FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – 2018
As we discovered in last Sunday’s readings, being a prophet is no easy task. Last week’s star prophet was Ezekiel, who would experience hardship and rejection in his preaching of God’s word. This Sunday the prophet Amos begins our readings, and he, too, is having a difficult time. Amos is in the process of being thrown out of the northern kingdom by the head priest of the shrine in Bethel. Amos had condemned the cozy lifestyle of priests who supported the king and those who were rich, and who ignored the oppression of the poor. Because he could not remain silent, Amos was ordered out of the country, but not before he distanced himself from the prophets of his day, declaring that he was just an ordinary individual, “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores,” before God asked him to “prophesy to my people Israel.” It is Amos’ declaration of being just a regular guy which sets the stage for our gospel reading from Mark.
In the first part of Mark’s gospel Jesus is largely seen modeling for his disciples what preaching the good news is all about. We see Jesus going from town to town, curing the sick and securing the attention of the townspeople everywhere, except in His hometown of Nazareth. Ever since John the Baptist pointed to Him as God’s Son, people were interested in hearing His words, and many would bring their sick to Him in the hopes that Jesus might heal them. Along the way Jesus would call the Twelve, men who would be entrusted with the task of building up God’s Kingdom when Jesus would return to the Father. In today’s gospel we see Jesus sending the Twelve out on their first mission. They now needed to do what they had witnessed Jesus do many times.
Their mission was to be unencumbered by the things of this world. They were to take nothing with them, and they would learn to rely on the kindness of the community to provide for their needs. They would come to recognize those who would be receptive to their message of “repentance,” and on those who were less than receptive they were not to waste too much time. This mission almost appears to be an experiment, and Jesus is seen as placing great trust in their ability to continue the building up of God’s kingdom. If, indeed, it was an experiment, it was a successful experiment, for the gospel tells us that “they drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” There would come a time when they would not have the comfort of a companion in their efforts to spread the gospel, nor would Jesus be around to receive their “reports.” In the future they would be on their own, and the future church was dependent on their success.
We are reminded by Paul in the second reading, that in Christ “we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory.” We are meant to see ourselves as the successors of the prophets and apostles, chosen by God “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish.” It was in love that God adopted us “through Jesus Christ.” How privileged we should feel as Christians to be chosen by a loving God to continue His work of redemption. Gratitude should compel us to eagerly proclaim the gospel in our words and in our works, and like the prophets and apostles before us, we should not fear rejection or misunderstanding, we should not doubt our own ability to “exist for the praise of his glory.” Like the ordinary shepherds and fishermen that God invited down through the ages to be part of His plan for the world, we too have been chosen to make a loving God present in our needy world. May we, in gratitude for “the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us,” rise to the task, and proclaim with every fiber of our being the unconditional love of God who desires the salvation of all peoples. That is the mission of Jesus that we are privileged to share.