The 15th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle B)

Readings:
Amos 7:12-15
Psalm 85:9-14
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Acceptance and Rejection
Like the people of Jesus' day, men and women in every generation since His coming have the choice of accepting or rejecting His Gospel message and the gift of His kingdom of the Church that is His vehicle to lead mankind on the pathway to eternal salvation.  It is a decision based on man's exercise of free-will that did not begin with the Incarnation and mission of God the Son.  It is a choice that men and women have had to make down through salvation history—to embrace and accept the way of life in obedience to the commands in covenant with the Lord God, or to go one's own way by rejecting the path God has determined for mankind's salvation. 

In the First Reading, the shepherd-prophet Amos is sent to condemn the apostate Israelites of the Northern Kingdom.  They had broken away from true worship that God established in the Sinai Covenant, practiced by God's ordained priests and the liturgical assembly at the Jerusalem Temple.  Under the guise of a nationalistic reformation, they rejected the God ordained priesthood of Aaron to form their own priesthood, they built their own temple, and they established their own illicit rituals of worship (1 Kng 12:26-33; 2 Chr 11:13-17).

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus concerning the blessings of their divine election as God's adopted children who are sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit through their baptism in Christ.   Paul's message reminds us that all Christians should be grateful for their divine election through Christ Jesus as sons and daughters in the family of God.  The way we show our gratitude is by striving to accept and be obedient to the Gospel message and the related teachings of Jesus that must not be altered or watered down to suit the agenda of those who support illicit worship as counterfeit preachers of the Word.

In the Gospel Reading, we hear about the Apostles' first mission to share Jesus' announcement of His Kingdom and the Gospel of salvation.  It is a holy mission that their successors continue to share with the world, guided by Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are reminded that, in the first mission as today, there are those who will hear and accept Jesus' message of salvation, and there will be those who will reject the message or pollute the message by their own false understanding.  Our prayer for ourselves and for the world is what we ask in the Responsorial Psalm, "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation."

The First Reading Amos 7:12-15 ~ The Rejection of Amos' Message
12 Amaziah, priest of Bethel, said to Amos, "Off with you, visionary, flee to the land of Judah!  13 There earn your bread by prophesying, but never again prophesy in Bethel; for it is the king's sanctuary and a royal temple."  14 Amos answered Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores.  15 The LORD took me from following the flock, and said to me, Go, prophesy to my people Israel."

After the death of King Solomon, the ten northern tribes deserted his successor, formed their own kingdom, and elected their own king.  Their king, Jeroboam I, immediately broke away from the covenant God established with the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai.  He dismissed the ordained priests who were the descendants of Aaron, selected his own priesthood from among men who were loyal to him, established his own sanctuary at Bethel, and established his own version of worship (1 Kng 12:20-33; 2 Chr 11:14-16).  Each of his successors continued to promote illicit worship in the Northern Kingdom despite God's warnings through His prophets that their abandonment of God's covenant was going to bring down God's wrath upon an apostate people and their king (1 Kng 14:15-16).  In another attempt to call the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel to repentance, God sent Amos to the Northern Kingdom's sanctuary at Bethel. 

In our passage we read about two opposing views of the exercise of religion.  Amaziah, the priest of the sanctuary in Bethel, is loyal to a religion that stands for the state's idea of what has been accepted as right religion for the people of the Northern Kingdom.  Amos is an outsider from the Southern Kingdom of Judah.  He is loyal to the exercise of worship as defined by Yahweh in the Sinai Covenant that is offered through priests descended from Aaron (the first high priest) in sacrifices and liturgical worship at the Jerusalem Temple where God dwells in the midst of His people.

Amaziah rejects Amos' call for repentance and conversion, and he challenges Amos' right to prophesy.  He tells Amos he has no authority as a prophet in the Northern Kingdom at "the king's sanctuary" (notice he does not say Bethel is God's Sanctuary).  He tells Amos to return to earn his living as a prophet in the Southern Kingdom of Judah (verses 12-13).  Amos's response is that he does not earn his living as a prophet.  He is not a member of a prophetic brotherhood, nor is he a prophet attached to the court of the king of Judah.  He is a shepherd and a tender of sycamore trees, but he does have authority to preach repentance at Bethel because he is called by God and given divine authority to preach repentance and to condemn the religious practices of the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel (verses 14-15). 

To whom do you listen concerning the exercise of "right worship"?  Do you follow those who have redefined the interpretation of Scripture to suit their own agendas or the trends and morals of society and its political leaders, like the apostate people of the Northern Kingdom?  Or do you remain true to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the deposit of faith He entrusted to Peter and the Apostles who founded Jesus' Kingdom of the Church?  The Church's teaching has remained unchanged and has been faithfully passed down from Jesus to the Apostles, to the Bishops and priests of His Church, and to the faithful of every generation who call themselves true believers of the Word. 

