Before I present this week’s message, let me just thank you for all your prayers for my knee-replacement surgery. You may be surprised to see me so soon, but the surgery had to be postponed, due to a case of cellulitis that occurred recently. When all is ready again, I will let you know; for sure, your prayers are already being answered.
In the person of the prophet, Amos, featured in our First Reading of this Sunday’s Mass, the Lord called a very poor man to do his will and confront the king of Israel, Jeroboam, and his priest Amaziah. It would be Amos’ task to reveal the kingdom’s injustice and lack of faithfulness to God. Like all God’s prophets, Amos met opposition, but we remember him today as one of God’s great prophets, even though he came from a surprising background. He now was given the task of making a bitter kingdom sweet again with God’s justice. Similarly, Jesus called the Apostles from surprising and disparate workplaces. For example, He called fishermen from their nets; and Levi (Matthew the tax collector), from his office, and He gave each a new task: to call people to repentance and new life in Christ.
To be called to do God’s work is a great honor as well as a responsibility. The dignity of the Christian is described in St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The Father has forgiven our sins and poured the richness of God’s grace and blessing upon us. We are stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit at Baptism and Confirmation so that we can be a new creation and members of the Body of Christ, sharing in Christ’s life and ministry in the world.
But it’s quite clear that Jesus didn’t intend to carry out His mission alone. Rather, from the very beginning, His ministry was to be collaborative. To this end, we see Our Lord sending the disciples out, two by two, to proclaim the word and confront unclean spirits. But, in order to do this, Jesus had to be certain that his disciples would know who He is and why He was sending them forth.
An important question that He asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” is the same essential question that ultimately each and every follower of Jesus must answer. But this is not the starting point of our relationship with Christ. Notice that Jesus asked this question not at the beginning of his relationship with the Apostles, but later on, in the sixteenth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. In between, a lot had to happen before the disciples would be capable of even considering this question.
The call of the first disciples is described in chapter one of St. John’s Gospel, where it says that St. John the Baptist watched Jesus walk by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Two of John’s disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following Him, He said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see” (Jn 1:35-39).
It was only after coming with Jesus, watching Him and spending considerable time with Him that Jesus finally asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Then He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 13-16). It is only after the disciples acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah that He sends them out to tell others this Good News.
One of the dismissals at Mass is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” This is what Amos and the Apostles were called to do; this is what we are called to do. Just as He sent the Twelve, Our Lord sends us out to proclaim the Good News, we are sent forth from Mass renewed and refreshed to make the good news of Jesus’ promise of love and mercy known to others. We are sent out to free people from the things that oppress them, and to help establish a kingdom built upon the values of justice, peace and love through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are sent out to bring healing and support to those who are sick and weary. We are sent to be the disciples of the twenty-first century.
Undoubtedly, we may wonder why God has chosen us to do this; but, like Amos and the Apostles, we may be surprised at what we can do in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.