Jul 11, 2015

15th Sunday: Called then sent

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

It’s that time of year when we traditionally take some time off for our much needed vacations.  Whether you’re planning an extended week or two overseas or some other part of the country or simply having a “stay at home” vacation or a couple days here or there camping, we all feel the need to be prepared.  How and what to pack for such events is always a time of some stress.  If you have a family with young children its all the more relevant to take everything you think you need for their safety and comfort. 

In spite of all that, I think most of us return from our trips and say, “Why did I take so much?”  “I never wore this or used that.”  “We could have shared the same luggage rather than one for each person.”  We try to shlep around bags, cameras, extra coats and sweaters, pants and shirts, not to mention the necessary toiletries, etec. etec.  “Next time I need to travel with less” may be a mantra we have used often.  I once knew a priest who claimed, and it was true, that he could fit all his worldly possession in one Volkswagen bug – and indeed he did!   

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds both his disciples and us about the unnecessary baggage that may weigh us down as we try to live our missionary call as his followers.  He says to his disciples: “Take nothing for the journey but a walking stick – no food, no sack, no money in their belts . . . wear sandals but not a second tunic.” While we may look with anticipation for our vacations, this is no vacation Jesus sends his disciples on but rather the commission to preach and he grants them “authority over unclean spirits.” Yet, the call to travel light, only with the necessary baggage, is an invitation to single minded service with little that may obstruct that mission.  

Preaching and healing in Jesus name demands loyalty and trust on their part. To extend and share in the good news of God’s mercy and forgiveness and bring light to a darkened and fractured world was the mission of those sent in Jesus name.  Yet, in a prophetic manner they would also encounter opposition and misunderstanding but with nothing unnecessary to weigh them down, they can move on easily to a more receptive audience.  Shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them” are harsh words of judgment from Jesus in the face of resistance. Hospitality for the traveler was of utmost importance in the ancient world.  When rejection was offered instead, the act of shaking dust off your feet was an insult but makes the point clear nonetheless.

In our first reading from the prophet Amos reminds us his call to prophecy was unique.  It was unexpected as he was doing something far different and more lucrative: “I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” Further reading we are reminded that Amos was quite successful in his business trade and in his understanding of sycamore trees and their unique needs.  Yet, in the midst of all that God calls him to something far more risky; to become a prophet to Israel, the northern kingdom. 

The point is made that the mission we carry as disciples of Jesus Christ is a fundamental call for all those who claim to be his follower rooted in our baptism.  In other words, the call to be Christian is not an invitation to private devotion.  Yes, we may certainly have our personal spirituality but it is always done in and through the Church and not apart from it. The call to be Christian is a call to a missionary life-style. But, we all do so each in our own unique way. 

So, the readings this weekend remind us first, that we are called by God.  Called to learn and to be formed by his Gospel first as disciples and then as missionaries. The whole sacramental life of the Church touches us throughout life’s journey where we are anointed, forgiven, healed, fed and graced by the God who forms us in the image of his own Son.  Not in a magical way but in a way that responds to our own personal openness.  Am I open to receive what God desires to teach me? Only then can I be a true missionary in his spirit.

Secondly, that we are not all called to the same way of life but we are all called to preach and heal in his name.  The problem for us, particularly as Americans who enjoy so much personal freedom, is that we often separate Monday through Friday from our spiritual participation on Sunday.  We tend, at times, to live as if our Sunday expression of faith and our daily 9-5 lives have no connection.  In other words, it is not either/or but both/and. Even in the somewhat mundane things: how I dress, how I speak, where I go and who I spend time with is not a burden but should be a freedom to be an image of who I claim to follow. So, our work is our mission – or it can be if I take what I believe and use it to form who I am and what I do. 

I can preach and teach in Jesus name in my profession or place of work.  I can preach by my example and the way I speak.  I can heal by showing compassion and patience; a care for others before I care for myself.  I can wear a sign of my faith such as a cross not as a piece of jewelry but as a silent yet clear expression of who governs my life. I can invite rather than reject; accept and try to understand rather than make rash judgment. I can certainly pray for those I find in any need and extend a hand of help.  All this after the example of Christ and in fulfillment of my baptismal call is part of my mission to bring the good news of Jesus to a dark and fractured world.

So, we are called then sent in his name.  In our age of moral subjectivism and individual freedom as nearly a way of life; an age which is now rarely scandalized or shocked by choices that make acceptance for that which flies in the face of Christian and Catholic principles and tradition, our mission has not changed. 

A life with less baggage and more simplicity can certainly aid us in a clearer vision of what, where and to whom Christ sends us. 

"In him we were also chosen,
destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will . . ." 

(Second reading: Eph 1: 11)