The new president was just sworn into office on the U.S. Capitol steps in Washington. After the ceremony, the president, the former president and their entourage made their way through the Capitol building to the front entrance. There, a helicopter was waiting to take the former president to the airport where he would board a plane to take him home.
As the former president shook hands and saluted the new president, he said: “Carry on, carry on,” somewhat reflecting an understanding that the mission will continue. One person who had been responsible for the mission is now handing that mission over to someone new, who will now carry the responsibility and duties of that office.
Jesus is not a president, nor does his “office” ever end. Yet, as we see in the Gospels, he does “depart.” Jesus returns to the Father and “takes his seat” at the right hand. He shares his mission with the Church. In a particular manner he shares some of the responsibility for leading the mission to his apostles so that the mission can “carry on.”
In the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy we get an insight into the apostles’ work and ministry. You may recall earlier in the public ministry that one of the first things that Jesus did was to call specific disciples to follow him. They were Peter, Andrew, James and John. He told them that they would become “fishers of men.”
In doing so, Jesus points to a future reality, a mission that will be entrusted to them. Later in the Gospel he will appoint them and others as “apostles.” The term “apostle” means “one who is sent.” Jesus is the one who “sends.” He “sends” them on mission.
The mission is one and has already begun. The mission is one of salvation and love. Jesus’ mission comes from the Father who sent him. He now prepares the Church to continue the mission after he returns. The “handing on” of the mission will not happen until Pentecost. Until then, the apostles and disciples are “in training” or “formation.” They are being prepared to embrace the mission in faith and to “carry on” after his departure.
Unlike the president’s role in a democracy, Jesus’ role is never relinquished for. He continues to be present through the Spirit. His followers take up the mission and carry it forward throughout the world and through time.
In Sunday’s Gospel passage Jesus gives “The Twelve” authority over unclean spirits and sends them out on mission. In one sense this is a “trial run” or if we use modern educational terms it is like “field education.” They will return in a few days and reflect with Jesus on what happened on the mission.
Jesus’ instructions to the apostles gives us an insight into the import of the mission as well as things we can keep in mind because each one of us, though not apostles, share in the mission of Christ, the mission of the Church.
Jesus speaks of immediacy to their task. Being with him, learning from him, watching him live, speaking with him and hearing him preach has prepared the disciples for the mission. They are ready to go forth. They do not need to prepare for the journey as though it was just like another journey – planning, getting packed, purchasing food, etc. They have what they need from Jesus himself.
An implicit trust and reliance is needed for the mission. The things we would normally think of as necessary are not needed: food, sack, money. The only things that Jesus instructs them to bring with them are the walking staff and sandals. Why mention these two? It seems that this is again related to the mission. They will be walking, perhaps long and far. The mission begins now and they are to be on their way. The staff and sandals will help them get to where they need to go; the other things can be obtained when needed. The mission is important and needs to be underway.
The apostles are to bring the Gospel with them through “preaching.” They will proclaim all that they have learned and experienced in Christ Jesus to all they meet. Regardless of the reception they receive, which they have no control over, they are to proclaim. Further attention is to be given to driving out demons that haunt people. One might say that they are to carry Christ’s message “do not be afraid” to all they meet. In his name any demon that causes fear and anxiety can be expunged. They are also to care for the sick through an anointing.
When we think of “The Twelve” and what we know about them we quickly recognize that they are all different. Some were fishermen, one was a tax collector, they were different ages at the time of their call, and each one has a unique personality. Yet they are all called to the same mission. In a way this is similar to the prophets of the Old Testament.
In the first reading for today’s liturgy, the prophet Amos recalls his calling and mission. In this case, he was not prepared or trained to be a prophet. He was a “dresser of sycamores” and a “shepherd.” He was from Judah, not Israel; but sent to Israel by God. As a “prophet” he was a messenger of God who responded to the Lord’s call to: “Go, prophecy to my people Israel.”
He too had to focus on the mission regardless of its reception. Indeed, the prophetic word is not always received well as we see in this account where Amaziah is trying to drive Amos away. Amos does not go. He stays and continues the mission.
St. Paul, an apostle but not one of “The Twelve,” also shares in the mission of Christ. He travels throughout Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece and eventually even goes to Rome proclaiming the Gospel. One of the places he preached was Ephesus. You can still travel to this town today, in Turkey, and see some of the places where Paul preached.
The second reading for today’s liturgy comes from a letter Paul wrote to the Ephesians sometime after his departure. The message proclaims the blessings we have received through God in Christ Jesus. The eternal plan of God to redeem us in love has been carried by Christ. “In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the grace that he lavished upon us.”
St. Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, that “In him we were also chosen.” We are chosen by God to share in the divine life of love made known to us in Christ. In this sense we all partake in the mission of Christ and are called to “carry on.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.