Jul 10, 2012

15th Sunday: Two by two

"So they went off and preached repentance . . ." 

Amos 7: 12 - 15
Eph 1: 3-14
Mk 6: 7-13

You hear the ring of your doorbell. You peer through the drapes or the small peephole.  There stand two identically dressed young men in crisp white shirts, dark trousers, clean shaven with short cropped hair.  Perhaps they have parked their bicycles at the end of your driveway or were seen walking the neighborhood door to door. Strapped on their backs are dark packs. In their hands appear to be either a Bible or some other book with a religious purpose.  They stand, patiently waiting for you to open the door. 

“Hello, this is Brother . . . and I’m Elder . . . We’re from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Can we have a minute of your time?” And you say . . .?

The above scenario is a familiar one to many folks. Some may invite the polite young men in for a discussion.  Others may at least offer them an ice tea or glass of water. Others might hide when the doorbell rings and never open the door hoping they simply leave. Some may open the door but then close it abruptly with barely a word spoken between you and the two well-meaning Mormon missionaries.  “I’m a Catholic!  Leave me alone!”  Yikes! Don’t say that. Most would likely be polite but express satisfaction with their own faith and the invited conversation might just end there.  

We Catholics generally take a different approach.  Go out two by two, house to house?  Hmm, that’s not our thing.  Yet, why couldn’t it be? The spirit of the missionary vocation is surely a rich part of our history.  We see such zeal in various religious orders: Maryknoll, Jesuit, Franciscan, Dominican, Vincentian among others.

We evangelize through our institutions of education and health care; through our parish RCIA programs; during our weddings, funerals, and baptisms at which many non-Catholics may attend; through our liturgies and hopefully the hospitality of our parish communities; through our Catholic periodicals and our Bishops, priests and deacons stand in the midst of their people with what may be at times a prophetic voice in the spirit of Amos 7 as we hear in the first reading: “Go, prophesy to my people . . .”

This Sunday Jesus sends his disciples out “two by two” to visit the various towns and villages around them. In a sense, we see the disciples becoming Apostles for the name itself means, “one who is sent.” They carry instructions from Jesus to take nothing with them and to rely totally on the hospitality of strangers and their own convicted faith. The mission of the Gospel is too important to weigh down with any sort of limitation on its message. 

In Matthew’s version of this same event (Mt 10: 16-23) we hear Jesus not only giving travel instructions but also preparing them in not the most comforting way, for what they may encounter as they journey: “. . . I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves . . . but beware they will hand you over to courts and scourge you . . . but don’t worry . . .” Don’t worry?? One would rarely travel very far away from his home in ancient times.  Travel was dangerous.  Provisions were scarce.  Bandits would hide along the way. Since most would travel in groups for safety, these men could join those groups, sharing their provisions and take advantage of the opportunity to bring this message of good news.

It is essentially the very extension of the saving mission of Jesus that is now carried by his Apostles and a foreshadow of their future purpose after his Resurrection and Ascension. From this small moment in ancient times, the Church has built an historical legacy of service to others and of seeds of faith that have been planted and flourished around the globe. We see that mission continued as well in our sacramental system.

But, why is this good news so important to share?  In ancient times, the means of communication was obviously primitive by present day standards.  What any of the Apostles would have given for a cell phone to check in with each other - “Any success in India, Thomas?” “How are things in Ephesus, John?  How’s Mary doing?” What St. Paul would have given for a website: “Come all Gentiles.com” But the word was simply written or spoken. Few could read so they relied on the word of messengers. Life for most was simple but hard with little hope of ever improving. You lived as you were born and future generations did the same.

But in our day, we hear multiple voices competing for our allegiance. The word of the Gospel, both ancient and new, finds itself in a never-ending battle for the hearts and minds of citizens.  What can we provide that the world doesn’t?

St. Paul’s beautiful words, a kind of blessing, are a reassurance in our second reading from Ephesians 1: 3-14 today. We have been chosen by God.  How many people feel isolated, confused, torn both ways, or find themselves in a life that may bring momentary pleasure or success but still leaves them empty and directionless? How much money does one need to be happy? How large of a house is large enough? What sort of car will satisfy me?  How much technology will provide for my need to communicate?

St. Paul speaks to us: “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ . . . In him you also who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession . . .”

We should be patient with St. Paul’s sometimes run on sentences that seem to go on for lines and lines without punctuation but we should read reflectively the entire passage we hear today.  It is indeed good news and the same message carried from Jesus by the Apostles to us today.  It invites to the deeper truths of a life lived with purpose that are not weighed down by material wealth.  (Thus, the Apostles travel with nothing).

We are loved by God.  We are adopted by him (Baptism) through Jesus Christ.  We’ve heard the word of truth (Church, Scriptures, Tradition, Liturgy, Prayer, and Leadership) and believe (Creed).  Then we were “sealed” with the Holy Spirit (Baptism, Confirmation) and that is only the first part of more to come!  We have an inheritance waiting for us (not material wealth and riches) but as God’s possession, we are due eternal life with him. 

Well, ready to jump on that bicycle, starch that white shirt and knock on the neighborhood doors?  As Catholics we have an abundant treasure to share.  Someone brought the good news to you.  Who will inherit your legacy?