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The Fifteenth Sunday of Ord Time B 2015/18
Mission and Repentance (Mk 6:7-13)
In today’s Gospel the apostles are sent off on mission in pairs by Jesus. God's reign will be established as they preach repentance that brings its effects. They cast out devils, anoint sick people and cure them. Life was very hard for the poor in the Palestine of Jesus' day. People were very oppressed, not least because of the Roman occupation.
The apostles were not to receive any money or material goods in return for their services. They came with the barest minimum for their missionary activity. They lived with faith in the providence of God, expressed through the goodness of those who had enough to share with them. Their authority to speak for God was enhanced by this way of living. Today’s first reading helps us appreciate the background thinking of the disciples.
Amos the prophet represented no political authority. He could not be bought by anyone. ‘I was not a prophet’, said he, ‘nor of the brotherhood of the prophets’. He was compelled by God to prophesy, and this involved three aspects, namely that there is only one God, and only one true way to worship him, and one must pursue justice- as stipulated in the Commandments.
Ultimately God will send his Messiah and establish his kingdom. The missioners represent Jesus whose absolute authority comes from God. He was inaugurating the kingdom of God with his presence- bringing about loving relationships between human beings. Peace and justice resulted from such relationships. And here repentance is a key factor.
A radical change of heart was called for. Such is a very individual thing. We have seen recently the pope and bishops apologising for ecclesial complicity in the awful wrongs perpetrated by clerics and religious. We have not read much about the perpetrators making apology. Many probably have not perceived that they have gravely and permanently damaged their unfortunate victims. In a purely secular context we recall the novel of Ian MacEwan: Atonement. The story is of 13 year old Briony who had falsely accused her sister’s boyfriend of violating a friend and had him sent to jail for five years. When she reached the age of 18 she tried to make atonement for what she had done. But how could she? What the wronged man wanted was to have his name cleared not that her conscience be calmed. Saying sorry did not give him back the wasted years in jail- nor give her any access to the world of acceptance where all involved could be one again- ‘at-one-ment’. The novel is not particularly religious, but it illustrates the profound nature of wrongs that cannot be put right, only forgiven. Sorrow and love go hand in hand. In the New Testament the Romans and the leading Jews apologised to no one for having crucified the innocent Jesus. When he came back from the dead his followers evangelised his persecutors, and preached universal forgiveness and repentance. That is atonement. We get some glimpse of what the love of Jesus means.
Herod would have seen Jesus and his apostles as dangerous just as he saw John the Baptist as dangerous. Prophets are dangerous because of their independent moral authority. They attract a following through what they do and what they say. In this kind of context revolution against injustice is never far away. The urgency of the situation is presented by Jesus: "If the place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, shake off the dust as a sign for them as you walk away." Collective action is necessary. People can impede the coming of God's reign; they can obviate justice. As Mrs.Moores said in E.M.Forster’s A Passage to India: “One touch of regret- not the canny substitute but the true regret from the heart- would have made him a different man, and the British Empire a different institution.” Can institutions say sorry?
Today’s second reading from Ephesians presents the essential Pauline perspective: ‘With all wisdom and insight God has made known the mystery of his will ...that he set forth in Christ...to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth’. What was begun in the earthly days of Jesus is now seen to be in the process of accomplishment in the mission of the Church reconciling people….: ‘In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth- were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit’. All people can belong to Christ; it is not political and geographical. We ourselves live realistically grateful for every kindness we receive, and we are always regretting the awful misery of others. We are uplifted by the recent splendid example of the divers in Thailand, and their international helpers from all over the world, in rescuing the lost boys and their leader from that cave. It was a parable in action of universal goodness.
The prophetical issues and exhortations remain the same: how to honour one God, follow moral norms, and keep hoping that goodness will prevail. ‘The tyranny of guilt’ (Pascal Bruckner) is the name recently given to European countries apologising for their imperialist past and asking for forgiveness (Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe, Immigration, identity, Islam, Bloomsbury, 2017, p.174). But how far back must one or can one go? People today often neither know nor identify with their nation’s past. The Church, through its recent popes, has expressed regret for past failures against Jews and others on several matters. This is a collective and public repentance. But would all Christians share these sentiments? The issues concerning migrants for instance are very complex. Let us do the best we can where we are. We are here at Mass to share our ideals, praying together, in season and out of season, trying realistically to know what is true and do what is right, conscious of our limitations. We recognize that the big issues are very complicated. But the conscience of each of us is still our own, and we cannot offload it on to someone else. We confess our inadequacies together, and ask for help. Informed and loving forgiveness belong with prayer and the sacraments to our life of faith.
A happy Sunday to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Spiritual Advisor, MaterCare International
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK.