“To be sent” is a defining characteristic of Christianity. The angel Gabriel "was sent” by God to Mary to initiate the work of our redemption.
John the Baptist “was sent” to prepare the way for Jesus. Reflecting on his own mission and on the mission he is now giving to his disciples, Jesus says: “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you”. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are told: “Go, make disciples of all nations”. After Pentecost the apostles are sent by the Spirit to preach: and especially to pagan, non-Jewish nations.
This “being sent”, this defining orientation of Christianity, comes from God’s very nature. Thomas Aquinas thinks of God as an “outpouring of God’s very self”, an outpouring of love; God cannot but pour himself out. Human beings are the result of this self-outpouring of God. Likewise, we must manifest God’s love to others. It is part of our Christian DNA to be sent to others. Made in the image and likeness of God, we cannot but announce to others God’s wonderful works.
When I was a novice, some 55 years ago, we had practice sermons. At the end of my very first sermon the priest in charge commented: “Well, Brother Tomlinson, you’ve got a lovely voice but nothing to say”. You may want to tell me afterwards that little progress has been made but it made me realise that being a Jesuit, being a priest, this “being sent” was a serious business. I’d better get down to prayer and study.
Today’s thinking is that not only priests and religious are “sent” to proclaim the Good News. Every Christian “is sent”. “But who am I?" you might say. Let us start with the most humble. I am no prophet, says Amos. I am only a shepherd. I look after sycamore trees. But God called me and sent me. It isn’t so much what you do. It doesn’t matter whether you are prime minister or a bus driver. It is who you are, namely a baptised Christian, that is important. Anything you do as a baptised Christian has the potential to proclaim the “Good News”.
Jesus’ fellow citizens are astonished at his teaching, his wisdom, his miracles, such as last Sunday’s calming of the storm. Jesus, on the other hand, is amazed at their lack of faith. Many of you, I know, are amazed, perhaps saddened, at this country’s newly-founded militant atheism. Many of our contemporaries, on the other hand, would be astonished at the group gathered here: young and old, some local, others from distant lands. “Yes, we are gathered here because we value our faith?”
Rejection must have hit Jesus hard. Himself a prophet, he remembered the fate of Israel’s prophets. They suffered. Ezekiel was sent to Israelites, described by God as rebels, defiant and obstinate. His thankless task was to denounce them; to be God’s spokesman. What perhaps hit Jesus hardest was rejection in his own country, among his own relations, even in his own house. They trashed his wisdom, his teaching, his mighty works with malicious gossip. He is only the village carpenter. This localised rejection expanded until Calvary: “He came unto his own and his own received him not”.
Rejection, unjust, unexpected, illogical, aggressive can hit us hard. It will be most difficult when closest to home. Our initial reaction should be to defend ourselves. Jesus did. He preached the truth, he spoke the truth in love; he dialogued with the Pharisees. But there may come a time when it is all too much; when nothing can be done in the immediate future. Jesus carried on tirelessly, healing and preaching, but he couldn’t avoid Calvary.
Saint Paul experienced rejection, along with “a thorn in the flesh”, insults, hardships, persecutions. None of these does he want but faith leads him to link them with Christ and Christ’s suffering on Calvary. “When I am weak, then I am strong”. Rejection, weaknesses, lived out in union with Christ in faith, can make us strong in Christ and become seeds of faith, bringing new life and fresh hope to us and our world.
Jesus “could work no miracles” in Nazareth, his home town, because of their lack of faith. Previously, in faith filled Capernaum, miracles and mighty works abounded.