THE SUNDAY LECTIONARY
FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
YEAR B: YEAR OF MARK
Download: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Yr B
<> <> <> <>
A reading from the prophet Amos 7:12-15
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 84 (85): 9-14. R/. v.8
A reading from the letter of St Paul to the Ephesians 1:3-14
A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark 6:7-13
<> <> <> <>
Watch those around Jesus. Watch out for Pharisees. Watch out for scribes. Watch out for Sadducees. Watch out for elders. On the other side, as it were, watch out for crowds, watch out for the poor, the halt, and the lame. And lest we forget, watch out for women. Today’s Gospel demands that we watch out for followers, for disciples and for apostles.
It is necessary to watch out for Jesus and the environment, or, better still, the environments in which he carries out his mission. That mission is to open humanity to the kingdom of God, that is, by word and deed, to do God’s will on earth as it is done in heaven.
All of this watching is necessary if we are to enable the Gospels to speak to us in such a way that they enlighten our minds and our hearts and lead us into the way of peace. If we take Jesus out from the people who walked with him and out of the people who opposed him, we will miss the reality of God’s Son coming into the mess of our world. We will end up with another holy statue.
Not only must we do some history, checking up on Roman emperors, a variety of rulers from the family of Herod who slaughtered to children of Bethlehem, and a fair slab of Jewish history. We must, among a hundred other matters, pay attention to divorce laws at the time in Jewish understanding and in Roman imperial law. We must know what a legion is, what a centurion is, what crucifixion was like. And much else besides. Our faith is an historical faith, that is, it is based on things that really happened. So to understand where we are going, we must know where we have come from.
Today’s Gospel introduces the Twelve. Don’t rush to correct me and say the Twelve Apostles. They have not earned that title just yet. It is instructive to note the stages of their vocation from its beginning up to their commission as apostles, as men sent out to proclaim the gospel of God. The reason for this close attention is that we are called to the same work that they were. Like them, we learn on the job.
At the very beginning of his mission Jesus sees the fishermen. With what intensive gaze does he observe them tending their nets? What is he looking for? What makes him think he has got the right men? Does he know how Simon, soon to be nicknamed Peter, would react under pressure? Did he know that James and John were a fiery pair? Obviously what he saw he liked. And so he called the four of them to follow him.
What did he mean? What did he demand? The job description is ambiguous: I will make you fishers of people. What that involves as yet they do not know. We know only our surprise for the word “immediately” turns up as both pairs respond: immediately they left their nets and followed him. What was the attraction of Jesus that caused such an instant response?
We don’t know. What we know is that Mark is writing for frightened Christians who eagerly heard the word of God and followed what turned out to be a very dangerous new life. Mark wants his readers/hearers to see themselves in these fishermen who, like them, left one way of life to venture into the unknown. Like them, the four fishermen, and Levi a little later (Mark 2:13-17), are named disciples just as Jesus hints that a day will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them and a time for fasting will have come. The first thing, however, is to throw in your lot with Jesus, learn what he has to teach, and, as Jesus will advise, in moments of crisis, pray.
In the meal celebrating the call of the tax collector Levi these followers become disciples. They are now pupils, students, apprentices, learners in the school of Jesus. Some of the disciples of Jesus will be called to make a further commitment. But not until they all failed their first real test:
And they all deserted him and fled.
Disciples, as I have emphasised, are students, pupils, apprentices, learners. We tend to use the word “disciple” as if it meant a follower of Jesus. It doesn’t. It means that one is undergoing a process of learning, a process of formation, in order to become an apostle. So when we read what Jesus says to his disciples, we need to realise that Jesus the teacher is engaged in teaching his students, his apprentices. By word and deed he is readying them for the task he will set them to do.
Of course, Christians are often called disciples of Jesus. That is because we are always learning, even when we are promoted to be apostles (this is what Confirmation should mean but we have lost the meaning of that sacrament). With Jesus as teacher, there is always learning to be done. For the world changes and we have to learn to meet its challenges and celebrate its achievements.
What these apprentices are destined to become is apostles. Apostles are people who are sent. That is what the word means. In today’s Gospel the Twelve are sent out:
… he called the Twelve
and began to send them out two by two … Mark 6:7
Today’s mission is an apprentice exercise, as we shall see. The great “sending-out” in our Gospels is the commissioning of the Eleven disciples in the final dramatic scene of Matthew’s Gospel. Notice that the Eleven are named disciples when they arrive in Galilee “at the mountain to which Jesus had directed them”. But they receive a command to go with the authority of Jesus, to make disciples, to baptise, and to teach:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
Followers become disciples and the disciples become apostles. Mark has a rather different ending to his Gospel but in his scheme of things he too is determined that the Twelve disciples are, one way or another, fashioned into apostles. In Mark’s Gospel they nearly didn’t make it.
