Today, all over the world, we celebrate Mission Sunday. The challenge for all of us is to come to realise that mission is not just something that is carried out by so called missionaries in other parts of the world. But that mission is about our own country, our own parish and our own family. As baptised Christians mission is part of our DNA.
A friend of mine told me a story about how once, when he was in Belfast, as he walked past a Catholic Church he felt drawn in to light a candle and to say a prayer. But when he went to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin to light a candle the only candles available were large ones that cost £3. Thinking that too expensive, he decided that he would skip the candle and just say a quick prayer. A moment later, as he sat there, a girl came in, put £3 into the shrine and lit a candle. My friend immediately felt that if God wanted a candle lit, and he wasn’t prepared to do it, God would find somebody else who would. He was the one who would lose out, not God!
As baptised Christians part of our mission in life is to spread the faith. This task has been entrusted to each one of us regardless of our job or situation. In fact it has been entrusted to us in our job and in our situation. It is not just for priests, nuns or others to do, but it is part of each person’s calling as a Christian. If we don’t do it, it is we ourselves who are the primary losers. God’s plans will ultimately still be achieved in another way, but we will have refused our co-operation with his plans.
Maybe the reason why we are so reluctant to get involved in any spreading of the faith is that in today’s world modern society doesn’t seem to value the faith; and there doesn’t seem to be any worldly gain for those who try to spread the Gospel. More likely they might fear being told to mind their own business. But people have always had misinterpretations of what spreading the Gospel might mean.
In today’s Gospel we see some of the possible pitfalls of mission. James and John have been called to be Apostles of Jesus (a word which means “one who is sent”); but they see this calling as a chance to be honoured above others. This, in turn, leads to jealousy and anger among the other Apostles as they all vie to be seen as the greatest. Jesus then corrects their misunderstandings.
As St. John Chrysostom said in his commentary on this Gospel, James and John speak about prizes and rewards, but Jesus speaks of contests and battles. Jesus builds on their desire to follow him, but he then shows them that following him is not about thrones and glory but about suffering and service. Jesus encourages them to be like him in accepting the baptism that he is to receive, but then he shows them that this has nothing to do with worldly power and authority.
“For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
God’s power is not based on authority but on love, and in this life love is proved in suffering and service. As such, by uniting our own sufferings to those of Jesus, and through him by offering up our sufferings and our service to God, we unite ourselves with the mission of Jesus Christ. Our lives should be filled with a real desire to make Jesus known, and our actions and our prayers, in this regard, will never be unwelcome when we act, not out of power or authority, but out of love. People are always open to listening to others when they perceive that they are acting out of love towards them. And, if we do this, God will not be lacking in his generosity towards us. As the letter to the Hebrews says:
“Let us be confident, then, in approaching the throne of grace, that we shall have mercy from him and find grace when we are in need of help.”