Commentary to the Gospel for Mission Sunday
The Gospel passage proposed to us on this Misssion Sunday is the last part of the Gospel according to Mark, the last verses. And when you get to the last page of a book it means that the story is over. In this, the Gospel of Mark is no exception; in fact, it tells us how the life of Jesus has ended: not in the darkness of a tomb as those who executed him believed, but in the light of heaven, in the glory of the Father. In the eyes of people, Jesus was a failure, a loser, but at Easter, the heavenly Father pronounced his sentence which is the one that matters. Jesus is glorious, victorious.
This is how the gospel according to Mark could end, but the evangelist adds a verse at the end, a verse that we are going to hear and that marks the beginning of a new history to the point that everything that was told before by the evangelist Mark is a preparation for this second part in which we also find ourselves today. Thus, today's feast, which marks the end of the life of Jesus in this world, is nothing more than a passage of time. to pass on to the disciples who had participated in the announcement of the new world of Jesus during the three years of his public life.
Now the disciples are given the mission to build this new world that Jesus began. And in this second story, we are involved today. The baton is ours. We are the ones who must follow the project of Jesus. Let us listen, first of all, how the risen one has manifested himself to these disciples: "The Lord appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised.”
It is not a marginal detail what the evangelist Mark mentions. The disciples see the risen Lord while they are seated at the table. It is a detail that is also remembered by the other evangelists. Luke tells us that the disciples of Emmaus opened their eyes and saw the risen one at the breaking of the bread, when they were seated at the table. Also John, at the lake of Tiberias, the disciples recognized the risen one when he offered them bread. This is catechesis, it is the moment when the community is gathered on the Lord's day and at the moment of the breaking of the bread our eyes are opened, and we see the risen one. Now we are the Eleven.
The Risen One speaks to us. Let us try to look at these Eleven, one by one. Who are they? They are us. It's a wounded group, should be 12 but one got lost; even Jesus could not involve him in his proposal to be also the builder of the new world. Judas preferred to continue believing in the old world and allied himself with the guardians of the kingdom of darkness. The others are frightened, fearful people. One of them even denied the Master: Peter.
The evangelist Mark is very harsh in presenting what Peter did. He employs a very strong verb: ?ναθεματ?ζειν = 'anathematizein'. Peter began to perjure and curse Jesus. The other evangelists do not use this verb which is the only time that appears in the Gospels. To protect his life Peter began to curse the Master. What does the risen Lord do? He rebukes them. He also rebukes us. But not because they ran away, nor because they have denied him, nor that they are afraid. NO.
He rebukes them because they are unbelieving and hard-hearted. In the last chapter of the gospel according to Mark there is much insistence on the difficulty that these disciples had in believing. It is said that they did not believe Mary Magdalene, that they did not believe the two disciples of Emmaus who had met the risen one. Why does Mark insist so much on this lack of faith of the disciples? Let us clarify what it means to believe and then we will not be surprised of the difficulties that the Eleven had in believing because it is the same difficulty we have today.
The Eleven received the testimony of those who had made the experience of the Risen One, they had seen him: Mary Magdalene, the two of Emmaus… and the Eleven did not doubt their sincerity, but this is not yet the adhesion of faith; it is the conclusion of logical reasoning. The Eleven certainly listened to Mary Magdalene and the two from Emmaus, they were reliable people. They have no reason to lie. Their testimony is true and what they say is very reasonable. True faith presupposes reason, it must be reasonable, otherwise it is imprudence, but it is not reduced to an intellectual assent, to a truth. To believe in Jesus is a choice of love.
It is not enough to be fascinated by his person or his proposal of life. One must decide to unite one's life to his, and this is difficult because Jesus' proposal goes in the opposite direction to what our human nature suggests. And the disciples found it hard to believe because if Jesus is risen, if the Father has received him in glory, then that means he was right. He was right when he said that whoever keeps life for himself, loses it; but he who gives it, realizes it in fullness.
