FIFTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
First Reading ( Amos 7:12-15 ): The prophet Amos was banished
Second Reading (Eph 1:3-14 ) : Christ is the Head of all creation
Gospel ( Mk 6:7-13) : Sending forth the twelve apostles to preach
-“The best of humanity is like water, which benefits all things, and does not contend with them.”(1)
-“Good rain knows the seasons, in spring it comes; it comes quietly into the night with the wind, moistening living things carefully without a sound.”(2)
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. ( Mk 6:7-9)
There is an interesting phrase in today's Gospel from Mark, slightly different from the accounts of Matthew and Luke. Mark says, “take nothing for their journey except a staff” whereas Matthew and Luke both say, no staff ( Mt 10:10; Lk 9:3 )
What did Jesus actually say, ‘take a staff’ or ‘don't take a staff’?
One Scripture scholar tell us that Mark was a disciple of Peter who followed the custom of the time and always carried a staff, holding it even when he was preaching. So while repeating Jesus' words, ‘do not take a staff,’ at the same time he held on to his staff! While Mark listened to the Word he was also watching the speaker. Later, when he began to record all that he had heard, he remembered clearly that his master Peter always had carried a staff, so he altered Jesus' words, ‘take no staff’ to read, ‘except for a staff take nothing with you.’
Although this is a minor point, from it we can note that when the apostles listened to Jesus and then preached about his actions and words, they were trying to understand the meaning, the spirit and the teaching, and not just the words only. Meticulously searching for the exact words of Scripture has never been a tradition in the Catholic Church.
The truth, credibility and reliability of Scripture does not come from the external meaning of the words themselves, but from the ‘core of the message’ or the ‘central concepts’, that is, how God reveals truths for our lives through the written word.
The Bible does not reveal truths about science, history, geography, philosophy, literature. What it talks about are truths that relate to life, especially the ultimate truths of life. For example, the meaning of life, from where does life come, where do we go after death; how do we view life and the universe, how do we face life's challenges, and so on. Hence the message in today's reading definitely is not about ‘the staff’. It is about the preacher's attitude and mindset when preaching the good news.
Peter realized Jesus was not talking mainly about the staff, and so he could carry a staff at the same time as he quoted Jesus' words not to carry it, and Mark in writing the story did not hesitate to say ‘except for the staff, carry nothing else!’ The central message in Jesus' words, ‘carry nothing with you’ is this: the preacher of the good news should not rely on temporal authority, worldly power or any external pressure, but rely only on God and on the strength that comes from the living Gospel itself.
In other words, the preacher must travel lightly; and the Church must do likewise. So when we preach the gospel, we do not wish to depend on ‘flour’ or other welfare goods, nor on school, cemetery, or a person's special position or privilege. What preachers must do is speak in truth the Word of God and live it, then choose the appropriate words and time. Then the Word of God itself will produce astounding fruit throughout the world and in the hearts of people, and reap an abundant harvest.
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout. so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” ( Is 55:10-11 )
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Prov 25:11 )
We must depend on the power of the Gospel itself. Even when we read the Scriptures by ourselves, we should have this kind of attitude. That is, we should read Scripture daily, continuously, throughout our entire lives, not as an academic exercise or even to understand each single word, but with a deep appreciation. If we persevere in this, the words of Scripture will take root in our hearts and grow without our even realizing it, and eventually our lives will change radically.
Lao Zi in Dao De Jing, Chapter 8 said, “The best of humanity is like water, which benefits all things, and does not contend with them. ”(1) The power of the Word of God is like water. It moistens all living things and does not compete with them. Neither does it use force. Under its nourishment, all things prosper and thrive. This is the stage in Du Fu's poem, Spring Rain in the Happy Night, “Good rain knows the seasons, in spring it comes; it comes quietly into the night with the wind, moistening living things carefully without a sound.”(2)
Preachers of the Good News must live and speak God's Word with sincerity. Then of itself the Word will enter peoples' hearts and change them. And so the Word will nourish all of creation and sanctify the world.