Responsorial Psalm 85:9-14 ~ Hearing the Lord and Welcoming the His Salvation
Response: "Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation."
9 I will hear what God proclaims; the LORD—for he proclaims peace.  10 Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land.
Response:
11 Kindness [hesed = covenant love] and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss.  12 Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.
Response:
13 The LORD himself will give his benefits; our land shall yield its increase.  14 Justice shall walk before him, and prepare the way of his steps.
Response:

In Psalm 85 the psalmist declares that God has been good to His people in the past, and He has good plans for His people in the future.  His blessings include peace, prosperity, and salvation for those who "hear what God proclaims", have a reverent fear of offending the Lord, and who offer worship at His Temple where He dwells in the midst of His covenant people (verses 9-10).

Verse 11 speaks of a turning point in a reunion of covenant love and truth with justice and peace.  The psalmist proclaims in verse 12 that at the time of this reunion, salvation will come from heaven ("justice shall look down from heaven").  Several Fathers of the Church saw the poetic imagery in verses 11-13 as the Incarnation of the divine Word in the union of the Godhead with human nature in Jesus Christ.  St. Athanasius wrote, "Truth and mercy embrace in the truth which came into the world through the ever-virgin Mother of God" (Expostiones in Psalmos, 84).

The Second Reading Ephesians 1:3-14 ~ Accepting our Divine Election
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, 4 as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemished before him.  In love 5 he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, 6 for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.  7 In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace 7 that he lavished upon us.  In all wisdom and insight, 9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him 10 as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.  11 In him we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplished all things according to the intention of his will, 12 so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.  13 In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised holy Spirit, 14 which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God's possession, to the praise of his glory.

After St. Paul's greeting in his letter to the Christian community at Ephesus in Asia Minor (verses 1-2), he continues with a hymn of praise to God for the many blessings Christians have received in their divine election as adopted children in the family of God.  Paul's hymn of praise is full of images that may have been drawn from early Christian hymns and from the liturgy of Christian worship. 

A Trinitarian structure is evident in Paul's declaration of praise: beginning with God the Father (verses 3-6, 8, 11), then Christ (verses 3, 5, 7-10, 12), and finally the Holy Spirit (verses 13-14).  Paul lists the spiritual blessings Christians have received through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus:

  1. The call to holiness (verse 4).
  2. The gift of divine adoption that establishes a unique spiritual relationship with the Father through the Son (verse 5).
  3. The liberation from sin through Jesus' sacrificial death (verse 7).
  4. The revelation of God's divine plan of salvation in Christ Jesus (verse 9).
  5. The gift of divine election and faith in Christ for "we who first hoped in Christ"= Jewish Christians (verse 12), and the same gift of divine election extended to "you also" = Gentiles Christians (verse 13).

Paul testifies that God's divine plan to bring all creation under the final rule of God the Son was predetermined before "the foundation of the world" (verses 3-5; also see 1 Pt 1:20).  It has come upon this generation, he tells the Ephesians, for the mystery/secret of God's divine plan to be revealed/made known to those who accept Christ as Savior, to bring to fulfillment all things in Christ (verses 6, 9, 12, 14). 

In verses 12 and 13, Paul contrasts Jewish Christians with the newly adopted Gentile Christians.  The "we who first hoped" are the children of Israel/Jews who were in covenant union with God since the time of the Patriarchs and who were set apart from the Gentile world as a unified, holy people in the Covenant at Sinai (Ex 19:3-8; 24:3-7).  It is to them that the Messiah was first promised, and they were the first to hear Jesus' Gospel of salvation during His earthly ministry.  At Pentecost it was the faithful remnant of old Israel who became the ministers of Jesus' kingdom of the "new Israel" (CCC 877) that is His Church, and who, like Paul, have carried the Gospel of salvation to "you also," the Gentiles in the congregation of the church at Ephesus. 

Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are now One Body in Christ (Rom 12:4-5), "sealed" (verse 13) by God the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Baptism (CCC 1272-74, 1280).  This "seal" of baptism is the "first installment" (verse 14) or down-payment by God on the promise of full and eternal salvation, as Paul also wrote to the Christians at Corinth: But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God; he has also put his seal upon us and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment (2 Cor 1:21-22).

The Gospel of Mark 6:7-13 ~ The First Missionary Journey of the Twelve Apostles
7 He summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.  8 He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick, no food, no sack, no money in their belts.  9 They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.  10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.  11 Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."  12 So they went off and preached repentance.  13 They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil any who were sick and cured them.

