Introduction: Today’s readings remind us of our Divine Adoption as God's children and of our call to preach the good news of Jesus by bearing witness to God’s love, mercy and salvation as revealed through Jesus. "God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world." (Ephesians 1: 4)
Scripture lessons: The first reading warns us that our witnessing mission will be rejected, as happened to the Old Testament prophets like Amos, He was ordered by Amaziah, the angry chief priest serving in the Northern Kingdom of Israel at Bethel, to take his prophesying back to his own country, the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Amos defended his prophetic role with courage, clarifying that it was not his choice but his God’s choice to elevate him from a shepherd and tree-dresser to a prophet. Like Amos, each one of us is chosen by God, through the mystery of divine adoption in Jesus, to become missionaries and to preach the “good news” by Christian witnessing.
In the second reading, St. Paul explains the blessings that we have received through our baptism and the responsibility we have to become missionaries. Then Paul reveals the divine secret that it had been God’s eternal plan to extend salvation, through Jesus, first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Hence, the Jewish and the Gentile Christians need to love, help and respect one another and thus proclaim Jesus, giving true witness by their lives.
In today’s gospel, (Mark 6:1-13), the evangelist tells the story of Jesus' commissioning of the twelve apostles to preach the “good news” of repentance, forgiveness of sins, liberation and salvation through Jesus. Just as God sent the prophet Amos to preach repentance to ancient Israel and St. Paul to preach the good news of salvation to the Gentiles, so Jesus sends forth his followers to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and to bring healing to those who need it most. Today’s gospel reports the instruction Jesus gave his disciples for their first mission. They should be walking illustrations of God’s love and providence in action. They should preach repentance -- a change of heart and a change of action taking people from a self-centered life to a God-centered life.
Exegetical notes: 1) The context: Jesus, like the prophets before Him, was rejected by the people of his hometown as he corrected them for their prejudice. But instead of getting discouraged, Jesus with his disciples went to the neighboring towns and villages with his preaching and healing ministry. He prepared his disciples to go ahead of him to various places to announce his coming and to preach the good news of the salvation, coming through their master, Jesus. Today’s gospel gives us the instruction Jesus gave his disciples for their first mission.
3) The meaning of Jesus’ instructions: Why did Jesus send the Apostles in pairs? Because according to Jewish law, two witnesses were needed to pronounce a truth. By his instructions, it is clear that Jesus meant that his disciples should take no supplies for the road, but simply trust in God for their requirements. God, the provider, would open the hearts of believers to take care of the needs of the disciples. Jesus’ instructions also suggest that his disciples should not be like the acquisitive priests of the day, who were interested only in gaining riches. Instead, the disciples of Jesus must be concerned with "giving" rather than “getting." They should be walking examples of God’s love and providence. By doing so, they would also have the maximum of freedom and the minimum of burdens in their preaching and healing ministry. Jesus wanted his apostles to be rich in all the things which really mattered, so that they might enrich those who came into contact with them. Statistics tell us that most people who come to join a church do so because a friend or relative brought them. So the best advertisement for any church is the number of the faithful – men, women, and children, whose daily lives show forth some of the radiance of the Gospel.
3) "Shake off the dust from your feet:"Jesus knew that when his disciples went to any place to evangelize, a family or house would take them in, welcome them and give them what they needed because hospitality was an important religious tradition in Palestine. By His stern instruction, Jesus seems to be saying, “If people refuse to listen to you or to show you hospitality, the only thing you can do is to treat them as an orthodox Jew would treat a Gentile or a pagan.” The Rabbinic law stated that the dust of a Gentile country was defiled, so that when a Jew entered Palestine from another country, he had to shake off every particle of the unclean land’s dust from his clothing and sandals.
4) Convey the good news of God’s love and mercy: Jesus’ disciples were to preach the good news that God is not a punishing judge, but rather a loving Father who wants to save men from their bondage to sin through Jesus His Son. The disciples were to preach the message of metanoia or repentance--which has disturbing implications. To "repent" means to change one's mind and then fit one's actions to this change. Metanoia literally means change your mind. It can also mean taking a new direction. Thus, repentance means a change of heart and a change of action--a change from a self-centered life to a God-centered life. Such a change may hurt a bit at times. It is also interesting to note that Jesus commanded his disciples to anoint with oil. In the ancient world, oil was regarded as a sort of cure- all. In the hands of Christ's servants, however, the old cures would acquire a new virtue through the power of God.
