Msgr. Joseph Prior

(Readings of the Holy Mass – Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)

The mission continues. There’s a story told that when Jesus returned to the Father, at the Ascension, he was greeted by the angel Gabriel along the way.

He asked Jesus: “Lord, if it is permitted, what plans have you made for your mission to be continued on Earth?” Jesus replied: “I have chosen twelve men as leaders and some men and women to help carry on the work. They will carry my message until it reaches the whole world.”

Gabriel answered: “But, suppose these few people fail you – what other plans have you made?” “None,”

Jesus replied, “I’m counting on them.”

Jesus said to the disciples, just before he ascended, “Go therefore to all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them everything I have commanded you and know that I am with you until the end of the age.”

The mission continues in the life of the Church. The leaders of the Church and the faithful – all disciples of Jesus, all walking in the Way – have a role in the mission.

Called to follow Jesus and baptized into union with Him, we are entrusted with a share in the missionary work of the Church. The mission now is not to go to some foreign land or distant place, the mission is here in our homes, schools, neighborhoods, and work places.

The gospel today recalls Jesus’ appointing twelve of his disciples, some of them the first disciples, as apostles. An “apostle” is “one who is sent.” By naming them apostles Jesus is appointing them for a special role in leadership, to share in His shepherding role in the Church, a share in His mission. The work of proclamation, invitation, healing, forgiving and instructing that Jesus is doing will be continued in them and in the Church. The missionary work of the apostles and the disciples, as any aspect of the faith, is rooted in the person of Jesus.

Looking back to the beginning of the public ministry in the Gospel According to Saint Matthew (which we are following on the Sundays of Ordinary Time this year), the first thing that Jesus did was to invite. He was walking along the shore. He saw Peter and Andrew and said to them: “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” They did. He continued walking and likewise saw the Zebedee brothers, James and John. He invited them and they followed as well. Jesus invites. He continues to invite, not only people who will be apostles. He invites many to follow Him.

The first part of today’s gospel gives us some good insights for this missionary work in which we all share. First, Jesus is moved with “pity” or “compassion.” He is looking out over the people gathered. What does he see? He sees that they are “troubled” and “abandoned.” These two descriptors could easily be used to describe many people we encounter every day.

“Troubled” – the anxieties of the contemporary age weigh heavily on many people, especially our youth and young adults. Stability, security, faithfulness, reliability, and trust are experiences that many people today find lacking in our society and in their own experiences. The tenuous economy, international conflicts, the climate issues and so forth weigh on their minds.

“Abandoned” can be also rendered “left alone.” Many people feel isolated or deserted. The breakdown of the family, the post-COVID changes in the workplace, the increase of depersonalized, technological communication coupled with the decrease of interpersonal encounter leave many in our society experiencing loneliness.

When Jesus looked out and saw the people, he responded with compassion. The manner in which Saint Matthew describes this is important. “His heart was moved with pity,” the evangelist writes.

Today one of the associations of the word “heart” is with the affective or emotional life. In the Scriptures, the “heart” along with the terms “mind,” “soul,” and “spirit,” to one degree or another, refer to the core of one’s being, the very essence of the person.

So when we are told Jesus was moved with compassion or pity for these people, it means it comes from the very core of Him who loves. Jesus identifies himself with these people who are need healing. His compassion makes Him one with them. He is there with them – to heal, to strengthen, to proclaim and to invite.

Second, Jesus observes that the harvest is large. The harvest are those people who are in need, who are waiting for help, longing for healing. The problem is – the “laborers are few.” There is a lot of work to be done.

The mission is large and needs many people to help. So Jesus tells his disciples: “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

In other words, Jesus is telling us to make this intention part of our prayer. To pray that people will respond to his call to mission. That they will say “yes” to the invitation, first to follow, then to labor.

The love of God and citizenship in His Kingdom needs to be offered to all. Everyone is invited. Jesus uses his disciples in every age in every land, to continue the work of proclamation and invitation, of healing and forgiving, of love and mercy. He encourages us today to, once again, pray to our heavenly Father, the “master of the harvest,” for those laborers.

The mission of Jesus continues in the life of the Church today. In this busy world, many times filled with chaos and confusion, there are many who feel lost or anxious or alone.

Jesus wants them to ease their worries, to understand their worth and to know that they are loved. He entrusts that work to His Church. He gives us a share in that work and He is “counting on us” to see it continue.


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.