While Jesus was accompanied by his disciples throughout his ministry they are not consigned to merely passively listening to him. Of course, they are with him when he preaches on the seashore, when he enters towns and villages, as he encounters the sick and the outcast along the road, and when he enters the synagogues or the Temple precincts. The Gospel for this Sunday draws our attention specifically to the twelve. This group – 11of whom will be known as the apostles to the early Christians – forms the nucleus of Jesus’ disciples.
To prepare them for their ministry as the overseers (bishops) of the very first churches, Jesus not only teaches them what they need to know, he also sends them forth into the towns and villages, so that they might encounter those to whom they will one day proclaim the kerygma, forming the foundational Christian communities.
Jesus seems to withdraw for a period of time from his own ministry as he sends out the twelve in pairs to exercise his authority within the community. We do not know how long they are on their own in mission, but they are acting in his name and in his authority, and not on their own or by their own authority.
This is the first act of the Church. Jesus, in commissioning the twelve to act in his name and on his behalf, anticipates what he will instruct the Church to do after his resurrection. It is clear that in sending the disciples out he makes them apostles – those who are sent on behalf of another – and in doing so he intends the Church. The fact that Jesus gives them “authority” – that is the ability to act and preach in his name, is presented in two clear ways – first St. Mark says that Jesus gave them authority, and secondly, he instructs them to take a walking stick – the precursor to the modern crozier – which in the ancient world was a symbol of authority. Their importance was recognized in their appearance. However, unlike the other religious figures in the Jewish world at that time, Jesus instructs them to modesty in appearance, simplicity in possessions, and stability within the communities they established themselves.
They were not to compete with one another, nor are they to put the townspeople into a competing war for their attention. They were not to move from one house to another so as not to give the appearance of greed or in making social connections. They were to accept traditional Jewish hospitality, and not to bid one against another.
Among the 12 Jesus commissions to preach, teach, expel demons, and to heal the sick, was Judas Iscariot. The one who would eventually betray Jesus was chosen and sent forth. There is no suggestion here that he did not fully participate in the ministry, or that he in anyway objected to the demands that Jesus placed upon him.
This is a sobering reminder to us, all of us who may be engaged in ministry, or those of us who have been scandalized by the weakness and failure of those who were engaged in ministry, that persistence in faith, and steadfastness in our relationship with the Lord is essential to the work of the Church and the life of faith.
The work that the Twelve were engaged in brought them joy and disappointment, acceptance and rejection, success and some failure. They were being prepared for their mission
We pray for our seminarians who are on their summer internships, for our newly ordained priests – and even those who are not so newly ordained – that they might not only know the joys, acceptances, and successes, but they might grow deeper in their relationship with the Lord through their disappointments, rejections, and failures.
We trust in the Lord to continue to extend his authority to the Church, so that through the work of simple men, the Gospel can be preached to all people.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.