“My wife and my mother-in-law” is the title of a picture painted by an anonymous artist in 19th century Germany. The image can be viewed two different ways. Some people will look at it and see a young woman portrayed, others will see an old woman. A British cartoonist, William Hill, produced a well-known version that first appeared in publication in the magazine Puck in 1915.
The image is used to demonstrate two different ways of looking at the same image. Instinctively each person looks at the image in one of the two ways. In several published versions (on web-sites) instructions are given so that the other image may be identified.
The concept of different people looking at the same reality with differing results is something we regularly encounter. How do we look at the world and our place in it? How do we view God’s activity in our lives and in the world around us? Different people will answer these, and like questions, differently. Sometimes we call the answer to these types of questions our “world view.”
The passage for today’s second reading comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. The passage opens the letter with a hymn of praise to God the Father. St. Paul begins: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”
The hymn beautifully expresses the “world view” of the Christian. God has a plan for humanity. He has had this view in mind before he even created the world. His abundant blessings are poured for in creation itself and brought to its ultimate expression in the advent of his Son, Jesus Christ. He loves us and has made us his “adopted children” through Christ. Everything in life centers upon this reality. Hence Christians strive to live lives that are “holy” that is “dedicated” to God.
Jesus invites us to share in this “world view.” He invites us to follow him and to be led to the Father by him. He meets us where we are in life and encourages us on the journey to know him and to share in the gifts he offers. Many times, he refers to this as the “Kingdom of God.” In one parable he describes this as the “hidden treasure.” Other times he describes it as “being within us.” It is the same “world view,” it just needs to be found.
The gospel account for today’s liturgy has Jesus sending out some of his first disciples. The group of Twelve are earlier given the title “apostle,” which means “one who is sent.” He sends them forth now, during the public ministry, as a training exercise, so to speak. They are being prepared for carrying on his mission when he departs.
They will go forth to invite others to look at life and the world we live in in a new way. They will share the great gift and blessings which Jesus revealed. Eventually, filled with the Spirit at Pentecost, they will proclaim, as St. Paul did, the great blessings bestowed upon humanity through the passion, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
The “sending forth” points to the importance of sharing the “world view” so that all might know the great love that God has for everyone. The import is stressed through urgency as Jesus “instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick — no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.”
He wants them to be able to go immediately and not to be encumbered by non-essentials. Go and depend on the God who sends you. The only two things that they are to bring, the walking stick and the sandals, are to help them get to their destination quickly. They have good news to share and the message needs to get out.
In a similar fashion, the prophets of old were sent by God to bring a message to Israel. They carried the word of God through their message and he called people to himself. A passage from the Book of Amos is today’s first reading. The passage recalls Amos’ description of his call and mission. He was designated by God for this important work of carrying his word. It did not matter that he was not trained or prepared for this work (for he was a “shepherd and a dresser of sycamores”). The Lord would provide the message. We hear today that this message was not always well received.
You may recall last week that Jesus’ message was not always well received. This reminds us that God’s vision for the world is not always accepted; in fact, many times it is rejected or even worked against. Regardless, the prophets and apostles brought forth the message and the word because of their faith in God’s vision for creation and humanity. They found their courage in him.
St. Paul’s hymn echoes the praises of the early Christians who rejoiced in the salvation won for them by Christ Jesus. Hearing the reading anew we are invited to consider the blessings we have received from the Father in Christ Jesus. The prophets and after them the apostles bring us God’s word — announcing his vision for mankind and the world.
Jesus lies at the center of this vision. The prophets prepared for his coming. The apostles take his message and vision forth to the nations. Today we have the opportunity to renew our thanksgiving and to realign our view of the world with his.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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