In today’s Gospel we hear about Jesus sending out his Apostles to preach the Good News. He gives them instructions on how to go about this task. Curiously he doesn’t tell them what to say but gives them authority over unclean spirits and tells them what not to take.
They are not to go well provisioned or with a lot of gear because this will mean that they arrive in a place with an attitude of humility about them. They will inevitably be dependent on the hospitality of their hosts, the people to whom they have been sent to bring the Good News.
This incident provides us with a model for all apostolic work and it might be useful to touch on some of the key points and see if we can learn from them.
First, they are sent out; this is what the word Apostle means; one who is sent, a man or woman with a mission. They don’t go on their own account but on behalf of another, in this case they are sent by God and they are sent to communicate his message of love for all mankind.
Then we see that they don’t go on this mission alone, but with a companion. This highlights the fact that mission is a communal enterprise, it is the task of the whole Church, it is not something that a single individual can do by themselves.
When in the Creed we say that we believe in ‘one Catholic and Apostolic Church’ we are acknowledging that the whole Church is Apostolic, that Mission belongs to the very nature of the Church. It is not an optional bolt-on extra just for a few. We are an Apostolic Church, we are all therefore Apostles.
If Mission is essential to the Church then we must recognise that we are giving witness to the Gospel whether we are doing so deliberately or not. We must understand that as soon as we make it known that we are believers then, for good or ill, everything we do or say is going to be identified with the Gospel message.
When I was doing some training as a counsellor a wise teacher said to us that everything we say to a client will either have a positive or negative effect on that person. He was constantly stressing that our words were never going to have a neutral effect.
He wanted us to be very careful about the particular words we used because they would either heal or hurt the person in our care, but never have no effect.
The same goes for us in our ministry as Apostles. Every word or deed either builds up or breaks down the credibility of the witness we give to the Gospel.
The Prophet Amos is an interesting character. In our first reading we hear his justification for prophesying. The priest of Bethel is trying to chase him away but Amos says that he doesn’t have any choice in the matter because his mandate comes from the Lord.
He says that he has no qualifications to be a prophet, he belongs to no guild of prophets and that he is an ordinary labourer. But the Lord has called him and so he simply must prophesy.
The same goes for us; our mandate comes from God it is transmitted to us through the Sacrament of Baptism. We did not choose to be Apostles, no God chose us. He singled us out to be his Apostles in the world of today, to bring the Good News to the people around us.
This is an obligation and a serious one, but we shouldn’t think of it as an onerous duty; it is true that it might come unwanted by us but it is no burden; rather it is an honour and a privilege to be the communicator of the divine message, the Good News.
This message is both new and good. It is new, because those to whom we proclaim it don’t have it yet. And it is good, because it is about God’s unconditional love. It is highly desirable because it is about eternal life, it is about redemption, it is about a new way to live.
The important thing with such a message is that it is communicated intact. It is important that we don’t let anything get in the way. That’s why the Apostles were told to take nothing for the journey; they were not to be encumbered by unnecessary possessions. They arrive in a humble manner as God’s servants and not as self-sufficient persons.
And we must not let ourselves get in the way. We mustn’t embroider the message; it is God’s message after all, not our idea of what God should be saying. Yes we use our own words but we keep always at the forefront of our minds that we are passing on God’s message and that our task is to communicate it in a clear and unadulterated way.
There is no justification for dumbing down the Gospel because we misguidedly think that it might gain wider acceptance. No, accepting the Gospel is going to be difficult, it will inevitably place heavy demands on believers but living this demanding kind of life brings with it inestimable rewards. So the people we speak to deserve to hear the Gospel message in all its fullness, in all its purity.
The Letter to the Ephesians stresses that to be a Christian is to be blessed by God. There is work to be done, there are commandments to keep, there is a message to be communicated. But we do these things with hearts full of joy because we know that we are God’s adopted children and that he constantly showers on us the richness of his grace.