As we reflect on the first missionary journey of St Paul, we are reminded of our call to be missionaries for Christ. In obedience to our Lord, the Good Shepherd, we must also bring into this fold those who still do not know Him because they too are His sheep. But it is important to understand the nature of mission. Being missionaries for Christ does not mean simply undertaking what we like to do. In other words, we must be sent. We do not send ourselves! This is the mistake of many who involved in ministry, including priests and religious. They choose what they like to do and what ministries they enjoy doing. Those tasks that they do not like, they won’t do. They think ministry is a hobby, a part-time distraction, a leisure activity.
On the contrary, mission is a very serious business. It is not a matter of what we like to do but of being called and sent for the work of God. When we pick and choose what ministry we like to be involved in, we are serving ourselves, not God or the Church. It is fulfilling our personal interests and desires; not responding to the call of God. That is why although many of us claim to be working for God and are involved in the mission of the Church, we are in truth practicing private ministry. We are doing our own thing. There is no commitment. When things get difficult, we leave. This was the case for John Mark, the deserter. We read that “Paul and his friends went by sea from Paphos to Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.” For whatever reason, he did not see through the mission that he was appointed to do. Scholars suggest that perhaps he was afraid of the challenges of the precarious journey, or he could be missing his mother, or unhappy that his cousin, Barnabas, handed over the leadership to Paul. Regardless, John Mark acted on his own impulse. It was not from the Lord. And this is the way most of us in ministry conduct ourselves. If things are to our liking, we will serve. If things are not, we abandon ship.
Hence, we need to assert that the origin of mission is that we are called and sent. This is what Jesus told us in the gospel. ‘I tell you this now, before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe that I am He. I tell you most solemnly, whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Jesus was conscious that He was sent by the Father. He did not come on His own accord but as the Son, He was sent by the Father to do His will. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (Jn 4:34) “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” (Jn 6:38f)
St Paul vouched the truth of Jesus as being sent by the Father when he clarified why the Lord Jesus is the Messiah. When invited to address the assembly at the Synagogue, St Paul took pains to illustrate through the scriptures that Jesus was the man prophesied and foretold by the prophets that He would be the one to establish the Kingdom of God. Jesus was the one anointed to be that descendant of King David. “I have selected David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart, who will carry out my whole purpose.” This promise was realized when God “raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his career he said, ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be; that one is coming after me and I am not fit to undo his sandal.’”
To be sent means that we are to submit to a higher authority. Obedience is the corollary of being sent. “After he had washed the feet of his disciples, Jesus said to them: ‘I tell you most solemnly, no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.” Jesus, in no uncertain terms, made it clear that He was sent. Because He was sent, He was obedient unto death. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:8f) And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:8) When we listen to no one, take instructions from no one but self, then we are the originator of the mission, not the Lord, nor those whom He has appointed as His successor and all legitimate authorities. In an age of subjectivism, we are no longer doing the mission of Christ but in truth, we are just doing our own thing, what we like to do!
We are called to trust in our superior simply because they are the anointed ones. The psalmist says, “I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong. My truth and my love shall be with him; by my name his might shall be exalted. He will say to me: ‘You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.” This does not mean blind obedience but it does mean that after dialogue and discernment with those in charge, we must be ready to submit to obedience simply because we are sent.
That is why Jesus warned us not to rebel against those who sent us. “Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.” Unfortunately, Judas rebelled against the Lord. The apostles were sent by the Lord. They were to take instructions from Him. But Judas wanted things his own way and chose to sell the Lord for his own purpose. Rebellion is always a sign of pride and self-will. The person of pride will destroy himself, become ambitious or do things that will ruin his own life because he is not doing the will of God. This was what happened to Judas.
In the case of St Paul, he was fully aware that he was sent. Earlier on, he was told that he was called when he met the Lord at Damascus. “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15f) Then he was sent by the Christian community in Antioch. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2f) Perhaps, John Mark who left them half way in the journey was not sent and hence unable to complete the journey.
Indeed, being sent by the Lord is an important authentication of our mission. This has always been the nature of mission. The Lord said to His apostles at Pentecost, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (Jn 20:21) The way in which this happens is always through the community of which the bishop is the head. A priest is sent by the bishop and does not act on his own accord and personal capacity. The mandate is given by the bishop, not by himself. What is said of the priest and the religious, is also true of those collaborating with the parish priests. The leader of the community needs to endorse the appointment of someone for the mission. Let it be clear therefore that everyone of us is sent. Jesus was sent by the Father. Jesus sent out His apostles. The Pope is elected by the Lord through the Cardinals. The bishop is appointed by the Pope. The priest is appointed by the bishop. The lay leaders are appointed by the parish priest to be his collaborators. Only through obedience and respect for the appointed leaders, can we be sure that we are doing God’s will and His mission, not our own. If we do that, we will be fruitful in our mission.