“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.
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.
Last week, I traveled to a business conference for some research on religious freedom (the Alliance Defending Freedom summit), but unlike most business travel, I didn’t go on my own. I got to take my wife to this event, thanks to ADF’s hospitality, and got to spend some quality time with the First Mate. Toward the end, I mentioned to her how much I appreciated her coming with me on the trip, especially since I’ve been doing quite a bit of travel lately and have spent significant time apart as a result.
I’ve talked about the loneliness of travel before in relation to the Gospel, and how the dislocation of travel can impact our spiritual lives. Because of the nature of this event, we had plenty of opportunity to reflect and worship, so the dislocation was substantially reduced, if not eliminated. In fact, both of us noted toward the end separately to others (and then to each other) that the week felt more like a retreat than a conference, although we had a full schedule of meetings, briefings, and presentations.
It’s not just the nature of the event, though, that allowed us to avoid the spiritual dislocation I often feel on the road. It wasn’t just the fact that we traveled together, either, although both were a part of the difference. The change comes from a combination of fellowship and the sense of mission on behalf of the Lord.
We see this today in Mark’s Gospel, as we see it in Matthew 10, the parallel of our reading today. The reading from Matthew goes into far greater detail as to how the disciples were to travel on their first mission — and what they were to expect. “I am sending you out as sheep amidst the wolves,” Jesus tells them, “therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” He sends them out in pairs, almost certainly not uncommon in those days, as traveling was a dangerous business. With this instruction, it does seem that Jesus has more reason to assure that these men will not suffer from isolation and the despair and temptation it can bring.
This is a message repeated throughout the scriptures. Later, Jesus will tell the apostles that His presence will be known in these kinds of relational fellowships. In Matthew 18:19-20 before they start out for Jerusalem, Jesus tells them that He will be among them, when even the smallest number of disciples are gathered together in His mission:
“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
Contrast that with our first reading today from Amos 7:12-15. Amos gets called by the Lord to prophesy to Israel, which earns him the enmity of Amaziah, a priest in Bethel. Amaziah rejects Amos and rebukes him for attempting to prophesy in “the king’s sanctuary and a royal temple,” a declaration filled with irony. Bethel means “house of the Lord,” and Amaziah is declaring ownership of it for the human king, a claim which borders on blasphemy. It was the site of Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven, and a place where the Lord reveals himself later to Jacob as “the God of Bethel” (Genesis 31:13). Bethel belongs to the Lord, not a king or a “royal temple.”
Amos responds by declaring his allegiance to the Lord. He explains that his duty to prophesy came from no ambition of his, as Amos had been content to be “a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.” The Lord, Amos explains, separated him from his contentment and set him alone to “prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos further tells Amaziah that he belonged to no “company of prophets.” The prophets before Jesus had all operated on their own, with only the Lord to sustain them; that was true right up to John the Baptist. Some mentored the succeeding prophet, as Eli did with Samuel, but their prophesying mission was solitary.
What does this change signify? Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets, which means He is the final revelation. There are no need for the solitary prophets to judge Israel because Jesus has died for all those who will share in His sacrifice. The role of prophet therefore passes to all disciples, to spread His word. This must be done in fellowship, however, by building relationships that will extend the body of Christ. The Trinity is a relationship, one God with three Persons who desires to bring all of humanity into the divine relationship.
This has been the plan all along. When the Lord created Adam, He did so on the sixth day, after creating the heavens and earth. On each of these days, the Lord saw what He created and pronounced it “good” or “very good.” But what does the Lord say when He creates Adam (Genesis 2:18), emphasis mine?
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
The Lord intends us to be in fellowship with each other, to have relationships which mirror in some way the relationship at the heart of His being. It is not good for man to be alone, especially on a mission for His kingdom. In some ways, it runs counter to the very fabric of salvation, which is found in the worldwide body of Christ. We must walk together on that path to salvation, lifting up each other and bringing the love of Jesus to those we meet along the way. We may be sheep amidst the wolves, but Jesus uses us to bring forth His flock, and maybe find that others are truly sheep in wolves’ clothing.
The front page image is “Jesus Sending Forth Apostles” by Duccio di Buoninsegna, late 13th-early 14th century.