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Reflections for the XV Sunday of the year

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the fifteenth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that the 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.

(Am 7:12-15, Eph 1:3-14, Mk 6:7-13)

Homly starter anecdote: 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 to meet 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. The test 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."  TheMidianites 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. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/)

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.  The first reading warns us that our witnessing mission will be rejected, as happened to the Old Testament prophets like Amos.  Amos condemned the cozy lifestyle of priests who supported the king and the rich and ignored the oppression of the poor.  The angry chief priest, Amaziah of Bethel in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, told Amos to take his prophesying back to his own country, the Southern Kingdom of Judah, because they did not want to listen to his prophecy in Bethel.  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 the witness of our Christian lives. The Psalmist sings in today's Responsorial Psalm that in Jesus alone, "Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from Heaven" (Psalm 85: 11-12).   In the second reading, St. Paul explains the blessings that we have received through our Baptism and the responsibility we have to become missionaries.  Through Christ, God has chosen us to be holy, made us the adopted brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus, forgiven our sins, given us a right relationship with God, and enabled us to understand His plan of salvation.  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 needed to love, help and respect one another and thus proclaim Jesus by the witness of their lives.  In today’s Gospel(Mark 6:1-13), the evangelist tells the story of Jesus' commissioning of the twelve apostles for their first missionary journey. They are 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.

The first reading, Amos 7:12-15 explained: This first reading shows us, in the rejection of an Old Testament prophet, what would happen to Jesus and his apostles.  For a long time, the territory we call the Holy Land had been divided between a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom known as Judah.  The city of Jerusalem was in Judah.  In the northern kingdom, at Bethel, there was a very ancient shrine with several priests.  These Bethel priests sponsored the rich people and acted as cronies of King Jeroboam.  Amos the prophet was sent by God to these priests with the demand that they speak against the current neglect and exploitation of the poor by the powerful.  Amos had come from Tekoa in the southern kingdom of Judah to Bethel in the northern kingdom of Israel, to pronounce God’s judgment on Israel and its King, Jeroboam.  As a prophet, Amos foretold the overthrow of the throne and shrine by the hand of God.  Amaziah who was the high priest told him that the King was angry with him and he was seeking to kill him. It would be better for Amos to look for his own safety. Amos tells Amaziah that in the eyes of God the Temple that Amaziah served was not legitimate as it had been established by the royal household. But the furious chief priest of Bethel, Amaziah, told Amos to get out and go south to Judah.  Amos explained that he was not a professional prophet; he was a shepherd and dresser of sycamores.  He had become a prophet only because God had sent him to deliver a message to Israel and its King.  We are invited to see the mission of the twelve apostles and our mission as Christians as parallel to the mission of Amos.

The second reading, Ephesians 1:3-10, explained: This reading, taken from the letter to the Ephesians, is a prayer praising God for what God has accomplished in Jesus.  In other words, Paul offers us the exercise of counting our blessings in the form of a benediction and thanksgiving in which we point to God as the Source of our blessings, in and through Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection.  Through Christ, God has given us a clear purpose in life—to praise and to serve God and one another—with the Holy Spirit as a Helper in carrying out the task.  Paul advises the Ephesians to count their blessings instead of focusing excessively on their inadequacies and deficiencies.  In this prayer, Paul also reveals a Divine secret to the Jewish Christians.  It had not been God’s plan to keep the Jews as His Chosen People exclusively.  God's plan had always been to include the Gentiles eventually.  And that is what Jesus did by sending Paul to preach to the Gentiles. Hence, the Jewish and the Gentile Christians were to respect and help each other as both were now adopted children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus.

Gospel exegesis: 1The 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 went with his disciples 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.

2) Travelers’ kit in Palestine: In Jesus' time, the Jews of Palestine ordinarily wore five articles of clothing.  The innermost garment was called the tunic; and the outer garment was used as a cloak by day and as a blanket by night.   Next, there was a girdle, which was worn over the tunic and cloak.   The skirts of the tunic could be hitched up under the girdle for work or any strenuous activity.  A headdress was also worn in order to protect the neck, the cheekbones, and the eyes from the heat and glare of the sun.  Finally, the Jews wore   sandals made of leather, wood or matted grass.  They also carried a wicker basket within which was an ordinary traveler's bag made of kid's skin. 

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.  Going two by two carries with it the authority of official witnesses. 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: 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 know Jesus, 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 have a liberating mission: Although many people don’t believe in real demonic possession in our age, there are many demons which can control the lives of people around us making them helpless slaves.  For example, there 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 well.  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.  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 grow daily in the true spirit and practice of our Divine adoption.  (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

12 July 2018, 10:27