionary with Amos 7:12-15, Psalm 85:9-13, and Eph. 1:3-14. If we read them closely and carefully, we’ll see a common thematic thread that I believe connects to what I have just shared about my own journey with Jesus. See if you can detect it as well.
First, the prophet Amos in Amos 7:12-15
Amos is shooed away from Bethel by the priest Amaziah who doesn’t recognize him as a prophet worthy of an audience. To this, Amos responds…
“I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14-15)
I get the idea that Amos isn’t trying to fit in with Amaziah’s conventional view of prophets. He’s just doing what God called him to do despite the resistance he’s feeling from outside (and perhaps despite the unfamiliarity that he may be feeling with the task on the inside).
Second, “those who fear him” in Ps. 85:9-13
Here is encouragement from the Psalmist to those who fear (honor and revere) the Lord; salvation is near them. For these people, all the good things that God has promised will converge in their lives as they remain open to “righteousness,” which, the Psalmist reminds them, “go before him and prepares the way for his steps.”
How will these people receive these good promises from God? I get the idea that the Psalmist is trying to get everyone ready for a visitor with a message that, if they open their hearts to it, will usher in all of the things he has promised. Their open-hearted and welcoming response to the one who “goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” will be the key!
Third, the “Saints in Ephesus” in Eph. 1:3-14
What an amazing treasure-chest God has opened to these “holy ones” (see “the saints” – Greek: hagaois Eph. 1:1)! How is it that they have become so “blessed with all spiritual blessing”? How has their adoption into God’s family along with all of the resultant inheritance given to the company of the elect (who is Jesus Christ himself!) come about? How have they realized and appropriated the redemption and forgiveness that accord with the richness of God’s grace? The answer is at the end of Paul’s joyful exclamation;
“…you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, [and] were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” Eph. 1:13
One thing seems certain in all of these texts; this is no monergistic enterprise! God truly initiates His good work in the lives of people, but if they won’t respond with faith (and faithfulness), they will not realize all that God has in store for those who love him.
That brings us to the Gospel reading today in Mark 6:7-13.
Those to whom the twelve were sent in Mk. 6:7-13
Like Amos, these men where not “professional prophets.” They were formerly fishermen, tax collectors, and common tradesmen. Whatever they were doing before they met Jesus, they left it behind once he called them to follow him.
In the section just before this one in Mark (Mk. 6:1-6) Jesus refers to himself as a “prophet without honor” upon entering his own hometown. It is on the heels of Jesus’ amazement of the lack of faith and rejection of his own ministry by those who knew him best that he dispatches the twelve to multiply his own ministry in the other towns. The parameters of their (shall we call it) “ministry practicum” were fairly straightforward:
- Go out in pairs.
- Exercise authority over impure spirits.
- Take nothing for the journey buy the bare necessities (trusting God for daily provision).
- Find a welcoming home to stay in while ministering in a town.
- Leave any town that will not welcome or listen, and shake the dust off your feet as you leave as a testimony against them.
Embedded in their commission were Jesus’ own words of caution; not everyone would welcome the message or the messengers.
The message of repentance and their “hands-on” ministry of deliverance from evil spirits and healing of sickness can all be seen as the ministry of preparation for the reign of God.
The messengers did not go out in their own names or to exalt themselves as the source of blessing. They went in the name of Jesus, functioning in his authority, and announcing his reign. Therefore, to reject them was to reject Jesus himself.
Some final words for present-day people…
It is much the same for present-day followers of Jesus and those who meet them…
- Jesus calls us into his service. When this happens, our lives become reshaped by his priorities for us.
- Jesus calls us to reach out to others. When we go, we help people work through both waywardness and brokenness in order to make room for the good things that God is bringing to them.
- Jesus reminds us that not everyone will welcome us (and by extension, they will not welcome him).
How wonderful for those who listen.
As the Psalmist said – salvation is near them, and glory will dwell in their land. The Lord will indeed give them what is good as they make way for him.
And as Paul said to the Ephesians – the full inheritance (and all the guarantees that go along with it) are theirs when they hear and believe.
But woe to those who will not listen.
The picture in this post is by Duccio Di Buoninsegna, 14th Century. I believe the theme is, “Appearence on the Mountain in Galilee”
This Sunday Gospel Reflection is taken from the daily readings in the Catholic lectionary. It is primarily my own way of reflecting on the Scriptures and preparing my own heart for worship on the Lord’s day. I welcome any feedback or insights you would like to share in the comments below.