Father Valan Arockiaswamy

Father Valan

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Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)

Jul 15, 2018 Views 340 Listen 14 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos (7:12-15)

Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, "Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah! There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary and a royal temple."

Amos answered to Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me: Go, prophesy to my people Israel."

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (85:9-10, 11-12, 13-14)

(R) Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.

I will hear what God proclaims; the Lord - for He proclaims peace. Near indeed is His salvation to those who fear Him, glory dwelling in our land. (R)

Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of Earth, and justice shall look down from heaven. (R)

The Lord Himself will give His benefits; our land shall yield its increase. Justice shall walk before Him, and prepare the way of His steps. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians (1:3-10)

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. In love He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of His will, for the praise of the glory of His grace that He granted us in the beloved.

In Him we have redemption by His blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of His grace that He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, He has made known to us the mystery of His will in accord with His favor that He set forth in Him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on Earth.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.


A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark (6:7-13)

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He 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 said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


Today we continue our journey through the gospel of Mark. Last week, we learned that Jesus went to his hometown, Nazareth, and preached in the synagogue in a way that astonished the people, who nevertheless rejected Him outright. And Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith and did not perform any miracles there except for curing a few sick people by laying His hands on them. Even though Jesus and His message would be largely rejected by His own people, He willed that His mission on the earth should be continued. Therefore, one day Jesus summoned "the Twelve". Mark refers to the twelve as "apostles" when they report back to Jesus from their trip, Mark (6:30). The same twelve are also frequently called the "disciples" in the gospels.

There is very little difference between the way these two words - "apostle" and "disciple" - are used in the Bible, but for one small distinction. A "disciple" refers to a follower of Jesus and His teachings, whereas an "apostle" refers to an "emissary" or a "preacher" who helps in spreading Jesus' teachings. The word "apostle" is derived from the Greek word apostolos, which means "one sent forth". So, we can say that all apostles were disciples but all disciples were not apostles.

Jesus had already chosen these twelve as His disciples and had taken them with Him wherever He went, so that He might purify, refine, and enrich their lives; and that He might prepare them to be His witnesses to their world and beyond, Mark (3:13-15). Knowing that the time had come for them to go out on their own and preach the gospel, "Jesus called the twelve and sent them out two by two". He sent out the disciples in pairs, rather than individually, partly because of the Jewish tradition of "two witnesses." The Old Testament law stipulates that at least two witnesses are needed in order to convict someone of a crime, Deuteronomy (19:15).

In the case of Jesus sending His disciples, two by two, this underscores the idea that two witnesses are more reliable than one. So, when they go out to proclaim the gospel, they would be more likely to receive a hearing. Another reason was to help them to support one another and work together toward a shared goal.

As Jesus sent them out, He gave them authority, the one tool they needed above all else to complete the task at hand. Until now, Jesus had exercised His divine authority over natural elements, diseases, demons, sin and even death. By now, He equipped His disciples with the same authority because He was sending them out do the same things He was doing. Especially and specifically, He "gave them authority over unclean spirits", Mark (6:7).

In Judaism, an "unclean spirit", or a "demon" or a "devil" or "an evil spirit" are used interchangeably in the same sense. Unclean spirits are messengers of Satan, the enemy of God and, therefore, enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not only wicked themselves, they delight in wickedness and promote wickedness in humans. So, the authority given by Jesus was not just meant to cast out demons, and to heal every kind of disease and sickness, but also to enable them to deal with all of the challenges of everyday life, with peace and confidence, Luke (9:1); Matthew (10:1).

After giving them the authority, Jesus also gave them some instructions to follow. His first instruction involved what to take and what not to take for the journey. They were to take no food, no bag, no money, or spare clothes. They were to take along almost nothing except a walking stick and a pair of sandals. Imagine! Jesus was sending His disciples into a hostile world to preach the kingdom of God and He forbade them to take along even the basic necessities, such as their food. Why did Jesus tell them to take nothing?