If Jesus has risen, then the successful person is not what the disciples have in mind but that of the one who gives all of himself or herself for the joy of the brother or sister. Then, if Jesus is risen, all the dreams of glory that Peter, Andrew, James, John, and also we, have in our minds, that we have cultivated, must definitely be put aside. That is the difficulty to believe. If these doubts do not arise, if we do not feel this difficulty to give the adherence of faith to Jesus of Nazareth, it means that we have not understood what it means to believe in Jesus. The hardness of heart, the doubts of these disciples are ours.
Many times we also doubt and ask ourselves, could it be true that by giving my life as Jesus did, I can keep it? Wouldn't it be better for me to do what everybody else does? If I give up enjoying life, won't I regret it in the end? That is the difficulty in believing. It means to give the adhesion to the proposal that Jesus makes to us. And let's notice that Mark wants to make us feel close to these eleven. It doesn't say that after the reproaches that he made to them, Jesus showed them signs to induce them to believe as it happened at other times, in the manifestation of the resurrected one: look at my hands, my feet or to Thomas, put your finger in my side... NO. He does not give them any sign, he left them in the condition of the one who is called to believe in the testimony of the one who has seen the Risen One.
And today we believe in the testimony of these Eleven whom we thank because they were the ones who gave us Jesus and his gospel. In spite of their frailty and their weaknesses they carried out their mission and if today we have the fortune to know Jesus and discover the treasure of the gospel, we owe it to these eleven witnesses, people of little faith. After the rebuke to these Eleven because of the fragility of their faith we would expect that before entrusting them with a difficult and demanding mission Jesus would expect from them a sign of repentance, a realization of their unworthiness, instead, let us listen to what he is asking for to these weak and fearful disciples and this is what he asks of us today.
Jesus said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
"Go" said the Risen One to the Eleven. They have to go out, they have to start moving, and he who goes away departs from a certain place, from a certain people, from a certain environment. What have these Eleven left? Their little Palestinian world, their religious traditions to which they were very attached because they had learned them from their parents and they must go to new lands, new cultures, to sow not their religious traditions but the gospel.
Let us try to be clear about what the Risen One asks of us today: to announce the gospel. For a long time, the mission that Jesus had entrusted to us had been interpreted as the task of proselytizing; everybody had to become a Christian... a little bit like the Pharisees who traveled the seas and the mountains to make a proselyte. We already know what happened in history to get these conversions; unfortunately, coercion was also resorted to.
We have sometimes heard some preachers complaining who say: "In this world, in this society, no one can be converted...." And who asked you to convert anyone? The Risen One asked you only one thing: faithfully proclaim the gospel. To convert, to change the heart, is not the task of the preacher; it is the Spirit that works these conversions. You just must faithfully announce the word of the gospel and then trust in the divine power that is present in this seed. Let's remember that parable that Mark alone tells us, in chapter 4: the sower casts seed into the ground; whether he sleeps or watches, night or day, the seed sprouts and grows, how? He does not know because it does not depend on him, it depends on the divine power present in the seed of the evangelical word. When this seed is sown in someone's heart, he or she can no longer get rid of it because it is not a human word, and it produces extraordinary fruits. The content of this message: The gospel is well synthesized in this word that we know very well its meaning: Good News. And what is the Good News that must be announced? Only one: the unconditional love of God for the person. The divine life that Christ brought to the world. It is not that God is good to the good and severely punishes the bad; that's what everybody has always said before. We must announce that God loves everyone, even the wicked. This is the newness, and this must be announced to everybody; everybody must know it.
And this announcement of the gospel must be made to all creation. We would expect it to be proclaimed only to people, but the gospel must not only change people’s hearts. What does it mean? Let us try to observe what has happened. How have human beings handled creation? Did people move by the Creator's plan Understanding it well and therefore knew how the goods of the earth were to be administered? NO. They were moved by their own judgment, by their own selfishness, and so they allowed themselves to be moved by their greed 106 00:16:43,000 --> 00:16:53,000 because of their insatiable greed instead of being gardeners, custodians of creation, they became despots and predators. They manipulated nature at their whim, bending it to their own selfish designs and crazy projects. And we know what the creation is reduced to. They have reintroduced chaos, and an unlivable world.
