OUR SHARED CALLING FROM GOD: 29TH SUNDAY B
In our gospel today Jesus reminds us that he ‘did not come to be served but to serve’, and to give his life for the wellbeing of others (Mk 10:45). As for Jesus, so for us! Does he not say of us too : ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you’ (Jn 20:21)? Today, Mission Sunday, let me speak to you about being his ministers and missionaries, ministers and missionaries of God’s goodness and love. That’s our vocation, our calling from God, our shared calling.
The word ‘ministry’ simply means ‘service’. Any service, any outreach, given to other people in need may be called a ministry. The service of others flows, in the first place, from our common humanity. For example, Steve Irwin, known far and wide as ‘the Crocodile Hunter’, worked energetically all his life for the conservation of the environment and for the preservation of many species of animal life. Any true service that anyone does, whether they are aware of this or not, is working for that better world that Jesus called ‘the coming of the kingdom of God’.
For us Christians, our service of others also flows from our connection with Jesus Christ and from his gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to go out and tell everyone everywhere, by word, deed, and example, the good news of the limitless love shown us by Jesus Christ. So being a minister and missionary of God’s love means loving others in all the ways that Jesus loved people.
A glance through the gospels gives us glimpse after glimpse of the many different ways in which Jesus loved and served others. He treated everyone with truthfulness, love and justice; he prayed; he felt for people who were in pain; he healed and liberated many; he rejoiced and celebrated with those who were glad. He reached out most of all to those who were the ‘little ones’ of Jewish society – the poor, the sick, the social outcasts, and those, such as women, who were treated cruelly and unjustly. He befriended sinners so much that the Pharisees complained to his disciples: ‘Why is it that your Master eats with tax collectors and sinners?’ (Mk 2:16; Lk 6:30).
So Christians, like Jesus, serve others by proclaiming the truth of God and the laws of God, by praying, giving good example, acting to defend human rights, and being fair, kind, compassionate, caring and forgiving towards others. His teaching and example have left us a marvellous pattern to follow.
Vatican II was the first church council ever, to treat the meaning of mission and ministry in a systematic way. It taught that the whole church is missionary, and that to be a Christian is to be a missionary. It taught that all baptised people share in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ and are responsible for carrying out the mission of the Church in the world. It emphasized service rather than status, honours, robes, titles and privileges. It said that as Christians all members of the church are equal.
Since the Council there has been nothing less than an explosion of lay ministries and activities of every kind – to sick, disabled and dying people; to bereaved families; to dysfunctional families; to youth; to migrants and refugees; to battered wives, and to other people in need of counselling, therapy, and protection. Lay persons function as pastoral associates, teachers, principals, parish councillors, catechists, readers, ministers of communion, musicians and singers, prayer leaders, artists, and architects. There are nurses, doctors, and other health workers, who view their services as Christian ministries. Some lay persons are campus ministers, social workers, prison visitors, day care workers, and foster parents. Some contribute their love and skills in the rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts. Some work in marriage tribunals and marriage counselling, some as experts in church law, givers of retreats, and spiritual directors, and still others in the areas of social justice, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue and co-operation. In some places lay people have become, equivalently, the pastors of parishes. Night and day mothers and fathers of families everywhere lay down their lives for their children.
The explosion of such lay ministries is a fulfilment in our time of what St Paul said about his: ‘To each person is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good’ (1 Cor 12:7).
That, briefly, is what I mean by being a minister and a missionary, a vocation to which we are all called both by our humanity and by our baptism. Today, Mission Sunday, therefore, let us renew our commitment to live as disciples of Jesus and missionaries of his love in our broken and needy world.