In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Barclay, a theologian, explains it this way. In the time of Jesus, a Jew in Palestine ordinarily wore five articles of dress:

  • Chiton or Tunic - a long innermost layer of clothing, usually linen, reaching all the way down to the ankles;
  • Himation - an outer garment which was used as a cloak by day and as a blanket by night;
  • Girdle, meaning "belt" which was worn around waist. The two garments could be hitched up under the girdle for work or for running;
  • Head dress - a piece of cotton or linen folded and then placed on the head to protect head, face, and neck from sunburn;
  • Sandals - flat soles of leather, wood or matted grass;

The bag or sack can mean either a travellers' bag made of the skin of an animal, which a pilgrim or a shepherd used to carry his food or, a collecting bag, which priests and devotees used when they went out to collect contributions for their temple or their gods. According to Barclay, if the first meaning is taken, Jesus wanted his disciples not to take supplies for the road, but rather depend on God and the kindness of others for all they required. If the second meaning is taken, Jesus meant that his disciples must not be like the rapacious priests. They must go about giving and not getting.

Barclay also points out two other interesting Jewish customs:

  • According to rabbinic law, a man must leave all his ordinary things, such as shoes, money, staff, girdle etc. outside before entering a temple or a holy place. It may well be that Jesus wanted His disciples to treat every house they enter as a holy place.
  • In Judaism, hospitality is deemed a sacred duty. One must keep his house open to strangers. The Old Testament mention several instances of hospitality exercised by the patriarchs. In the Midrash, a Jewish literature, we learn that Abraham always kept all four sides of his tent open, so that he could let any passing stranger know that he or she was a potential guest.

    The Book of Genesis tells of one such occasion. One day Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent when three strangers approached. He rushed out to greet them and welcome them to his home. He invited them to wash their feet and to rest under the trees. They graciously accepted Abraham's hospitality. Abraham then asked his wife to prepare bread and his servant boy to prepare a calf, Genesis (18:2-3).

So, we can see that there are several reasons why Jesus directed his disciples not to take anything for the trip. First of all, and practically speaking, it was important to travel light and not to be weighed down with the "non-essentials" which may only require more attention. The more things they would carry, the more they would have to worry about, the slower they could travel, and the more time and energy would have to be devoted to those things rather than to their preaching and healing mission. Secondly, Jesus wanted his apostles to live a life of simplicity and of poverty, that is, having what they needed, but not more. Thirdly, Jesus wanted His apostles to learn to trust and depend on God for all of their needs.

Then, perhaps as a reminder for the disciples of possibly being rejected, such as that which Jesus had faced in Nazareth, He further instructed his disciples if they found a house willing to accept them, they should stay there until they were ready to leave. And if anyone did not welcome them or refused even to listen to them, then they should "shake the dust off their feet" as they left, in testimony against them.

"Shake the dust off your feet" seems to some extent rude and disrespectful. Elsewhere, Jesus commands His disciples to wash the dirt of others' feet as an act of love, John (13:4-17). But here He commanded His disciples to "shake the dust off their feet" to signify contempt and separation. What are we to understand by Jesus' instruction? In Scripture, the word "dust" has several figurative and symbolic meanings, but one thing stands out. God made man from the dust of the earth and so shall he return to dust upon death, Genesis (2:7, 3:19). In the Old Testament times, people would often cover themselves in dust as a sign of mourning or repentance, Joshua (7:6); 2 Samuel (1:2, 15:32); Job (2:12); Nehemiah (9:1). God calls Israel, through the prophet Isaiah, to "shake off your dust" and to "rise up", Isaiah (52:2). All these verses convey the meaning of "the fallen, sinful, and lost condition of mankind".

According to rabbinic law, the dust of a Gentile or foreign land was considered defiled and unclean. So, Jews were to "shake off" any dust or dirt from Gentile lands when entering or returning to Palestine. Given the prevalent attitudes of the time, Jesus was perhaps suggesting to his disciples that if the Jewish hearers refused to listen to them or rejected the gospel, then, they should treat them in the manner that a rigid Jew would treat a Gentile land. "Shaking the dust off one's feet", is the same as saying "I wash my hands off it." Therefore, shaking the dust off the feet is a symbolic indication that one has done all that can be done in a situation and, therefore, carries no further responsibility for it.

