Saturday, July 14, 2012

Homily for the fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B Amos 7:12-15/ Psalm 85/Ephesians 1:3-14/ Mark 6:7-13 THEME: Evangelisation: our role

Should the person who teaches the Word of God be paid? The readings for today invite us to reflect on what might happen if the bringer of the gospel draws financial advantages from his preaching. The first reading shows us the prophet Amos, who tells us that money is a great danger for freedom of the prophet who announces the Word of God. The gospel lists the instructions of Jesus to his disciples. They must avoid even the smallest suspicion that they may be working for their own economic advantage. The second reading speaks of the gratuity of the love of our Father and is an invitation to share gratuitously with others the gifts we have received. The readings this Sunday invite us to reflect on the mission of the Church, and our ministry received through baptism. The Church is called not only to proclaim the Good News of salvation realized in Jesus Christ and offered to all, but also to boldly confront the evil forces of this world. In the first reading, the prophet Amos is sent by the Lord to Bethel to preach against the evil lifestyle of the priests and leaders, because they misled the people by worshipping a golden calf. In this reading the Lord told Amos, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” He is called upon to speak the word of God as a prophet. People of the time were aware of the role of a prophet as one who speaks for God. Amos, therefore, speaks against the evil forces and values of his time. There is a sharp contrast between the message of Amaziah the false prophet of Bethel who praises the king, and prophet Amos who tells the false priests that it is God who called him from nowhere, and God will protect him. God has asked him to speak God’s word; the word of truth and that he is bound to speak. In brief, Amos is chosen and sent by God, while Amaziah is a hired figure paid and controlled by the king. Paul reminds us in the second reading that to be a Christian is to belong to God. "Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless..." (Ephesians 1:4). Yes, but also to be his instruments; his ministers; engaged in working for the kingdom. If we belong to God in Christ, we cannot serve other masters. We must make a choice and remain faithful. This is also the reason why God created every other person. Becoming a believer does not change the purpose of our creation, it helps us realise it. As today we celebrate with Paul the amazing grace that we enjoy in Christ, let us pray and work that all humankind may come to know Christ and realise the purpose of their creation just as we have done. In the Gospel episode, Jesus commissions and sends the twelve with authority over unclean spirits. He sends them to proclaim a message of repentance. Repentance is sorrow for sins; the recognition that my sins have hurt me, other people and God. Repentance opens up the doors for God's loving mercy and forgiveness. When people listened and repented, the Apostles could then drive out demons and cure illnesses by anointing the sick with oil. When we repent and pray, wonderful things can happen in our lives, families, our parish and our world. This message of repentance is urgent. To underscore the urgency, Jesus “instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money” no credit card in their wallets, with sandals and without a spare tunic. In other words, they are to be totally dependent on God. It was Pope Paul VI who began to speak about new approaches in evangelization, in his post-synodal exhortation: Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975). This was to be an adequate “response to the new challenges that the contemporary world creates for the mission of the Church.” Blessed Pope John Paul II began to explicitly use the term, “New Evangelization” and to advocate it very energetically in his writings, speeches and pilgrimages. Following his footsteps, Pope Benedict continues to do the same in declaring this year October to next year October as the Year of Faith in a document Porta Fidei (Door of Faith). In this document the Pope calls on all Catholics to a New Evangelisation; the need for us to deepen our faith to stand the challenges of this globalised world. The following are true of evangelisation: Evangelization is a communitarian mission Jesus “summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs” (Mk 6:7). One important aspect of the three-year earthly ministry of Jesus was that he formed a community of disciples. All the gospels mention the twelve apostles, and the gospel of Luke even talks about a larger community of 72 others (Lk 10:1). This was also at the centre of the missionary journeys of St Paul: he founded communities that lived and witnessed to the message of Kingdom. Jesus sent them out in pairs. There is a challenge in this, however! One becomes accountable to the other. One verifies and confirms the action of the Spirit in another. Similarly, one encourages and supports the other in times of doubt and discouragement. Ministering together in this manner (Koinonia) is in itself a powerful message for primary evangelisation (Kerygma). Therefore, the evangelical purpose of the community is not merely a pragmatic functionality – to do some work. Too often, lay associations are formed, and religious communities are founded, with the lot of good intention, just for the sake of doing some work! The value of a group of people who are motivated by their faith to minister in the Church should not be reduced to mere cheap labour! Here it is important to recall what Mark has already said earlier in the gospel: “and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message…” (Mk 3:14). The communitarian aspect in evangelisation is, first and foremost, spirituality in itself – “to be his companions”! Being sent out is only an overflow of the experience of God in Jesus, which is often mediated in the context of the community! Evangelization is a journey As Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs on a journey, he gives them a set of instructions. It is interesting to compare this piece of narration across the three synoptic gospels (Mk 6:8-11; Mt 10:9-14; Lk 9:2-5; 10:2-11). There are many details here, and they can be interpreted in different ways. What is unique to the version of Mark is that he insists: “They were to wear sandals…” (verse 9). To me, this is a symbol indicating that evangelisation is a journey. And the journey is going to be long! Yes, often evangelisation might entail physical journeys. But understood symbolically, evangelisation is also a process. In his address to catechists and religion teachers on the occasion of the Jubilee of Catechists, in the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger (now-Pope Benedict) spoke about a temptation in evangelisation: “the temptation of impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in finding large numbers. But this is not God’s way. For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).” Evangelization is an invitation The need for patience in evangelisation is consistent with Jesus’ instructions on how to handle people who refuse to listen to the Gospel. The apostles are to witness to the Good News by their speech (Mk 6:12) and action (Mk 6:13). Eventually, let the listeners exercise their own free will to make a choice towards the Kingdom of God. “And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust under your feet as evidence to them” (Mk 6:11). The apostles are not responsible for the lack of will among their listeners. The gesture was only to show the people that they were making a wrong choice. But the apostles are to move on (see Acts 13:50-51). There is no need for discouragement. Always individuals’ freedom is to be respected. “He, who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16). It is said that “Goodness is attractive in itself, only what is bad has to keep imposing itself!” For sure, the goodness of the Gospel needs to be proclaimed and witnessed to, but it does not have to be aggressively imposed. Aggressiveness – physical or psychological – could be a counter-value. It could be an expression of the insecurity of the believers. Evangelisation – proclamation of the love of God – by its very nature cannot take a tone of imposition, threat, and condemnation. On the contrary, it is merely “a beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” What message do we take home this Sunday? 1) Just Amos is chosen and sent to confront the idolatry of the people of Israel, you and I are chosen and sent to confront today’s worship of false gods. 2) Just as Jesus sends his apostles to proclaim repentance and to heal the sick, Jesus sends us into our communities to proclaim God’s message of mercy, compassion and healing 3) Material possessions should never become an obstacle to proclaiming the Gospel, because Christ who sends us will provide. In other words as disciples of Christ and minister in various services in the Church, we need to “travel light”; without material or spiritual baggage! Think about it. In conclusion, the opening prayer for today’s Mass speaks volumes to us in the work of evangelisation when it says “O God, who show the light of your truth to those who go astray, so that they may return to the right path, give all who for the faith they profess are accounted Christians the grace to reject whatever is contrary to the name of Christ and strive after all that does it honour…” May our calling to witness to Christ be action-oriented.

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