We were discussing ministry when my friend wittingly quipped, “We are priests with a small ‘p’. Let the commissioned officer handle it. We didn’t sign on for this”. In today’s passage, the Twelve were commissioned. Long after them, through the course of salvation history, you and I came along. Are we also expected to set off to preach repentance, cast out devils and anoint sick people and cure them?
From that apostolic beginning, our understanding and expression of faith life have evolved through each generation. They have evolved simply because the purpose of God’s free love, a constant since the beginning of time, must be made relevant to the present. Because God is “I AM”. You and I are still being sent, maybe not commissioned to pick up serpents and cast our demons along the way, but to address, especially, the pastoral needs of each other in this time and day.
The prophet Amos said, “I was a shepherd, and looked after sycamores: but it the Lord who took me from herding the flock, and the Lord who said, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’”. (First Reading)
Every week we are invited to gather as a community to celebrate the Mass. The Mass is our faith practice that has evolved from the apostolic days. We come together to celebrate God: “his free gift to us in the Beloved, in whom, through his blood, we gain our freedom, the forgiveness of our sins”. (Second Reading). At the end of each Mass, we are sent, again and again, to preach this love to one another through the life we live. We are sent to be priests and prophets in everyday life.
We are part of the unbroken link from the apostolic days. We each have our part to play to pass on the faith, from one to the other, from one age to the next. Not all of us can teach with intellectual conviction, but all of us, in humility, can be preachers with a small ‘p’. “Your words are spirit Lord, and they have life” (Acclamation), it is through addressing our pastoral needs of each other where this Word come alive. Today, this pastoral expression is the most relevant and urgent part of our Christian faith. Into this, we are sent.
We are to take nothing for the journey going two by two signifying a shared agenda with God. We empty ourselves of self, going only with the richness of grace, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill us up and be used as instruments for God. We go as Amos was, a shepherd. For to become a prophet in somebody else’s life is to make tangible the compassion and mercy of God for them. For most of us, we have been commissioned for this, to be a priest with a small ‘p’.
When we involve ourselves in the life of others, we try to help them see this presence of God in life. We are sent as a small but important part of God’s process of reconciliation and healing for them. We are not the miracle worker, God is. The timetable is not ours, but His. We are part of their life journey, not the whole. But we have our part to play according to the gifts we have.
“And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust from under your feet as a sign to them.” (Gospel)
This is not a shake of condemnation, nor a deposit of resentment. As we are to carry nothing of our own for the mission, we are to let go of our feelings, maybe such of disappointment when we experience rejection. We must leave every Christian encounter with faith and hope that our small part is perhaps just to plant a seed. In time, it will germinate through their life experiences, and another two from us will be sent to harvest.
We all have our little parts. God does not commission us for the big and dangerous bits. He loves us too much for that. We are priests, prophets and preachers with small ‘p’s.
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time