This was the first time Jesus sent the Apostles out into towns and villages to preach with His authority.  They were allowed to take three items:

  1. A walking stick
  2. Sandals
  3. Anointing oil.

The Apostles were forbidden to take food, a sack, money, or a change of clothes.  The list of items is slightly different in the accounts of similar missions in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  The differences may reflect other missions where the journey was made slightly harder by forbidding them to take even sandals or a staff.  A staff was used for protection against wild animals or robbers.  While they are allowed to take a staff on the first mission, they must rely on God to provide for their food and lodging.  As they are strengthened by their first experience, Jesus may have made their dependence on God even greater in forbidding the protective staff or sandals, or the absence of sandals may indicate God has hallowed the ground upon which they now walked (see Ex 3:3Josh 5:15), since the Kingdom of God will now encompass the whole earth.  The Jerusalem Temple was "holy ground", and the priests were forbidden to wear sandals as they went about their ministerial duties (Mishnah: Tamid, 1:1Q-1:2J; 5:3). 

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus sent the 70 disciples out by twos with the same mission (Mt 10:5-15; Lk 9:1-6; 10:1-12).  In the Gospel of Matthew, the Apostles were instructed not to go into pagan territory or Samaria but only to go "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel", because Jesus' first obligation was to those who were already in covenant with God, the descendants of Jacob-Israel.  Jesus probably sent them out by twos for three reasons:

  1. Two is the smallest number of a community of believers. 
  2. They are not alone but have each other to pray together, to support each other, and to discern together how to deal with problems.
  3. According to the Law of Moses, two witnesses are necessary to give testimony in a court of law, especially in a criminal case (Num 35:30; Dt 19:15).  In this case, there are two witnesses to back up the testimony of witnessing to Jesus' miracles and His message.

In verses 7 and 12-13, Jesus gave them the power to cast out demons, to heal the sick, and to call the people to repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.  It is a kingdom that will be inaugurated on Resurrection Sunday and embraced by the New Covenant faithful at Pentecost.  In addition to healing the sick and casting out demons, He only gave them the authority to preach repentance like the ministry of St. John the Baptist (verse 12) in preparation for receiving the Gospel of the Kingdom.  He does give them the authority to preach the Gospel of salvation or to forgive sins; that authority will come later, after His Resurrection, when the fullness of God's plan has been revealed to them.  This will be the first of many such missions; notice Mark says He "began to send them out."  Jesus was preparing His Apostles and disciples to carry on His mission to spread the Gospel of salvation after His Ascension, and, in this first mission, they are sent out to begin in a small way. 

10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there.  11 Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."
The missionaries of the Gospel are to stay in the same house in order to avoid causing jealousy within a community by having villagers compete in offering them hospitality.  To welcome Jesus' Apostles is to welcome Him and His message of salvation, but to refuse to listen to His emissaries is to refuse to listen to Jesus and to reject His gift of eternal life (see Mk 8:38 and 9:37).  If a town does not welcome them, they are to leave and "shake the dust" of that place off their feet "in testimony against them".  Shaking the dust of the unreceptive town off their feet symbolizes an act of repudiation as well as a solemn warning that those who reject the message of Jesus carried by the Apostles reject Jesus Christ (Acts 13:51).

12 So they went off and preached repentance.  13 They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil any who were sick and cured them.
The Church continues to fulfill this same ministry and acts of mercy which Jesus commanded the Apostles to offer in their first mission.  The Church's ministers continue to anoint the sick with oil and petition God to cure the sick in imitation of the Apostles in the Sacrament of Anointing and with the same authority Jesus gave His Apostles (see Jam 5:14-15 and CCC 1510-11, 1526). And the Church continues to offer the same spiritual and physical healing according to the will of God through the power of the Holy Spirit in the other Sacraments that are Jesus' gift to His Church.

Catechism References:
Psalm 85:11 (CCC 214); 85:12 (CCC 2795)
Ephesians 1:3-14 (CCC 2627, 2641); 1:3-6 (CCC 381, 1077); 1:3 (CCC 492, 1671); 1:4 (CCC 492, 796, 865, 1426, 2807); 1:5-6 (CCC 294); 1:6 (CCC 1083); 1:7 (CCC 517, 2839); 1:9-11 (CCC 2823); 1:9 (CCC 257, 1066, 2603, 2807); 1:10 (CCC 668, 772, 1043, 2748); 1:13-14 (CCC 1107)
Mark 6:7 (CCC 765, 1673); 6:12-13 (CCC 1506); 6:13 (CCC 1511, 1673)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015