The reason Mark spends so much ink in his Gospel presenting Jesus teaching the disciples, and especially the Twelve, is obvious. He is teaching his Christian readers and hearers that their vocation is the same as that of Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the rest. Every Christian is sent to the same school and for the same purpose:
In Baptism we are committed to follow the way of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
As disciples we learn all that we need to equip us to go out.
We are, in God’s good time, sent to proclaim the
gospel of God.
That is, we all become apostles.
When you associate with God, you get sent. Moses got sent. When you associate with Jesus, you get sent. Peter got sent. The Holy Spirit comes into your heart so that you are able to do what you are called to do. This is what St Paul and every early missionary preached. You have to become another Christ, and go out to proclaim the message of Jesus.
And this, of course, is the age-old teaching insisted upon in our day by Pope Francis:
In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Matthew 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization, and it would be insufficient to envisage a plan of evangelization to be carried out by professionals while the rest of the faithful would be simply passive recipients. The new evangelization calls for personal involvement on the part of each of the baptized. Every Christian is challenged, here and now, to be actively engaged in evangelization; indeed, anyone who has truly experienced God’s saving love does not need time or lengthy training to go out and proclaim that love.
The Joy of the Gospel [Evangelii Gaudium], §120
Plus ça change … Some things never change.
A reading from the prophet Amos 7:12-15
Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.”
Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’. The word of the LORD.
You know what happens when a southerner starts lecturing folk up north. At best they tell him to go home, to mind his own business. That is what happened to Amos. He left his home in Tekoa, beside Bethlehem and travelled north to Bethel, the capital of the northern tribes of Israel. He lived about 800 years before the time of Jesus. But the book that records his prophetical career may well have been written at a much later date, perhaps as late as the time of the disastrous exile (587 B.C.) that brought the monarchy to an end.
There are some books in the Nevi’im or Prophets section of the Bible that can be easily remembered. Two such are Hosea and Amos. The prophet Hosea concerns himself with religious misdeeds, with the worship of false gods. God will send punishment,
For you have strayed
from you God.
Amos, on the other hand, condemns the princes and people for social and political ills. God wanted the slaves he rescued from Egypt to become a light to the nations. He did not allow to go unpunished those who grew fat at the expense of the poor and feast in sight of the hungry. Those who have become oppressors of the poor will get their comeuppance:
“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first
of those who go into exile,
and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out
shall pass away.
The reading today from the Book of Amos is the reply of the rich to the prophet who broadcasts the plight of the poor in the market-place. The one who shouts out that the rich trample on the face of the poor and use their power to oppress the people is not listened to. He or she becomes a target. The great priest of the temple at Bethel, outside of which Amos, the southerner, was protesting, tells Amos to go home. Don’t speak God’s word of justice here! Don’t dare to question the way we do things! Amos replies that it was the LORD God who called him and sent him.
Bethel cannot abide the words of Amos. Nazareth cannot abide the words of Jesus. Plus ça change …
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 84 (85): 9-14. R/. v.8
R/. Show us your steadfast love, O Lord,
and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land. R/.
Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky. R/.
Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way of peace. R/.
A reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians 1:3-14
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. The word of the LORD.
While the reader today will announce a reading from the Letter of St Paul to the Ephesians, it has to be said that Paul almost certainly did not write this letter to Christians in the city of Ephesus. We are on pretty firm ground if we accept that the letter was written by a companion of St Paul, by one who knew the mind and heart of Paul and wished to continue the great apostle’s teaching.
On April 8th, 1546, the Council of Trent listed the books to be regarded as belonging to the Bible as recognised by Catholics. Twenty-seven books were listed as belonging to the New Testament (the same as the newly emerging Protestant churches). It named the writings to be ascribed to St Paul, 14 letters in all. This included the Letter to Hebrews which for a long time now has been regarded as certainly not written by Paul. Modern scholarship has further reduced the number of letters that can certainly be regarded as having been written by Paul. They are Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. The rest are regarded as coming from writers (unknown for the most part) who were devoted to Paul’s understanding of Christian faith and wished to build on that understanding and extend its influence.
It is as well, too, to note that the order of the letters of Paul and associates in the New Testament was long ago decided by length. Romans, the longest, is first and little Philemon is last. These letters are not ordered by importance or by date of composition.
The question of the order of the books is, however, still important. That is true especially when we come to consider the glorious letter usually regarded as written to Ephesian Christians. The reason is that the Letter to Colossians, which is listed second after Ephesians is the mother of Ephesians and we should listen to the mother before we attend to the child.
