Monday, July 6, 2009

The Medium and the Message

15th Sunday of Year B
(Mark 6:7-13)
July 12, 2009

When Manny Pacquiao scored a huge knockdown over Ricky Hatton last May 3, 2009, almost the entire world knew the victory in minutes. In the country, the news the swiftly spread, and there was much rejoicing in the streets. That is because good news, like love, is diffusive. A victory in battle, a winner by a landslide in an election, a topnotcher in bar examinations—good news like all this is too good to be ignored. The same may be said of the Gospel. The word “gospel” literally means good news—the good news of what God has done to his people. And like anything that brings glad tidings, it is meant to be announced by those who receive it. That is why, in today’s Gospel, the disciples of Jesus were told to go on mission, preaching in good news of the kingdom (Mark 6:7)

The readings today give us a glimpse of what this mission to preach is all about, and how are we to understand it.

First, although people measure the success of a preacher in terms of his ability to gather thousands of listeners, yet, when it comes to preaching the Gospel, what matters is not the apparent success or failure of the evangelizer or the missionary. Rather, what is of the essence is his fidelity to the Gospel message. Amos denounced Jeroboam’s government of injustice and inhuman policies, and delivered God’s word against him that Amaziah, the priest, thus summarized: “Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel shall surely be exiled from its land”(Amos 7:11). It did not matter that his message was not accepted by Jeroboam and Amaziah; what was important was that Amos was faithful to God’s word to him: “Go, prophesy to my people Israel ”(Amos 7:13). In the gospel, the disciples were told that the people could refuse them (Mark 6:11). What we really need are preachers, priests, catechists who are faithful to the Word of God!

Second, the proclamation of the Word must be free. It is not meant to protect or to be subservient to particular interests, social classes or ideologies, or to the State. Sometimes, it happens that a preacher would try to tame the Word to it will not hurt people, on the guise that the Church must not create enemies, but rather gather them to the Church. Still, a preacher must not defang the gospel. Amos did not emasculate the word by, for example, making it sweet to the ears of Amaziah. On the contrary, he denounced the injustice in selling the poor for sandals (Amos 2:6) while the rich drank from the basin (Amos 6:4), and the corruption that resulted from prosperity. He called spade a spade, even if this was not pleasing to the ears of the King, and would lead to his persecution. The Word of God must not shy away from confronting the hearer!

Third, the proclaimer cannot lose sight of the purpose of preaching: it is intended not simply that the hearers will know the word of the Lord, for its purpose is not primarily information about God and man. Far more than mere intellectual knowledge, the word of God being preached has for its main purpose the freedom of man from all evil that oppresses him (Amos 2:6-7) on the one hand, and the restoration of the whole man (Mark 6:13) on the other. This includes forgiveness of sins through Christ who redeemed mankind (cf Eph 1:7-8), making all believers into one community under the headship of Christ, and under the Fatherhood of God in the Spirit (vv 8-13). In other words, preaching has for its purpose the total salvation of man in all the aspects of his life. While one can appreciate those who are very knowledgeable about the Scripture, the point is that knowledge of Scripture is valuable if it is able to lead one to Christ and action on behalf of those in need.

The last element that we ought to know about proclamation on the basis of the readings today has something to do with the messenger, unlike those already mentioned which have reference to the message. The gospel demands that the preacher should be poor. As the Markan Jesus instructed, the preacher is not to take anything on his journey—no food, no traveling bag, not a coin in the purse of his belt, no second tunic (Mark 6:8-9). Of course, the point is not that the missionary in our time has to get rid of his car, empty his freezer, throw away his credit cards. Rather, it is that his lifestyle must be such that other people will see in him the living word of God. If he is to be credible to his hearers, he cannot but remove everything that gets in the way of his proclamation of the word. In the 13th century, Francis of Assisi made it clear to all that Jesus’ instruction can be followed, and poverty made his message highly believable. In many cases, the medium is also the message. One cannot organize BECs if he rides in the latest car model.

This is what it means to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God . And every Sunday, nay, every day, the instruction is given to us in the liturgy, when the celebrant dismisses the crowd: “Go, the mass is ended.” What we heard in the liturgy of the word, what we shared in the liturgy of the eucharist, we proclaim and share them with the rest of humanity—in our homes, in the market, at the office, in streets.

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