by Father Pete Iorio
Wasn’t the rescue mission from a cave in Thailand of the 12 young soccer player boys and their coach absolutely amazing? The world was riveted on this situation praying for good news. For those who did not hear the news, the story follows: Little did those thirteen people know that what was supposed to be a short one-hour hike into the cave turned out to be three weeks. They did not know that rain was falling, and water rushed into the cave and threatened their lives. The international community led by the Thai navy seals did an amazing job using great modern equipment and highly trained men and women to find them, feed them, tend to their first aid needs and eventually free all of them. One rescue worker did lose his life in the process; however, we can say that this rescue mission was a huge success.
The Scripture readings today, the first and the Gospel reading are about mission. God calls ordinary people to do extraordinary work which is to be the voice of God bringing his message and to do his corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
On the ladder of prestigious jobs, being a dresser of sycamore trees in the time of Amos was about as close to the bottom rung as a person could get. The sycamore was the poor person’s fig tree. To make the fruit ripen the dresser of sycamores had to pierce the fruit encased in husks with a sharp stick and even after such labor intensive work, the yield was of small value and a little taste. Amos mentions that this is his occupation; however, the Lord God called him to a mission of calling people to repentance. He was a reluctant migrant farm worker turned prophet. We are reminded that God’s criterion for choosing is often worlds apart from our own. As the saying goes: God does not call the qualified; He qualifies the called. This same theme continues in the Gospel today. We know that Jesus had called twelve men to do his work. Their jobs that we know about were fishermen, a tax collector, a thief, and a zealous politician. The others are not told in Scripture. They hardly had any training for the mission which he sends them on today.
I might say that Jesus sends out the 12 on a different kind of “rescue” mission. Unlike the Thai navy SEALS who had lots of training and excellent equipment, these 12 are ill-equipped in a human way of thinking for the mission. They are to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, preach repentance, and cast out unclean spirits with only power given to them by Jesus. Their equipment however, was very minimal. They were to take a walking stick, sandals and only one tunic. No food, no sack, no money in their belts.
Scripture scholars tell us that these were the same exact instructions that the Israelites were given for the exodus/the first Passover when they left Egypt. The 12 were the Christian missionaries. They would be the new Israel who would be true liberators. They freed/rescued people from evil spirits and demons.
There is symbolism in the items they took with them and did not take with them. The tunic represented their identity. It was one identity united in Jesus Christ. Without the necessities of food, money or a sack filled with things, they were focused on their mission and work to receive hospitality and to trust totally in God.
Now that we have the background, what about us? The good news for each of us today is that God has already chosen us to be missionaries. What? Me? No way. That is the work of priests and sisters and laypeople who go to foreign lands. If you are baptized, and if you eat the bread of life, and if you are confirmed in the Holy Spirit, then you are sent on mission.
It is important to remember three things.
First, we are not alone. Looking around us today, there are people here who are our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone in this mission! Jesus sent his disciples out two by two, and we, too, are encouraged to find others who can walk with us as we strive to follow Jesus.
Second, it’s not all up to us. Jesus didn’t send the disciples out saying, “Do your best!” Jesus sent them out and gave them authority. As we strive to act as disciples of Jesus and to carry out the mission which he has entrusted to us, we must recognize that he’s not standing at a distance watching us, grading us or critiquing us. Jesus is here in the midst of our struggles giving us strength – in the midst of our victories rejoicing with us. He does not ask us to go out with only our natural abilities, but gives us his strength, power, authority and grace. All that is necessary is for us to receive it.
Third, Jesus will continue to choose us and work through us, even if we fail over and over again. There is a detail which invites a closer look in the Gospel passage. The Scripture simply says, The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. This means that Judas, who eventually betrayed Jesus, would have been included in that number. Judas – through the power and authority of Jesus – healed the sick, preached repentance and drove out demons.
In our lives, there will be times when we and others choose against Jesus – when we betray him, when we deny him – but Jesus never gives up on us. In those moments, we are called to repentance, and then to begin to walk with Jesus again. That is what the sacrament of reconciliation is all about. I love it and rejoice when people who have been away for a long time come back and want to receive the fullness of God’s love and power and grace and to continue on the mission of being a disciple. If Judas was able to do such mighty works before his eventual turning away from God, and if God worked in wonderful ways through Saint Paul who did horrible things to Christians before his conversion, what might Jesus do in and through us if we allow him to? Let us pray that God makes known his mission to us in a particular way and also pray that we receive the grace and power to complete it.
There are many opportunities to serve right here in our parish and in our community. Whether you are new or have been here a long time, Jesus and his church, all of us, need disciples with the missionary heart of Jesus to teach in our formation program to young people, to serve in leadership roles, to serve in liturgical ministries, and to care for and serve the least of our brothers and sisters. Remember: God does not call the qualified. God qualifies the called, and that is you and me, friends.