We hear in this Sunday’s Gospel how Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs to proclaim the Gospel. There are similar accounts in Matthew and Luke which have a bit more detail. But here we are presented with Mark’s typically more compressed and succinct account of the event.
We observe that Jesus gives the disciples strict instructions. They are not to take anything with them, they are to stay in one place and if they are rejected they are to shake the dust off their feet and move directly on to the next village.
I said earlier that they were sent to preach the Gospel but actually Mark is a bit more specific than that. He says that they are ‘to preach repentance.’ And then he adds that they cast out many devils and cured many sick people through anointing.
Apart from the exorcising and healing they undertook while on this mission we see that their teaching ministry was restricted to preaching repentance. This is interesting, because it implies that their role was very much like John the Baptist who also preached repentance. This implies that these disciples were, like John the Baptist, to be forerunners of Jesus. Their job was to prepare the ground for the time when Jesus himself would visit those same villages.
So, we see that Jesus seems to reserve the preaching of the full message of the Gospel to himself. In the Gospels we observe that it is only Jesus who teaches things like the Beatitudes, only he who delivers the Sermon on the Mount and the rest of his body of teaching. The duty of the disciples during Jesus’ public ministry was therefore simply to prepare the ground.
It is only after the Day of Pentecost that the disciples are impelled to proclaim the full message of the Gospel to the people of the various nations who had come up to Jerusalem.
What applies to the disciples after Pentecost applies also to us today. We modern day disciples are not required to reserve our preaching just to the message repentance, important though that is. We are obliged to impart the Christian message in all its entirety to the people among who we live. We are entrusted with the task of communicating the whole content to the Gospel to our brothers and sisters.
Most importantly, our first and most vital duty is to proclaim the teaching of Christ to our own children. We train them in the practice of the faith and we teach them the truths of the Gospel and instruct them on how to live a moral life. When we do this, we are giving them the greatest possible gift that could ever be bestowed on them.
As long as we carry out this task with integrity we will have done our job, we will have fulfilled our mission. If in due time our children ultimately choose to reject the message of Jesus then we will not be to blame. We will have done our job and handed on Jesus’ message to them, we will have trained them in prayer, and we will have taught them the importance of living good morals. What they do with this information is entirely up to them.
If, after all our hard work, they decide to reject the message of Christ, then, sad as we may be, we cannot take responsibility for their rejection and we ought not to see it as any kind of failure of our own. Our children will still be the objects of our love and prayers and we will keep on hoping that they will eventually come to the crucial insight that accepting the Gospel is the best way to life a truly authentic and fulfilling life. But the fundamental choice of whether to accept the Gospel is their own.
The first reading which comes from the Book of Amos is very interesting and, according to me, sheds some light on the Gospel text. Amos states very clearly that he is no prophet and that he did not belong to any of the brotherhoods of prophets. He says that he is a simple shepherd and one who looked after sycamore trees. So according to him he has absolutely no qualifications to be a prophet. He is a simple man with only very basic skills.
Nevertheless, he says that God chose him and impelled him to go to prophesy to the people of Israel. This is his single qualification; that God chose him. You can say the very same for the Apostles and the disciples of Christ. They had no qualifications of birth or special expertise, they belonged to no brotherhoods; they were ordinary men with only the very basic skills of a simple profession. Like Amos, their single qualification was that Christ had called them to this ministry.
Also, like Amos the message of these disciples sent out by Christ was one of repentance. Amos points out that the other nations will be punished for sin and for attacking the People of God. But he warns the People of Israel that they too will be punished, according to him they will be judged by the same standards as the other nations and they should therefore repent of their sins.
The message of Amos also has a great stress of social justice, he rails against the rich for exploiting the poor and tells them that they will have to pay the consequences of this neglect. There is a curious expression in Chapter Four where he quotes the Lord saying about the poor, ‘I have given you cleanness of teeth.’ By this he means hunger; if you have no food then the teeth will never get dirty.
This emphasis is not different to the attitudes of Jesus who also showed great sympathy for the poor. He fed them and he healed them and he called them Blessed. His disciples were to do likewise. We see this at work in the early Church where collections were taken up for the poor and especially the widows.
I don’t expect that many of us consider that we have any special qualifications as preachers of the Word of God. Perhaps we don’t study the text of the Bible very closely and surely very few of us have a theological education. Like Amos and the first disciples we feel unqualified. And yet we ought to realise that God has chosen us. We are the modern-day proclaimers of the Gospel; we are the people God has chosen to be communicators of his Word in the world of today.
Unqualified though we believe ourselves to be, we find that God has chosen us and singled us out for this task. Our job is therefore to step up to the plate, to believe in ourselves and to begin to act like real disciples of Christ and to proclaim the Gospel without hesitation wherever we may be.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket