Monday, 13 July 2009

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

In the first reading, the Prophet Amos was sent to prophesy to the people of Israel. The Gospel gives an account of Jesus sending out the Twelve. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians also speaks of being sent. All these 3 readings lend themselves to this Sunday’s theme: The Missionary Church. What are we to make of the “Missionary Church”?

First of all, the phrase missionary church might be redundant in the sense that the Church is Mission. Jesus sent out the Apostles and the sending has never stopped. The Good News or the Gospel is not a message to be kept to oneself. The word “apostle” is derived from the Greek “apostolos” meaning messenger or person sent forth. In English, the word Missionary is related to the Latin word “missio” meaning “send or to be sent”. Hence, belonging to the so-called Apostolic Church is to be a part of the Missionary Church.

Secondly, we must expand our understanding of the meaning Missionary Church. To some, the word mission is related to evangelisation and evangelisation is often understood as “to preach” the Gospel and to convert people. That is not wrong because those who are waiting for the Gospel must not be denied the grace. But, still, there is more to missiology than just preaching. We are missionary not in the restricted “Pentecostal or evangelical” sense that the goal of “missionary” activity is just baptism. Today’s Gospel is quite clear that this sending or the Twelve’s apostolic ministry is situated within the context of authority over unclean spirits. The mission is both spiritual and physical. They set off to preach repentance and they cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them. Thus, the Lord’s concern over the spiritual health of the person extends to the concern for his physical well-being.

Thus, there is no dichotomy or split between the mission to proclaim the faith and to work for justice. The mission is NOT faith or justice but BOTH faith and justice. Faith because the Gospel has been entrusted to us to bring to the world and there is a world that is hungry for the grace of the Gospel. It is also justice because the Gospel is also the good news of liberation.

Thirdly, in the context of the first reading and the Gospel, the mission is not restricted to just “missionaries”. Amos was an unsophisticated shepherd whose vocation was to tend to sycamore trees. The Twelve need no introduction for none of them has any degree to shout about. Instead, the Twelve comprise a motley crew of fishermen, a zealot, a tax-collector and most of all, and humanly possible, a traitor. Their merit lay not in their qualification. Instead, their only qualification they have is that they were sent by Jesus.

If that be the case, then perhaps we begin to appreciate that everyone in this congregation is already a missionary. No one is exempted. Perhaps the word “justice” is too much for us? Perhaps people are tired of hearing the usual “fight for justice or struggle against injustice”. We may be uncomfortable because these phrases are evocative of violent means used to achieve the end intended. In some circles, Jesus has been portrayed as a revolutionary leader.

But, it doesn’t have to be so. The mission of faith and justice is not alien to us. Listen to the final hymn later. The wordings go like this: “You shall be my witnesses, unto the ends of the earth; witnessing to my truth and to my love”. What is truth but the proclamation of the faith and what is love but working out of justice? Furthermore, the sacrament of baptism makes us part of this mission. Today, the launching of our Golden Jubilee celebration in preparation for 2011 becomes a wonderful occasion to deepen our understanding of what it means that we have been missioned and how our mission can be worked out. The GJ Committee chose Acts 2:42 to help describe what our mission is to be like. In the logo that won the 1st prize for the competition, there are 4 tongues of flames emanating from the letter “X” of our name and these four tongues of flame represent the 4 characteristics of the early Christians as described in Acts 2:42: “These remain faithful to the teachings of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers”. “These” refers to the preceding sentence which reported that 3000 were added to the number of the believers.

The connexion between faith and justice is in the practice. You can see that to preach the Gospel is to live the Gospel. Some of us might be called to the ministry of preaching but everyone is called to witness to it by living it out so that we are not only apostles in name but also in fact. When these four characteristics can be discerned in the Parish, it will become an evangelising Parish. It will draw people to Christ simply because it becomes a Parish that walks the talk. When Acts 2:42 can be used to describe the Parish, then we will find that justice becomes the way we want to act. Justice is how we want to behave.

Do you believe this? It might be slow but we will get there. If we want to live the Church as Missionary, then the thing we have is to slowly acquire the practice as found in the early Christian community: These remain faithful to the teachings of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.