Life Messages # 1: We too have a witnessing mission: We are called to be witnessing disciples and evangelizing apostles. As witnessing disciples, we need to follow Jesus, imitate him, reflect him, and radiate him. As apostles, we need to evangelize the world by sharing with others our experience of God and His Son, Jesus, proclaimingthe Gospel through our transparent Christian lives and radiating the love, mercy, forgiveness, spirit of humble service and concern of Jesus to the people around us.
Each Christian is called not only to be a disciple but also to be an apostle. As disciples, we have to follow Jesus and imitate Jesus. As apostles, we have to evangelize the world. We are called to share with others not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and His Son, Jesus. Like the apostles, like St. Francis Assisi, like Blessed Mother Teresa, we are all chosen and sent to proclaim the Gospel through our living. It is through our transparent Christian lives that we must show in our own actions the love, mercy and concern of Jesus for the people around us. Since we are baptized, Jesus is calling us in our working and living environment to evangelize, to invite people to knowJesus, to love him, to serve him and to follow him. An important part of evangelism is the simple act of inviting a friend or family member to join us in worship. This is where reconciliation between persons and God is most likely to take place. We do not have to commit verbal assault on someone with our convictions. A simple invitation offered out of a loving and joyful heart is the most powerful evangelistic message of all.
2) We also have a liberating mission helping free people from the demons of nicotine, alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography, promiscuous sex, hatred, jealousy, racial prejudice and consumerism. We need the help of Jesus to liberate us and others from these things.
Although many people don’t believe in real demonic possession in our age, there are many demons which can control the lives of people aroundus making them helpless slaves. For examplethere are the demons of nicotine, alcohol, gambling, pornography and promiscuous sex, materialism and consumerism, or of any other activity which somehow can take control of people’s lives and become an addiction over which they have no control. All of these, or any one of them, can turn people into slaves. We need the help of Jesus to liberate us and others from these things. Jesus is inviting us today to cooperate with him. He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom. We are meant to help people to cure their sicknesses - not only the bodily sicknesses but psychological and emotional illnesses. As a family member, a friend, a colleague, an evangelizer, when we work with Jesus, we can truly have a healing influence.
#3: We have a mission to live as children of God. Realization of our dignity as children of God should change our outlook on life. We are to be children filled with love, rather than selfishness and disobedience. We are to respect our brothers and sisters in Christ. As God’s children, we should live a life of absolute trust in the goodness of our Heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us. L/12
Realization of our dignity as children of God should change our outlook on life. We are to be children filled with love, rather than selfishness and disobedience. We are to respect our brothers and sisters in Christ. As God’s children, we shouldlive a life of absolutetrust in the goodness of our Heavenly Father, who knows what is best for us. The realization that we are the children of God should bring us great comfort, peace and joy--even in our worst moments.
#4: We have a mission to grow in Divine Adoption: It is in the Church--principally through the seven sacraments--that our Divine Adoption is made possible. We are chosen by God in Christ, baptized into his death and His church, healed by his forgiveness, and nourished at the Eucharistic table. Today, when we gather as His adopted sons and daughters at this table of Christ’s sacrificial banquet, we can rightly address God as our Divine Father and ask Him for the special anointing of the Holy Spirit that we may growdaily in the truespirit and practice of our divine adoption. (L/12)
# 2: Gideon’s army and Jesus’ fishermen: An angel spoke directly to Gideon (Judges 6: 11-25), the fourth judge of the Israelites in the 12th century B.C. This two- way conversation is recorded in detail and comprises the commissioning of Gideon to be a deliverer and “Judge” of God's people. The angel of the Lord came tomeet Gideon under the oak tree at Ophrah with specific instructions for a raid on the Midianites who were the controlling force in the land, fielding a unique and fast- moving camel battalion. They forcefully reaped all the grain of the Israelites during the harvest season for seven years. Gideon protested that his clan, Manasseh, was the weakest in the nation. But God assured Gideon, “I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them" (v 16). Gideon asked for a sign from God and God graciously gave it to convince Gideon that it was God who was sending him to fight, and it was God who would be fighting for him. In Judges 7:2-11 God gave additional instruction to Gideon and asked him to send home those soldiers who were afraid to fight a strong and big army. That reduced the number of soldiers in Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 10,000. But it was still too many in God’s sight. God further instructed Gideon to conduct a water-drinking test in the river which eliminated 9700 more soldiers leaving behind only 300 soldiers of God’s selection. The story of Gideon's calling was about strategy: "Go in my strength." The Midianites had a force of 135,000 men with them when they invaded Israel in the 8th harvest season. But Gideon trusted in the strength of the Lord and defeated and destroyed the mighty army of the Midianites by his surprise midnight attack. Today’s gospel tells us how Jesus selected and delegated twelve ordinary men for his preaching and healing ministry.
