A REALISTIC AND FOCUSED MISSION
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Gn 41:55-57; 42:5-7. 17-24; Ps 33:2-3, 10-11, 18-19; Mt 10:1-7]
In the gospel, Jesus sent out the Twelve instructing them as follows: “Do not turn your steps to pagan territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go rather to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.” Many may wonder why Jesus limited the mission of the apostles simply to the people of Israel and forbade them to go beyond Palestine. Was Jesus being narrow-minded or exclusivist? We also remember the incident when the Syrophoenician woman came to Him for help to deliver her daughter from the demon and He said to her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 15:24)
In truth, Jesus was being focused on His mission. His vision of restoring the Kingdom of God was clear. He knew His mission was broad and universal. At the beginning of His mission, He cited from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk 4:18f) He knew He was called to be the light of the nations. St Matthew, citing from Isaiah, described how Jesus began His ministry by withdrawing from Galilee, leaving Nazareth to settle down in “Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a light dawned.” (cf Mt 4:12-16)
But Jesus was realistic. He had to begin first with His own people. He knew He could not do it alone or in His time. Surely He had read the prophet Isaiah which says, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isa 49:6) So He did what He could within the limits and constraints He was in. When possible and when the opportunity presented itself, He would reach out to the Gentiles, as in the case of the Centurion (cf Lk 7:1-10) and the exorcism of the Gerasene Demoniac. (cf Mk 5:1-20) He was not so rigid in His plans as to be prevented from reaching out to the Gentiles, as in the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman. But He did not intentionally go out to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles.
He knew that the time had not yet come to reach out to the Gentiles. He had to begin by gathering and forming His apostles to help in the mission. That was what He did right at the outset of His ministry. Jesus summoned His twelve disciples whom He named apostles, namely, “Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, the one who was to betray him.” Jesus knew that the Kingdom could not be built in a day. He Himself had told us, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” (Mk 4:30-32)
It is significant that in choosing the Twelve, He called them from all walks of life, different social status, holding different religious and political views. Jesus knew that if His mission were to be accomplished and reach out to all peoples, He needed apostles of different mindsets, backgrounds and social status to connect with the larger group. He needed the apostles who were fishermen to speak to the simple people. He needed the tax-collector, Matthew, to bring Him into the company of the tax-collectors. He needed revolutionaries like Simon the Zealot and Judas to connect with those who were looking for political revolution. Jesus did not bring in only those who were like-minded and of one social class and holding the same views. He was courageous and had great foresight in bringing a diversity of talents to work with Him so that the message could be made relevant to all, and cut across all social classes and ideological viewpoints.
Next, He proceeded to form them. The apostles were called to be with the Lord. St Mark wrote, “And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” (Mk 3:14) Apostles are those who are sent. Just as Jesus was sent by the Father, He sent the apostles out in His name. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” To be sent means that we are to represent the One who sends us. An apostle, like an ambassador of a country, does not speak in His name but in the name of the One who sends him. He is given the authority and power of the One who sends him. An apostle is not exercising that authority in his name but the one who sends him.
The time for them to go out to the whole world would be after His death and resurrection, upon receiving His Holy Spirit. He gave them the instruction, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” They could not do it earlier because they were not yet filled with His Holy Spirit. But after the resurrection, Jesus said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (Jn 20:22f) This power to forgive sins takes the place of the baptismal commission in John’s gospel. In the final analysis, the apostles were given the power to reconcile man with God and with each other; and to bring about healing and restoration. From then on, it was clear that after Pentecost, the mission was to reach out to all the Gentiles.
We have much to learn from Jesus in the way He formulated His vision and mission. The weakness of most organizations lies in that they have broad visions and broad missions. They want to do everything and end up doing nothing well. They lack focus. By trying to do everything and getting involved in all activities, we lose our direction, exhaust our energy doing things that are not critical to our vision, and end up in frustration, and discouragement. So whilst it is good to have a broad vision, our mission must be clear, focused and realistic enough for us to make it happen. Without a clear vision and a focused mission, our members and collaborators will be dissipated, divided and lose their zeal.
Joseph also accomplished his mission by being focused. He too had dreams of being the leader of his brothers. He said, “There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf. Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” (cf Gn 37: 7, 9) This caused his brothers to be jealous of him. He was eventually sold by his brothers. But he did not forget his dreams. He did not give up in spite of the unfortunate events that followed. But he stayed focused on his dreams. Eventually, he gained the trust of Pharoah and became his second in command. Joseph waited to rise in power and authority. He was patient in allowing God’s plan to unfold in his life. He was wise enough to gather food for Egypt during the seven years of plenty so that the people would not go hungry during the next seven years of famine. Like Joseph and Jesus, we, too, must be discerning, prudent and patient in working out the mission that the Lord has entrusted to us. Whilst keeping an eye on the larger vision, we must work with a focused mission until the opportune time arrives for us to extend the scope of our mission.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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