This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 6:7–13:
Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
A long time ago in a land far far away (Southern California), I landed a job at a defense contractor as a technical editor and writer, thanks to the machinations of a friend of the family. He created a resumé for this job that was better fiction than I ever wrote on my own, over my objections at the time. He and my father insisted that the resumé didn’t matter because they knew I had the skills to do the job — and since it was a contract job, it wouldn’t matter anyway. If need be, I could always go back to selling clothes in the mall, which is what I’d been doing for during my college years.
The first weeks on the job were both exciting and terrifying. I had enough facility with the English language and procedures to get by, but I lived in absolute fear of being discovered as a fraud. I nearly blew it once when I demonstrated a total ignorance of Boolean terms and told an amused engineer that AND and NOR shouldn’t be capitalized, but he took pity on me and explained it. After a few weeks, I finally settled in and felt as though I could breathe, realizing that not only could I do this job, I actually felt fulfilled by my work for the first time in my life.
My life’s work at that point, of course, consisted of stops at a pizza parlor, a fast-food burger joint, and two department stores. I hadn’t exactly been on the fulfillment track before that, but still, it was a new and heady feeling.
Today’s Gospel reminds me of that odd rite of passage. Having gone through that experience, I can only imagine what the disciples must have thought when Jesus sent them out on their first mission of evangelization. Jesus was the Teacher, they were but students, and most of them had been chosen to follow their fathers into the trades rather than become teachers themselves. Jesus offered a completely different kind of teaching on the Law, one that would conflict with the common interpretations by learned men in their communities.
That trepidation could only have been amplified by their experience in Nazareth. In Mark’s Gospel narrative, Jesus sends them out on the mission just after He Himself had been rejected by His own people. If the Teacher couldn’t convince the Nazarenes of the Truth, they had to have thought, how would they be able to convince anyone else?
And yet, they put their trust in the Lord, so much so that they struck out with no provisions and no support system except for a brother disciple. It was a walk of faith, believing in themselves through their belief in Jesus. The disciples cast out demons, anointed people, and healed the sick as part of their mission. When they finally returned to Jesus, they must have felt that same sense of fulfillment as anyone who discovers a calling — even if all they got was a taste of what was to come later.
This passage is remarkably short, too. Mark tells us of their successes only in general terms, and doesn’t give any thought to setbacks or rejections. On that mission, those would have mattered little, as Jesus knew that the evangelization of repentance of sin would continue when they came together. This was not just a walk of faith, but a test of faith as well.
Our first reading today from Amos offers a bleaker look at the same walk of faith. Amos, a native of Judah, has been prophesying in the northern kingdom of Israel, and the royal house has not been pleased by his declarations that King Jeroboam would “die by the sword.” The high priest in Bethel ejects Amos and tells him to stick to his native land if he wants to prophesy. Even when Amos explains that the Lord sent him specifically to Israel, Amaziah and Jeroboam deny him access. In response, Amos leaves, but not before telling Amaziah that the Lord would turn His back on Israel forever for turning away His prophet:
Your wife shall be a harlot in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be parceled out by line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.
The prophet Hosea would shortly follow up this warning by marrying a prostitute at the Lord’s command, as a statement of God’s judgment on Israel’s faithfulness. Within forty years, the Assyrians would sack Israel and end the northern kingdom forever.
But what happened to Amos? According to tradition, Amos did return to Judah, but did not forsake the call of the Lord. He couldn’t prophesy in person to Israel, but he could do so in writing. He wrote extensively about his prophesies, becoming the first known literary prophet, whose book and teachings influenced later prophets such as Hosea and Isaiah.
Amos put his trust in the Lord to such an extent that even expulsion didn’t prevent him from fulfilling his call to evangelize repentance to the Israelites. In doing so, Amos actually embodies Jesus’ instruction to the disciples. “Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,” Jesus tells them in the Gospel, “leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” Amos does exactly that, but never gives up on the Israelites either.
And neither does the Lord. He inspires Amos to continue prophesying through the written word, and sends Hosea to call the Israelites back from the brink of destruction until the very end. Those Judeans who rejected the disciples on this mission had more opportunities to repent and embrace salvation, even after the Passion. The Lord places a yearning in the hearts of prophets and evangelists to call us back to Him, hoping that we will open our hearts to Him as well.
We walk with the Lord with a child’s grasp of the goal and without knowing where and how the path will lead us. That can be daunting and terrifying at times, but it is at those times that we must lean on our faith in Christ. We may never know much about our successes or failures, but we must trust that both serve the Lord in some fashion — just as it did with the disciples on their first mission, and as it did for Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and all of the prophets. All we can know, and all we can do, is to continue that walk with Christ at our side, and leave the rest of it in His hands.
The front-page image is a detail from “Appearance on the Mountain in Galilee,” Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308-11. On display at the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.