We Are Missionaries Because We Are Disciples
By Archbishop Francesco Follo
Acts 7.12 to 15; Ps 85; Eph 1, 3-14; Mk 6, 7-13
The evangelist Mark, as he presents the figure of Christ true man and true God, also shows us the essential traits of the figure of his disciples (those of then and those of today): 1. complete abandonment in following Christ, 2. loving confidence, 3. mission that brings joy. In this Sunday’s Gospel Saint Mark speaks of Jesus who sent his disciples on mission. The disciple is one who has left everything to follow Christ and becomes a missionary with such a confidence that he only uses poor means: a pair of sandals, a dress and a cane for walking.
Therefore, the disciple is the one who listens and thinks, then separates himself from what is dear to him and follows Jesus, who has become what is most precious for him. Jesus is the most valuable pearl.
The disciple remains with Christ, lives and travels with him who sends him on mission. But there is another aspect: the disciple is sent on a mission. Actually Saint Mark tells us that Christ sent his disciples to fulfill the mission to bring to all people the joyful proclamation that salvation is not only closer but that the Savior can be encountered through the presence of the disciples of the new life.
This is true even today because Christianity is a fact and transmits itself as a real encounter.
However, it must be remembered that the Christian disciple is above all someone called by God through an encounter. Strictly speaking, no one becomes a Christian for autonomous choice; he becomes so by answering to a call. There is, in fact, a love that precedes our response. This is what we are taught by Christ when he says “You did not choose me, but I chose you” (Jn …) and by St. Paul “In Christ (the Father) chose us before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love “(Eph 11, 8) Already in the Old Testament, from Abraham onward, emerges the primacy of God at the beginning of each call. The initiative to start the story of the salvation of the people of Israel comes from the Lord. “Abraham, called by God, obeyed” (Heb 11: 8).
Even in the narratives of the prophetic call it is clear the primacy of God who calls. Exemplary is the story of Amos that we hear the first reading of this Sunday Mass. This prophet is thrown by the call in a confrontation with the injustices of the political power. He must also contend with the cold considerations of the “court chaplain,” the priest Amaziah, who urges caution. Amos says to the priest, that at the root of his words there is not a personal choice tied to his prospects. It is God himself who forced him with a precise call “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; I was a shepherd and a harvester of sycamores; the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said me, ‘Go, prophesy in the midst of my people Israel “(Am 7, 14 -15).
2) Disciples = missionaries.
It is not only the prophet that is called to be a missionary. Even the disciple is sent on a mission, as today’s Gospel passage (6, 7-13) makes us ponder. In fact, the evangelist Mark tells us that Jesus “sent them”, and this implies at least the awareness of being sent by God and not by their own decision, sent for a project in which the disciples are involved, but of which they are not the owners.
Today, as then, the Christians, who for this very reason are Disciples of Christ, are sent as Missionaries of the merciful truth. Today, as then, the disciples invite people to conversion and bring relief to the suffering.
The message that they announce in the name of Christ, is an invitation to conversion “Turn to the light, because the light is already here. Pure and holy are our hands on the sick with which we proclaim: God is already here, is near you with love, he heals. Turn toward him. ”
It is important to understand Jesus’ insistence on evangelical poverty as indispensable condition for the mission: no bread, no bag and no money. It is a poverty that is faith, freedom and lightness. First of all, freedom and lightness: a disciple weighed down by luggage becomes sedentary, conservative, unable to grasp the novelty of God and very good at finding a thousand reasons to judge essential the house in which he is and from which no longer wants to go out. Moreover, poverty is also faith: a sign of one who doesn’t trust in himself but relies on God.
There is also another aspect that cannot be forgotten: the “dramatic” atmosphere of the mission. Rejection is expected (Mk 7, 11): God’s word is effective, but in its own way. The disciple must proclaim the message and put himself on the line for it, but must leave to God the results. The disciple was given a task, but not guaranteed success.
It is also important not to forget that the disciple is not only a teacher but also a witness who, on the side of truth, freedom and love, is committed to the fight against evil.
Finally, we must not forget that to be missionaries, first of all we must be disciples of Christ, listen again and again to the invitation to follow him and imitate him “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29) . A disciple, in fact, is a person who listens to the Word of God (see Lk 10:39), recognized as the Master who loved us to the gift of life. It is, therefore, essential for each of us, to be transformed by the Word of God every day: it will make us friends of the Lord Jesus and able to let other people in this friendship with him. This fraternal friendship with Christ, the center of our lives, allows us to go to the suburbs of humanity to bring to everyone the truth of Christ, incarnate Love.
