Commentary on Amos 6:7-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
IN TODAY’S GOSPEL the twelve apostles receive their mission from Jesus. He tells them to go out, two by two, and drive out "unclean" spirits.
What are these "unclean" spirits? Sometimes it seems it really was an evil influence – a demon, if you like – which controlled a person’s life, what he said and what he did. But in those days there were many manifestations which people did not understand fully. These, for want of a better explanation, were attributed to demonic influences and possession.
For instance, there were some sicknesses which people thought were due to the influence of a devil. A clear example is the story of the epileptic boy healed by Jesus. In an epileptic fit a seemingly normal person suddenly begins to act in a bizarre way as if controlled by an outside force. It was a long time before people began to understand physiological and neurological malfunctions in the brain.
There would be similar misunderstandings of people who were mentally disturbed in other ways (psychotic behaviour, schizophrenia, etc.) or, for instance, people who had some brain damage but were otherwise of perfectly normal intelligence, e.g. people with cerebral palsy (spastics).
Demons of our time
Probably, most of us have never seen a genuinely possessed person, although one does hear of cases in other parts of the world. But, in our own time, there are many other kinds of demons which can control people, where people become the slaves of these things.
For instance, there is the demon of nicotine, the demon of alcohol, the demon of gambling, the demon of promiscuous sex, the demon of materialism and consumerism, or any other activity which somehow can take control of our lives. All of these, or any one of them, can turn us into slaves. They reduce our freedom.
We need the help of Jesus to liberate us from these things. Jesus today is inviting us to cooperate with him. He wants us to be his instruments of liberation, to help others recover their freedom.
A free people
But if we are to help people recover their freedom, we too must be a free people. So Jesus tells his apostles when they go out to evangelise, they should not bring many things with them. No food, no backpack, no money, no extra clothes. This teaching does not seem to be very practical to our ears.
But Jesus spoke like this because he knew that when his disciples went to any place to evangelise, a family or house would take them in, welcome them and give them what they needed. Hospitality is still an important tradition in the world of the Eastern Mediterranean (as it is in other parts of the world where people have not yet become paranoid about security and protecting their consumer valuables). They were to be satisfied with the first house that took them in and not go around looking for somewhere more comfortable. And, if no one received them in that place, they were to shake the dust off their feet and go to a more hospitable environment. The people in that place were obviously not yet ready for the Gospel.
This was all part of the ideal of the early Church – groups of mutually helping communities. In such communities those with more than enough came to the help of those in need; those in need would be taken care of. Paul spoke about this in the Second Reading last Sunday, where he urged those with enough to spare to come to the help of sister churches in need. Long before Marx and Engels, it was the spirit of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
How to do this now?
We cannot quite follow Jesus’ instructions literally in our own day, although the ideal certainly remains in place. Why as Christians we are not able to do so could be a matter of reflection. It could indicate that we have a rather individualistic concept of the Christian life. We are often ready to give "charity" to people on the other side of the world while a fellow-parishioner in serious need is neglected or ignored.
Proclaiming the Gospel in freedom
Even so, the Gospel today is saying two things to us:
a. Each Christian is called not only to be a disciple but also to be an apostle. A disciple (discipulus, from the verb discere, to learn) is one who hears, who accepts and who carries out the teaching of Jesus in his/her life. A disciple follows Jesus, imitates Jesus, becomes a second Christ.
An apostle (apostolos, ’) is not only a follower but also an evangeliser. The word comes from a verb which means to be sent on a mission with a message from a superior – an ambassador, an envoy. Every person who has been baptised has this mission and this calling, actively to share their faith with others.
We work with Jesus to help people find or recover their freedom. We help people to cure their sicknesses – not only bodily sicknesses but psychological and emotional illnesses. It is not only doctors and nurses who can bring healing. A family member, a friend, a colleague, an evangeliser can heal.
Sharing my experience of Christ
But, most important, an evangeliser shares with others his/her experience of knowing Jesus. In this context, we have the beautiful words in today’s Second Reading which are from the opening of the letter to the Ephesians.
They are worth listening to again:
Before the world was made, God chose us, chose us in Christ,
to be holy and spotless,
to live through love in his presence [what a beautiful phrase!]…
to make us praise the glory of his grace,
his free gift to us in the Beloved [Jesus],
in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom,
the forgiveness of our sins.
Such is the richness of the grace
which he has showered on us
in all wisdom and insight.
He has let us know the mystery of his purpose…
to act upon when the times had run their course to the end:
that he would bring everything together under Christ, as head,
everything in the heavens and everything on earth.
The message we are to bring as evangelisers is all perfectly and beautifully summarised here, although for many it might need to be put in more contemporary language. And first, of course, it has to be assimilated and made totally our own first.
We are sharing not just words, or ideas, or doctrines but an experience, our experience of God and of Jesus. The evangeliser invites people – be they Christians or the non-baptised – to share this wonderful experience. Everyone of us is here today because someone, perhaps many people, introduced us to know and love Jesus. That person, those persons, were evangelisers.
I am expected to do the same for others.
Following in freedom
b. The second things that Jesus is telling us to go through our lives with the maximum of freedom and the minimum of burdens. The apostles were told to go out bringing with them only the message they had received from Jesus. All their other needs would be taken care of by others.
We can go through our lives so laden down with things, with property and possessions which are an endless source of worry and anxiety. We become their slaves. There are other worries and anxieties in our heads which also can paralyse us and prevent us living rich and enriching lives. It would be worth reflecting today on how free our lives are and where real wealth is to be found.
Jesus himself is a marvellous model: he only had the clothes on his back and had "nowhere to lay his head". But Jesus was not poor in the sociological sense; on the contrary he was rich in all the things which really matter and was able to enrich those who came in contact with him.
Prophets not wanted here
Lastly, the evangeliser needs to realise that he/she is not always welcome. In the First Reading today, the priest Amaziah tells Amos to bring his prophesying back to his own country. They don’t want to listen to him in Bethel. Amos replies that he was not his idea to become a prophet. He was a simple shepherd and a tender of fig trees. But, while he was a shepherd, the Lord plucked him out and told him to prophesy to Israel.
I am sure we can sympathise with his feelings. I am "only" a housewife, or a clerk, or a shop assistant, or a factory worker or a teacher… but, because I have been baptised, Jesus is calling me in my working and living environment to evangelise, to invite people to know him, to love him, to serve him, to follow him. And I can be sure I will not often get a warm hearing.
In a word, if I want Christ to be IN me he has also to go THROUGH me. There is no other way. And then, in the end, those I influence in turn will hopefully become the evangelisers of others. That is how the mustard seed grows into a large tree.