In the opera Faust, there is a fight to the finish between Satan and the young man Valentine. During the course of the fight, Satan breaks Valentine's sword and he stands poised to slay him. But the young boy takes the two pieces of his sword and fashions them into a cross. Confronted with this symbol of faith, Satan becomes immobilized and Valentine is saved.
It is an interesting concept: A dramatic demonstration of faith. Unfortunately such resolution of faith does not always save you. In fact, it might be your deathbed. It was John's. Take a look at the story with me. John has been arrested by King Herod. And why? Because John kept reminding Herod that even the king is not above the law. He said, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."
So this was the king's egregious sin. He had stolen his brother's wife, Herodias. Now, it would be understandable if this were where the story ended. The king didn't like a desert preacher calling him a sinner so he had him beheaded. Simple enough. But life is not always simple...
This summer saw the "resurrection" of an old tale of family rivalry and betrayal. The show that started an industry of prime time "soap operas" is back on the air. Do you know show I'm talking about? . . . . Dallas.
The ever-evil "J.R." Ewing and all his battling, back-biting, embittered family have returned, with new generations, all of whom are admirably carrying on the family tradition of unabated greed and hatred. Added to yet another season of "Kardashians" and the History channel's presentation of "The Hatfields and the McCoys," "family life" is looking pretty grim. That is not even to mention the recent scientific study that put a question mark over the value of nightly meals together as a family. It found that eating together on a regular basis could be bad, not good for teenagers, if the family is dysfunctional. The family routine of eating together is very good for you if the family dynamics are good, very bad for you if the family dynamics are dysfunctional.
l air-wave examples of families operating at "dysfunction junction" cannot hold a candle to the massive relational meltdown that was taken as "normal" within the first century ruling family of the Herodians...
Who's the Boss?
The boss was complaining in our staff meeting the other day that he wasn't getting any respect. Later that morning he went to a local sign shop and bought a small sign that read:
John loses his head but gains the kingdom. Herod saved his face but lost his soul. Here there is another triumph in the midst of suffering. John's martyrdom is not a defeat. Twelve more preachers are sent in his place. Ironically even Herod suspected that John would ultimately triumph when he said, "John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!"
Soren Kierkegaard said, "The tyrant dies and his rule ends, the martyr dies and his rule begins." God raises the dead and raises new witnesses to take their place.
Jim Hammond, Christ Rules, Herod Drools!
Evil Does Not Win
Yes, there are times that we wonder about God. It is true there is horrible evil out there. There are evil people - the sociopaths, the mass murders, the vicious child and spouse abusers. There are evil moments when otherwise good people are drawn in - that scene played over and over on TV several years ago of a dozen police officers beating and kicking a wounded suspect. There are evil systems in which we all participate - people going without food and shelter in a nation of abundance, people not getting medical care because of no other reason than lack of money (and greedy insurance companies). There are even evils born of sheer stupidity, like the stupid promise Herod made to Salome. Do you remember the novelist William Burroughs? Burroughs died at age 83. During a drunken party in Mexico one night in 1951, he undertook to play William Tell - he used a pistol to shoot a glass off his wife's head. He missed...and put a bullet in her brain instead. How stupid. How evil. Yes, it often seems that the evil wins.
But the message of our faith says that evil does not have the last word. God does, and the word is "love."