A great experience of being “disciples-missionaries” (Pope Francis) is that of the consecrated Virgins who, living and working in the world, meet people who live and work in the suburbs of life. There is a feminine connotation to live the mission, a particular way to be disciples-missionaries like the one of the Virgin Mary, the Disciple-Missionary par excellence. More than Mnasone of Cyprus that hosted St. Paul on his journey to Jerusalem from Caesarea, is Mary who should have the title of “disciple of the first hour ” (Acts 21, 16) because she believed in the Son of God the Most High when he was embodied in her womb by the Holy Spirit. It is Mary the first missionary because she was the first that brought Christ on the roads of the world when she visited her cousin Elizabeth. She was a missionary who brought not a speech, but the Gospel in flesh. The consecrated Virgins imitate the Virgin Mary in a special way through vigilance and prayer that is by guarding the heart offered to Christ with the gift of their virginity, and docility to the Holy Spirit. They do it also with a reserved life, even though the consecrated virgins live a personal recollection through which they devote themselves to listening to the Word of God. Following their example, let’s our hearts and our minds keep alive the maternal love that keeps alive everyone who, in the mission of the Church, works for the regeneration of men (see Lumen Gentium, 65). Every Christian is called to make his or hers the attitude of Mary to maternally animate the announcement of the Gospel of Christ and to exercise the “power” to serve the Lord in our brothers and sisters in humanity by living in their own situation the virginal fruitfulness of the Church like the consecrated virgin do.
On Mk 6, 6-13
Theophylact: The Lord not only preached in the cities, but also in villages, that we may learn not to despise little things, nor always to seek for great cities, but to sow the word of the Lord in abandoned and lowly villages.
Wherefore it is said, “And He went round about the villages, teaching.”
Bede, in Marc., 2, 24: Now our kind and merciful Lord and Master did not grudge His servants and their disciples His own virtues, and as He Himself had healed every sickness and every infirmity, so also He gave the same power to His disciples.
Wherefore it goes on: “And He called unto Him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and gave them power over unclean spirits.”
Great is the difference between giving and receiving. Whatsoever He does, is done in His own power, as Lord; if they do any thing, they confess their own weakness and the power of the Lord, saying in the name of Jesus, “Arise, and walk.”
Theophylact: Again He sends the Apostles two and two that they might become more active; for, as says the Preacher, “Two are better than one.” (Qo 4,9) But if He had sent more than two, there would not have been a sufficient number to allow of their being (p. 109) sent to many villages.
Greg., Hom. in Evan., 17: Further, the Lord sent the disciples to preach, two and two, because there are two precepts of charity, namely, the love of God, and of our neighbour; and charity cannot be between less than two; by this therefore He implies to us, that he who has not charity towards his neighbour, ought in no way to take upon himself the office of preaching.
There follows: “And He commanded them, that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse: but be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats.”
Bede: For such should be the preacher’s trust in God, that, though he takes no thought for supplying his own wants in this present world, yet he should feel most certain that these will not be left unsatisfied, lest whilst his mind is taken up with temporal things, he should provide less of eternal things to others.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: The Lord also gives them this command, that they might shew by their mode of life, how far removed they were from the desire of riches.
Theophylact: Instructing them also by this means not to be fond of receiving gifts, in order too that those, who saw them proclaim poverty, might be reconciled to it, when they saw that the Apostles themselves possessed nothing.
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 2, 30: Or else; according to Matthew, the Lord immediately subjoined, “The workman is worthy of his meat,” (Mt 10,10) which sufficiently proves why He forbade their carrying or possessing such things; not because they were not necessary, but because He sent them in such a way as to shew, that they were due to them from the faithful, to whom they preached the Gospel.
From this it is evident that the Lord did not mean by this precept that the Evangelists ought to live only on the gifts of those to whom they preach the Gospel, else the Apostle transgressed this precept when he procured his livelihood by the labour of his own hands, but He meant that He had given them a power, in virtue of which, they might be assured these things were due to them.
It is also often asked, how it comes that Matthew and Luke have related that the Lord commanded His disciples not to carry even a staff, whilst Mark says, “And He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only.” Which question is solved, by supposing that the word ‘staff’ has a meaning in (p. 110) Mark, who says that it ought to be carried, different from that which it bears in Matthew and Luke, who affirm the contrary. For in a concise way one might say, Take none of the necessaries of life with you, nay, not a staff, save a staff only; so that the saying, nay not a staff, may mean, nay not the smallest thing; but that which is added, “save a staff only,” may mean that, through the power received by them from the Lord, of which a rod is the ensign, nothing, even of those things which they do not carry, will be wanting to them.
The Lord, therefore, said both, but because one Evangelist has not given both, men suppose, that he who has said that the staff, in one sense, should be taken, is contrary to him who again has declared, that, in another sense, it should be left behind: now however that a reason has been given, let no one think so.
So also when Matthew declares that shoes are not to be worn on the journey, he forbids anxiety about them, for the reason why men are anxious about carrying them, is that they may not be without them. This is also to be understood of the two coats, that no man should be troubled about having only that with which he is clad from anxiety lest he should need another, when he could always obtain one from the power given by the Lord.
In like manner Mark, by saying that they are to be shod with sandals or soles, warns us that this mode of protecting the feet has a mystical signification, that the foot should neither be covered above nor be naked on the ground, that is, that the Gospel should neither be hid, nor rest upon earthly comforts; and in that He forbids their possessing or taking with them, or more expressly their wearing, two coats, He bids them walk simply, not with duplicity. But whosoever thinks that the Lord could not in the same discourse say some things figuratively, others in a literal sense, let him look into His other discourses, and he shall see, how rash and ignorant is his judgment.