This may seems like stuff scholars spend their time at. But the matter is of concern to all who seek seriously to understand what St Francis of Assisi calls “God’s holy words”. Many issues confronting the Church today have roots in the earliest Christian house-churches and we have to turn to them for help in solving many of our concerns. We need to know what developments took place and what differences there were between churches. What was the relation (if any) between the little local churches and the big Universal Church? Should we have married priests? May women be ordained priests? May women be ordained deacons? What is the proper pastoral approach to caring for divorced and remarried Christians? How did our ancestors celebrate Mass? All of these matters, and many more, need to be examined in the light of what happened long ago. We need to realise how different each of these house-churches were from each other, even little churches on the same street!
Ephesians seems to have been written in the light of Colossians. This means that there was a significant swathe of Christian understanding, built on Paul’s teaching, stretching across central and western Turkey (to give the modern names). Of the many new and exciting themes to be found in Colossians and Ephesians, the most important is that, while St Paul talks about churches, little house-churches, Colossians and Ephesians talk about THE CHURCH.
Just before the great blessing that is given in today’s reading, we have an introduction imitating the style used by Paul in his authentic letters:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God:
To the saints who are [in Ephesus],
faithful in Christ Jesus:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:1-2
However, some ancient Greek manuscripts omit the two words in red above. The letter may not have been intended exclusively for the Christian communities in the great city of Ephesus. It may have been a general letter to all the churches in the region. A sort of mini encyclical.
Certainly Ephesians is concerned with what we would call the universal Church. The prayer forming our reading today blesses God for all that God has been given us in Christ. We have been blessed with every blessing coming from the heavenly places and showered on all who have been chosen before the world began. We have been predestined even before creation to be holy and to be blameless because we are destined to be in Christ and share his holy and blameless state.
We are adopted as sons and daughters of God because God sees us as he sees his Son, his Beloved. So we are redeemed, forgiven, and heaped with wisdom. Everything in heaven and on earth is perceived by the Father through the lens of the Son. That is the universal dimension we find in Colossians and its child Ephesians.
In Ephesians there is a cosmic dimension to all that we call God’s saving activity. The image of Christ and of the Church is of cosmic entities that flow from the hidden mind of God. These emerge as revealed mysteries that disclose the purposes of God for all creation. There is a plan, unfolding from before creation began, a plan that embraces the whole cosmos, every speck of creation. Under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit all will be directed to the perfection of God’s intention and thus to an everlasting display of God’s glory.
What this long prayer sets before us is a plea to look with “the eyes of the heart” (1:18) and see, as it were on our bended knees, all that God “in love” has given to us and will continue to give for all eternity.
In 1:22 the writer teaches that “God gave Christ as head over all things to the church. Nine times “the church” is mentioned in this letter and each time the reference is to the Universal Church, not the local house-church or community assembly. As head of the Church, Christ is head of all creation. The Church, therefore, is the means by which God’s wisdom is given to the world. Yet the Church sits beside Christ in heaven, as if salvation for all were already achieved. This is very different from St Paul’s teaching about the Second Coming as the moment when the groans of suffering humanity are brought to an end and the fullness of salvation is revealed.
We really have to realise that there is more than one catechism, more than one way of attempting to embrace the glory of God. More than one way of being ‘church’. And, if I may say so, we don’t yet know the half of it.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to St Mark 6:7-13
And he [Jesus] called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. The Gospel of the LORD.
This is a practice run. The learners, the apprentices, are sent out for work experience. The manual of instruction is clear. Travel in pairs. The ancient world of the Roman Empire was a dangerous place, nearly as dangerous as our fearsome world. Don’t go carrying all that you might need for your journeying. Leave your upkeep to those to whom you bring the gospel of God. Travel light. You are taking the word of God with you. Let those who receive this gift share their bread with you.
When you experience rejection, move on. Where there is no welcome, no listening, move on. As a sign to those who shut their ears to the word of God, shake off the dust from you sandals. When you return to Israel from travelling in the pagan world, what do you do? You take off your sandals coming down the gangway and clap them together over the side to shake off the pagan dust from your feet so that the Holy Land is not contaminated. Same applies to those who reject the word. They may remember your gesture and have a re-think.
What you must do is , says Jesus, what I do. Preach the word of love and forgiveness. Teach the ways of God, the ways of steadfast love that endures forever. Rid wherever you go of the demons that torment the people. And pour healing oil on human suffering.
Or, to put it another way, that glorious Church we met in the second reading today must get its hands dirty.
-0- -0- -0-