David E. Leininger, When Evil Wins
Vengeance: A Wound on Our Own Souls
When I was in high school, a friend of mine was raped and if I had known at the time who had done it, I would have attempted to beat him within an inch of his life. I even had some terrible fantasies of vengeance that involved very sharp knives. These feelings seem more than a desire for justice. If my friend had to go through life with a deep psychological wound, I wanted the assailant to feel some kind of pain too.
I could convince myself of noble intentions to protect someone I loved, or that the perpetrator would never again harm someone. But in honesty, I felt an inner rage that wanted satisfaction. There was a desire that somehow the pain and brokenness could be healed or assuaged by inflicting it back on the source. Of course, things never work out that way. Hurting another person cannot heal the person we love. It only pulls us down to the level of the perpetrator. The act of vengeance creates wounds on our own souls. It is a great spiritual challenge to live in a world where things cannot always be made right again.
Todd Weir, Head on a Platter
Naming What Is Wrong
Once when I was a little girl, I saw news footage in which grown men and women screamed and ranted at another little girl outside a school in Mississippi. When the newsman said that she was 12, my age at the time, something inside me broke. In my sheltered world, so-called colored children and white children had always gone to the same schools, and grown-ups didn't threaten kids. "Why are they yelling at her like that?" I asked my mother in tears. "She's only a little girl." My mother made the sigh adults make when children learn things no one should have to learn. "Because they're ignorant," she said finally, my family's catch-all phrase for explaining things that will never make sense. It wasn't enough of an explanation, and that was a first lesson, too.
But the real lesson was that doing good and right things cannot protect you from being badly hurt. There is real danger in naming what is wrong in the world and trying to change it.
Why is this awful story even mentioned in the Bible? Well, it just might be that some of us who try to follow Christ have been following too safe a course, sitting in mighty comfortable seats at the banquet, so much so that we need this awful story to help us ask if we are following the One whose way was full of danger and whose final destination was a cross.
Catherine Taylor, Re-Membering Faith
A Christian Understanding of Worth
When we attempt to live a life worthy of the Gospel it is because our understanding of "worth" is far different from the world's. John the Baptist was not beheaded because he went along with the status quo. John gave his life because of his commitment to truth as he understood it, much like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his struggles with Nazism and Hitler. Being a pastor in the German Lutheran Church, Bonhoeffer was forced to choose between his loyalty to God or to an insane ruler. He was executed in 1945 for the opposition he voiced to the satanic rule of Hitler.
Eric S. Ritz, Faith in Conflict
Lloyd J. Ogilve, in his book Life without Limits, tells the story of a pastor who in the space of one week heard the following comments from various people:
A woman said, "I'm under tremendous pressure from my son these days. I can't seem to satisfy him, however hard I work. He really puts me under pressure."
A college woman said, "I'm being pressured by my boyfriend to live with him before we are married. You know...sort of try it out...to see if we are right for each other."
A husband said, "My wife is never satisfied. Whatever I do, however much I make, it's never enough. Life with her is like living in a pressure cooker with the lid fastened down and the heat on high."
A secretary said, pointing to her phone, "That little black thing is driving me silly. At the other end of the line are people who make impossible demands and think they are the only people alive."
A middle-aged wife said, "My husband thinks my faith is silly. When I feel his resistance to Christ, I wonder if I'm wrong and confused. As a result, I've developed two lives; one with him and one when I'm with my Christian friends."
A young pastor at a clergy conference said, "I hardly know who I am any more. There are so many points of view in my congregation, I can't please them all. Everyone wants to capture me for his camp and get me to shape the church around his convictions. The pressure makes me want to leave the ministry."
Responding to Biblical Mandates
His words are good to reflect upon, particularly given the world we live in, where power and authority are often thought of in terms of personal privilege and gain. Are the choices we make to live our lives progressively seen as authentic demonstrations of Biblical mandates or do these choices simply challenge authority and invite criticism? And what if we are criticized? Should we let that deter our actions and cause us to forsake the Gospel mandate?
No Going Back
When Julius Caesar landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military venture. Ordering his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, he commanded them to look down at the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat. Now that his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, there was nothing left for them to do but to advance and conquer! And that is exactly what they did.