In the Vanguard

In the Vanguard

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Benedict Jonak finds profound meaning in the sending of the disciples two-by-two.

If one wonders what it means for the Church to be missionary some of the answers to this question are presented to us in today’s Gospel.

In the opening verses of the lesson we find that Jesus sends out his disciples ‘two by two’. Wherever we go or live, even though we might be on our own, in our deepest identity we are always members of the body of Christ. Because of this we are always there on behalf of the whole community of the faithful.

This need not be an obsessive kind of awareness but a supportive and edifying one. For the Church is not a community of Don Quixotes caught up in a series of individual missions in the world, rather we share in the same mission that originates with the sending of the Word.

Jesus tells his listeners many times that he and the Father are one and that he reveals the things he learnt from the Father. Similarly we, members of Christ’s body, are sent out to bear witness to the Word’s mission as co-operators in God’s plan of salvation.

The sending out in twos mirrors the fact that God has sent his Son and his Spirit to reveal himself to us. A preaching community is a powerful sign not only through its words or works but also through the way that the members of the community relate to each other, through divinely-inspired love. In a sense, love is the proper language of mission for it is the language of God. When we live in the world as members of the body of Christ we are cemented together by the Spirit of love.

It is a consoling fact that through love we ultimately speak a language that is essentially not ours but given to us through God’s grace. Sometimes one can lack words or not know what to do but to love is always the right thing to do. Often love can be expressed in service to our families, to our brothers and sisters in faith or to strangers. But love can also be expressed in patiently waiting for somebody to grow, in our being there for them. It takes time for a grain to germinate, to grow and to bear fruit.

It is through love that we can resist the temptation of putting ourselves in the centre of the mission. Jesus tells his disciples not to boast about the fruit of their work:

Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.

One participates in the mission to prepare a place for the Lord of the harvest, so that people are willing to accept him. The mission is to go ahead of him and proclaim the Good News that the ‘kingdom of God is near’. We are not the lords of the harvest and the mission we take part in is also not ours. The Church is never at the centre of the mission but in the vanguard.

The love that God has for us is such that he became one of us and died for us on the cross. This love comes down to us from the cross and hence the cross is the symbol of love. St Paul encourages us by saying that if one should boast about anything it should be about the cross of our Lord. Nothing that we can do on our own has a redemptive value. We have already been redeemed by Jesus through his cross. Now we need to become a new creation through his love.

Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14 | Galatians 6:14-18 | Luke 10:1-12,17-20

fr Benedict Jonak lives at Holy Cross Priory, Leicester, where he is Catholic chaplain to the city's two universities.