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THE FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORD TIME B
MISSION AND REPENTANCE (MK 6:7-13)
In today’s Gospel the apostles are sent off on mission in pairs by Jesus. God's reign will be established for they preach repentance that brings its effects. They cast out devils, anoint sick people and cure them. The devil is not in control of the world any more. The ordinary folk must have been delighted. God tangibly cares for them. Life was very hard for the poor in the Palestine of Jesus' day. We do know that the average expectation of life was probably less than thirty years. Most children would never survive birth or early infancy. People were very oppressed, under the Roman occupation.
So we can easily imagine how people would have benefited from a visit from these charismatic preachers. These preachers were not to receive any money or material goods in return for their services. They came with the barest minimum for their missionary activity. They lived with faith in the providence of God, which came to be expressed through the goodness of those who had enough to share with them. They lived more simply than other itinerant teachers of that time; that is why there is the injunction to have no coppers, to wear sandals and have no spare tunic and so on. Their authority to speak for God was enhanced by the way they lived. To help us understand what is going on we recall our first reading in today’s liturgy, from the prophet Amos.
Amos makes a statement of independence in the face of political control. The true prophet represents no political authority. He cannot be bought by anyone. ‘I was not a prophet’, said Amos, ‘nor of the brotherhood of the prophets’. He was engaged in prophesying only because he was compelled by God to do so. Prophesy involves three things: preaching that there is only one God, always a major concern in the Old Testament, and only one true way to worship him, also always a major concern in the Old Testament: one must pursue justice- as stipulated in the Commandments. Ultimately God will fulfil his promises for his faithful people who observe this Law. One day He will send his Messiah and establish his kingdom. The missioners make the connection with Jesus for those who receive them kindly.
The prophet Jesus speaks with all authority for God. Being more than a prophet he can call and commission the disciples. Thus he is inaugurating the kingdom of God with his presence- bringing about in the world loving relationships between human beings. Peace and justice are the relationships that God wants. Here repentance enters.
To ask for collective repentance is to change society. Herod would see Jesus and his apostles as dangerous just as he saw John the Baptist as dangerous. Prophets are dangerous because of their independent moral authority. They attract a following through what they do and what they say. In this kind of context revolution against injustice is never far away. The urgency of the situation is presented by Jesus: "If the place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, shake off the dust as a sign for them as you walk away." People can impede the coming of God's reign; they can obviate justice. As Mrs.Moores said in E.M.Forster’s A Passage to India: “One touch of regret- not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart- would have made him a different man, and the British Empire a different institution.” Peace and reconciliation committees are a wonderful innovation in our day-thanks to people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and their fellow sufferers in S. Africa.
Today’s reading from Ephesians presents the Pauline perspective on all of this: ‘With all wisdom and insight God has made known the mystery of his will ...that he set forth in Christ...to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth’. What was begun in the earthly days of Jesus is now seen to be in the process of accomplishment in the mission of the Church large scale, national level, repentance may seem very strange to us. But such was not the case when prophets were speaking in the context of the history of Israel. In a religious society it is impossible for religion to be a purely social phenomenon. The call for national repentance was for a change in society, to ameliorate the vast economic imbalance and unfairness that is found everywhere. If people would have observed the Law there would have been no poor in Israel. But salvation is more than economic security. The second reading from Ephesians says it for us: ‘In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth- were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit’. We all know that we cannot do without money, but we also know that there is much more to life, even for us, who are reasonably well off. We live realistically grateful for every kindness we receive, regretting the awful misery of those who in suffering make up our daily diet of local and international news, presenting the tragedy in the daily news. We have been recalling The Battle of Britain, the awful details of the First World War, Waterloo, and the misery for most in the industrial revolution.
On major moral issues a slim majority in parliament decides, like the status of marriage, the fate of the unborn, and on how and when people should engage in deciding their own ultimate fate. Should we permit suicide to relieve the pain of others and our own? National repentance may well be in order for national shame.
Our Argentinian pope is presently in Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay preaching the same Gospel of Jesus. He has apologised for the colonial exploitation of those countries and the Church’s role in it. Pope J. Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have apologised for Church injustice whether towards Galileo or the innocent abused. A public regret and repentance made in the name of the faithful. The present pope makes no secret of his own need of forgiveness and penance.
The prophetical questions and exhortations remain the same: one God, moral deportment, and hope in the fulfilment of the promises. Realism must not destroy hope, nor hope fantasize into utopia. Let us do the best we can where we are.
A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International