Gospel reflection for June 25, 2023, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: The mission of the disciples will come at a cost
The Gospel this weekend seems to be a collection of disconnected statements and admonitions from Jesus to his disciples. Having called the twelve, Jesus begins to prepare them for the mission: both the mission at hand and the mission which will be theirs when he has ascended to the Father.
While they have yet to experience the hostility of the Pharisees and Sadducees directed towards Jesus in any significant way, such animosity is at hand.
The disciples have much to learn from Jesus. Although it was common for men preparing to be rabbis to spend many years under the careful supervision of senior rabbis, the disciples of Jesus get to spend much less time learning from him. While he teaches them many things, and likely far more than we have recorded in the Gospels, his methodology was unlike that of the other rabbis. Jesus did not teach them the finer points of reading and understanding the Mosaic Law and its application to daily life. Instead, Jesus taught his disciples through parables, aphorisms, and through the mighty acts which he performs for them. Not entirely unique among his contemporaries -- we know of the rather unorthodox teaching and lifestyle of John the Baptizer -- Jesus still stands out for what he was preparing his disciples to do.
As we move through the ministry of Jesus, he becomes increasingly aware of the reality of his own Death at the hands of his opponents. While he tries to prepare his disciples for this eventuality, they are slow to come to apprehend the significance of his warning. While the Baptizer was executed by Herod Antipas, they understand that it was the result of an impetuous act and not willful. Otherwise, the prophets, rabbis and other religious leaders of the Jews were largely ignored by the Roman authorities. While the Scribes and Pharisees seemed to be harassing Jesus, the disciples did not expect this to escalate to the extent that it does.
Jesus is preparing his disciples now for two very specific moments in their lives. He offers them a warning couched in a sense of consolation. So, while he tells them that the Father indeed knows for them, cares for them, and will extend his blessings to them, he is doing so in the midst of also warning them that he is to undergo persecution and so are they. Jesus, through his own passion, will model for them how to act in the face of persecution, but he also gives them these words of encouragement.
Jesus warns them against fear, especially fear of the rulers of this world. The only proper fear belongs to God alone, and he has counted every hair of their heads, showing his love for them.
This is also a hope and a warning to each one of us. The ordinary trials and struggles of life, not even taking into consideration the horrors of those who are cruelly persecuted for the faith -- can lead us to doubt God’s love and mercy. For some the problem of evil in the world (theodicy) draws them to agnosticism and even atheism.
The reality of suffering is just that, a reality. It is cruel and at times even seems to be entirely random.
For the disciple of Jesus, the certainty of trust that indeed we are known as an individual by a personal God should itself be the fullness of consolation. We all struggle with meaning in our lives. We all struggle to understand the complexities of the world around us. It is not simplistic to say it is in God’s hands. We know that even in the face of the most horrible and gruesome realities of this world, that God draws us out of the depths and into his own marvelous light.
It is not easy. The disciples experienced the depths of this uncertainty in the wake of the arrest and subsequent Death of Jesus. Yet, they waited, not abandoning one another, and came to realize the greatest gift that God has eve given to creation -- the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
This is our hope -- the very God who created us intends us to live eternally with him.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.