Take a moment to consider this question: Are you an Apostle of Jesus Christ? My hope is that each one of you said “yes” and if you didn’t then I hope that by the end of my homily you will. We are all apostles of Jesus Christ. Now you might pause for a second and say, “Well Deacon Andrew, don’t you know that there were only 12 apostles?” And you’d be right! There were only 12 apostles; in fact the Gospel last Wednesday listed all 12 of them. But I am referring to the broader definition of the word apostle. Let me break down exactly what that means for you.
The word apostle in the original Greek language comes from the verb “apostello” which literally means “to send out.” So “apostles” are those who are “sent out.” With this in mind, we can see that Jesus “sent out” his apostles to proclaim the kingdom of God exactly as he “sends us out” to proclaim the kingdom of God in our world today. And this call to be an apostle comes to each and every one of us not matter what our background is, whether we are ordained clergy or ranchers outside of Sheridan. To understand this call, it is helpful to take a look at the prophet Amos, whom we heard in the first reading today.
Not much is actually known about the man Amos other than what he wrote in his book. As we heard by Amos himself, he was shepherd and he also cultivated sycamore trees, not exactly a lofty career! He definitely was not a well-educated man and yet, God himself called Amos to be a prophet. Amos shows through his call that the spiritual gifts given by God are more important than rigorous academic training. Amos lived in southern Israel during the time period of the split kingdoms, with the kingdom of Israel to the north and the kingdom of Judah to the south. God called Amos to leave his home in the south to prophesy to the people in the north. Many in the northern kingdom were choosing things that went against God’s plan for their lives. Excessive wealth in the northern kingdom led to them living extravagant lifestyles with little to no concern for the poor. Sexual immorality and idolatry were also prevalent. It was to these people that many of Amos’ words were addressed. Amos condemned the exploitation of the poor and defenseless by the rich, additionally condemning their actions of sexual immorality and acts of idolatry.
Amos was an apostle, he was “sent out” by God to preach to the people in the northern kingdom in an attempt to get them to reform their lives. Many did not like it and thought he was prophesying just to receive monetary compensation from the wealth of the North and chose to disregard him. Amos preached not to receive any sort of compensation, but because he knew that following God and doing what God asked led to fulfillment and prosperity and wanted that for the people he prophesied to.
Amos’ situation echoes our current social and cultural situation closer than one might think. Our relativistic society, not unlike the Norther kingdom of Israel at the time, is choosing many things that go against God’s plan for our lives: contraception, abortion, and especially recently, the Supreme Court approval of so called Gay marriage, are just some of the many examples. God is calling each and every one of us to be an apostle, like Amos to preach the Gospel of Truth in love to encourage those in our world to reform their lives, to choose what will lead them to fulfillment in God rather than away from it. And just as Amos didn’t have academic training for his ministry, neither do we necessarily need it, although it most certainly helps. Profession is also irrelevant, Amos was a simple shepherd and still was a prophet. Amos was challenged by the authority of his day, and so will we when we proclaim the Truth. Amos was just a normal guy called by God to be his prophet, so too are each and every one of us called to be God’s apostles in our world.
But how exactly do we do this? Jesus, in the Gospel we heard today, shows us. Today Jesus sent out his apostles two by two to participate in the mission of Jesus. Before he does this, however, it is crucial to note that Jesus didn’t just arbitrarily pick 12 random guys to send out, but He picked those who had already been with him for some time. Before the apostles were sent out, they needed time to be with Jesus first (see Mark 3:14). They needed to listen to him, learn from Him, and love him with their whole hearts before they could then go out to others revealing that same life-changing love found in the encounter with Jesus. It is only after they have spent this time with Jesus does He send them out two by two. This is important as well, they were not called to be apostles alone, but rather are part of a community. Jesus, in sending his apostles out two by two, sent them out as little units of Christian communities where they could support one another and pray for one another and encourage one another. An isolated apostle risks discouragement, danger, and temptation. The apostles were meant to support each other in their ministry.
Jesus then goes on to instruct his apostles to take nothing for journey other than the clothes on their back sandals on their feet, and a walking stick. This is a seemingly weird command, but it shows us the attitude one must have as an apostle. By doing this, the apostles learned to place their trust solely on God for providing for them. They focused on doing God’s work with the promise that God would provide for their daily needs. The apostles didn’t rely on themselves but rather called forth hospitality from the people to whom they ministered, which also serves a purpose. The people themselves were able to grow in charity and hospitality. The poverty of the apostles also meant that they had less distractions and could focus solely on their mission, since they were not concerned with material things. And lastly the lack of material possessions lent credibility to the Gospel that the apostles preached, since this poverty showed that the apostles were preaching out of pure conviction of their faith in Jesus Christ and not for desire of gain, which, if we remember, some accused Amos of doing.
Jesus then instructs his apostles on what to do if the people welcome them or not and equates that welcome as if it were with Christ himself. The stakes of accepting or refusing the gospel are high, eternal life is at stake. If the people welcome the apostles, they welcome Christ. Shaking the dust from one’s feet when the apostle is unwelcome is a solemn warning against that household and a sign of their refusal of the gospel. It is also a reminder for the apostle himself to not be discouraged by the resistance they will face, they shake the dust from their feet and move on.
So what does that mean for us as apostles of Jesus? These same principles are true for us here today. With us too, before we can be sent out to proclaim the Truth, we must first know and love Jesus. Jesus, who is Truth Himself, must first radically change our life and our hearts because we’ve spent time with Him in prayer, the sacraments, and in ministry, growing to love Him above our very lives. This has to happen before we can authentically bring others to Jesus. We cannot give what we do not have, so we must know Jesus personally before we can help others encounter Him personally. So this means spending time with Jesus daily, in prayer, in adoration, in daily Mass if you are able, in the sacraments, in acts of charity towards our co-workers or family, all the while growing deeper in the relationship of love with Jesus. Then will we be sent out as apostles to the world.
But just like the apostles, we are not meant to be alone. We are all part of the Body of Christ here in our local Church community and within the Universal Church throughout the world. The Christian life is always done within this community of believers. And within that community we are called to support one another, pray for one another, love one another, and help each other remain steadfast in the Truth, no matter what opposition from the world we may encounter.
We are also called not to rely on ourselves, but rely on God for everything. Does that mean leave your home and go be a missionary taking no possessions with you? Probably not, but some may be called to that, I know plenty of missionaries that do a similar thing. What it does mean is that everything you do must be firmly rooted in God as your source of strength, not yourself. And as an apostle we will encounter those who welcome us and those who reject us, especially in our culture today. It is important to do like the apostles today and to preach the fullness of the Truth always in love, no matter what. And if they reject the gospel, we will shake the dust from our feet as a sign of their refusal and don’t let their refusal discourage us from preaching the gospel, the gospel will reach more than we think as long as we keep living out the faith.
So today we may feel like Amos, a simple shepherd sent to preach repentance in a hostile world, but that’s ok! Know that we are not alone in the Body of Christ and know that God, in His love, chose each and every one of us specifically for this. We were chosen by Him before the world began to be holy as His apostles, as St. Paul reminds us today. With the gift of the Holy Spirit as our strength and guide we trust in Him and continue to journey toward eternal life as Jesus’ apostles. So as we approach the Eucharist today, pray for the grace of a deeper faith and love in Jesus. Pray for the grace of fortitude, to remain steadfast in the Truth no matter what the opposition. Pray for the grace to be the apostle of Jesus Christ He has chosen you to be!