Today’s Gospel gives us a beautiful example of obedience on the part of the Apostles. They had been with Jesus for some time, and had sat at the feet of the Master. They had learned from his words and his example how authority can be used for service and how simplicity of life leads to reliance on the providence of God. Now Jesus summons them, gives them spiritual authority over unclean spirits, and sends them out in pairs to preach repentance, drive out demons, and cure the sick. They respond by going forth and doing just as he directed.
Are the Twelve the only missionaries Jesus sends into the world? Is the work of “preaching repentance” limited to a few specialists? Not at all! Every baptized Christian – every one of us – has a part to play in the great mission of witnessing to Jesus Christ and continuing his work in the world. Our first “mission territory” is our own life. We begin by opening our own hearts more deeply to the Lord’s words to us, allowing him to transform us into a likeness to himself. Only when we are striving to be “hearers” and “doers” of God’s word ourselves can he send us out to bring the word to others. Most of us are “sent” right into our normal everyday lives. The people to whom we are to testify to God’s great love and mercy are our family members, our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers.
Jesus tells us that, as we “go forth” in this way, we need to depend totally on God. We do not need a lot of money or possessions. We do not need great intelligence or special talents. God chooses the simple and humble ones to be his witnesses. Obedience is more important than money.
When God chose Amos, he was not a trained prophet. He was a simple shepherd, one of the lowliest members of his community. We can imagine how unqualified the prophet Amos must have felt on being called to prophesy. When the priest Amaziah, offended by Amos’s words, criticizes him, Amos can give only one justification for his actions: it was the Lord who told him, “Go prophesy to my people Israel.” With obedient faith, Amos went and did as he was told.
Like Amos, and like the Apostles, we can feel keenly how inadequate we are for the task of serving the Lord. When we look at our weaknesses and limitations, we are clearly unworthy and unready to go forth as witnesses of Christ. In order to respond with obedience, we need to learn to trust in the Lord and depend on him. If we are depending on his strength, then our weakness is not even an issue. The more we can let go and trust in the Lord, the more he can act in and through us.
Like the Apostles, we are sent by God to “preach repentance” to the world today. It is easy enough to see how necessary this task is in our world which has strayed so far in its thinking and its behavior from God’s ways! But we need to understand correctly what it means to “preach repentance.” We are not sent forth to go around telling others how bad they are; that only makes us pests, not evangelists. Our first responsibility is to live a life of repentance ourselves. We “preach” most effectively with our example, not our words. Our words are completely ineffective and even harmful if we say one thing and do another. We ourselves are not impressed by what people say; we want to see how they actually behave. It is the same with those who observe us. So we must “preach” with our lives, by how we relate to one another. If we hold on to grudges or resentment, if we seek revenge or ignore people with whom we are in conflict, we are not being good witnesses to the Lord’s reconciling love. On the other hand, if we reach out to others with forgiveness, patience and humility – if we prefer the good of the other over our own good – we truly preach with our lives.
There is much more to the Christian life than preaching repentance. The reading from Ephesians reminds us that, yes, in Christ we have forgiveness of our sins, but that is one of countless gifts. St. Paul tells us that God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.” We have already received much more than we will ever give to others. We have been chosen in Christ, have “heard the word of truth…, have believed in him,” and have been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.” In Baptism, we have been filled with the Spirit, and in Confirmation we have been sent forth in the power of the Spirit to live as missionary disciples of Christ in the world.
What prevents me from fully accepting the direction of Christ? Do I focus on my own weakness or the strength of the Lord? How can I remain obedient within my mission?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.