Here, Jesus was making it very clear that the apostles' job was only to preach the gospel faithfully and carefully but the listeners were responsible for what they did with it. On their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas put Jesus' words into practice in Antioch. When the Jews stirred up resistance against their preaching and expelled them from the region, the apostles shook the dust from their feet, in protest against those people, Acts (13:14, 50-51).

Mark concludes by noting that the twelve went off and preached repentance, cast out demons, and anointed with oil those who were sick, Mark (6:12-13). It clarifies what Jesus might have told them. They were to preach repentance, the same message that John the Baptist and Jesus preached and then, they were to cast out demons and heal the sick, Mark (1:4, 15).

What is the message for us?

Today's gospel makes each one of us conscious of the fact that, first and foremost, we are all disciples of Jesus. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to live according to the teachings of Jesus: to love one another, John (13:34-35), to take up our cross daily and to follow him, Luke (9:23). Part of being a disciple of Jesus is making disciples. Hence, even though none of us can qualify as an apostle in the strict sense of the term, like the Twelve Apostles of Jesus, Acts (4:36; 9:29; 15:2, 22) and Saint Paul, Acts (14:4, 14) or even Saint Barnabas, Acts (13:1-3) whose apostleship was unique, we are still called to continue the work of the apostles, in the present times.

Through baptism and other sacraments, we are joined with Christians everywhere to be with Jesus Christ and to represent Him and His message in the world. We are sent out as ambassadors of Christ to proclaim the Gospel of hope and salvation. We are sent in the same way Jesus was sent by God, the Father. Jesus says, "As my Father has sent me, even so I send you", John (20:21). Not only does Jesus send us to preach the gospel but gives us the power to defeat Satan and all evil spirits and, provides the resources we need to accomplish our task. His divine power gives us everything we need for life, 2 Peter (1:3). There is nothing God sends us to do or expects of us as His disciples, that we cannot do through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We shall, therefore, with confidence, step out to:

  • Preach "repentance". Let us tell others including our families and friends, both young and old, of constant need for reform and conversion or transformation in our personal lives and in society. Let us encourage them to repent of their sins, both moral or grave sins and venial or small sins to which we are so much habituated, such as feelings of resentment, anger, retaliation, vengeance, selfishness, envy, bitterness, gossip, lying, stealing etc.
  • Fight against all forms of evil in the world, particularly in our families. God has given every part of the gospel of Jesus Christ unto us and unto our children and, thus, has given every one of us the gift of apostleship - to teach one another the gospel of Christ and lead one another in light and truth. Our Lord Jesus' desire for us, as His disciples, is that we keep His commandments.

    So, just as the Lord directed the people of Israel, He wants us to "set our own houses in order", 2 Kings (20:1-2) in His way by employing His attributes of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, and meekness. When we do things pleasing to the Lord, no matter how evil the world becomes, our families can be at peace.

  • Lay hands on people, particularly the sick, to bless and heal them. Jesus has commanded us to heal the sick, Matthew (10:8). He did not tell us to pray for the sick. He never prayed, "Father, heal this man." Instead, when someone came to Jesus for healing, He simply put His hands on them and healed them with a spoken Word. The apostles and early Christians healed sick people in the same manner. They had the authority to heal, and they exercised it with a spoken word, just as Jesus did.

    Although Jesus performs many miracles of healing, it is disappointing that we do not, today, see healings such as those that occurred in the time of the Apostles. The reason is we often only pray for healing; we do not command them to be healed. It does not mean prayer can't heal people or prayer does not work. Saint James exhorts us to offer prayers for healing, James (5:14-16). So, we can pray for the sick. At the same time, we can heal the sick using the authority that Jesus has given us. But we cannot exercise the authority unless we are under authority of God. This implies that we must hear God, and then obey Him and give commands for healing because the power of healing is wholly in Jesus.

Last but not least, let us leave behind anything that would hold us back or slow us down, such as shame, fear, pride, procrastination, attachment to things etc. and do everything we can to reach those to whom God sends us. But when they reject us, they are, in essence, rejecting Christ and His message. At those moments, let us not leave with anger or hatred or self-righteousness but with a feeling of contentment that we have carried out our responsibility faithfully and with a prayer for those who rejected God's offer of salvation.

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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