In fact, Paul in his letter to the Romans says that all creatures are waiting for the beneficial effects of salvation that the light of the gospel introduces. The light of the gospel frees the person and leads him or her to establish a new relationship with creation, with respect for creation to be placed at the service of each person.
And the Risen One goes on to say: "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Beware of this oriental language that always contrasts black and white; two options, one of life and one of death. "Whoever believes" means he or she who of his or her own adherence to this gospel, to the proposal of a new man and a new world made by Jesus "is saved by this word."
‘Saved’ does not mean ‘taken to paradise’, there they are all welcomed into the arms of the heavenly Father. "Saved immediately" that is, if one adheres to the gospel he or she realizes in fullness his or her own humanity; if, on the other hand, the person does not adhere, he or she is not saved, he or she does not allow to be saved and therefore does not become humanized because the one who builds a life on proposals different from that of Christ does not build in fullness his or her own existence. And baptism is the sign of this total immersion as branches to the vine, immersion in the Spirit of Christ. Let us now listen to what images Jesus presents us with the change of the world that takes place when the gospel is accepted:
“These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
There is a question we hear from unbelievers: ‘What good is your faith for? What does it produce?’ They say: 'We see believers going to implore some saint when they are sick, in the hope of receiving a miracle. We trust in science, not in saints.' A certain credulity, understood as faith, produces absolutely nothing, even if it has many followers. Faith understood as a request to the Lord to perform some miracle to solve our problems is only alienation. But Jesus, in today's Gospel, answers precisely the question that non-believers ask us: What does your faith produce? If it is credulity, it produces nothing. Jesus says: 'if you really trust the gospel, that is, in the proposal of man and of the world that I make, you will witness prodigies, unexpected and extraordinary events that you did not expect.’ If immediately all the wars in the world would disappear and everyone would treat each other as brothers and sisters and help each other; if the strongest would help the weakest the world would change. We would say that this is an unexpected miracle. If this does not happen it is precisely because we do not adhere to the proposal that Jesus makes. Jesus says that wonders will not accompany the preachers as miracles to prove them right. This is an apologetic interpretation of miracles that Jesus has always rejected. “This is a perverse and adulterous generation that ask for these miracles” (Mt 12:39).
Unfortunately, it was at the end of the second century that the miracle was interpreted as proof and we have inherited this conception: the proof that the Christian religion is true is that miracles are performed. Jesus rejected this interpretation. He said: Proclaim the gospel, adhere to this proposal and you will witness wonders. And he introduces these wonders called signs with five images taken from the Bible.
Let us try to interpret and understand them. The first of these signs: “In my name they will drive out demons.” Let us leave aside the exorcisms with their rituals and the accompanying formulas and let us not confuse the pathologies treated by physicians with demons with which Christ confronted and of which the Gospels speak to us. Demons are a very concrete reality. We all know these unclean spirits that ruin us. We all experience them and they have very clear and precise names. The demon of pride, greed, greed for money, attachment to possessions. Demons that dehumanize us. Resentment, wanting to make those who hurt us pay for it. Moral debauchery, selfishness, falsehood, anger, jealousy. These are the demons that dehumanize us and make us violent, cruel, insensitive to the needs of the poor. They make us less of a person and even a bit of a beast. These are the demons that are cast out, not with holy water, but with the gospel.
Where the gospel arrives, these demons disappear. If a family is divided by envy, by attachment to possessions, by moral licentiousness, sometimes division between husband and wife... if the gospel comes these demons disappear and we see unexpected prodigies. Brethren who have not spoken to each other in 20 or 30 years... because of a badly distributed inheritance, when they accept the gospel... they realize that they are called to relationships that are what Christ proposes.
"They will speak new languages.” What are the languages that people have always employed? That of force, the language that is continually employed today. And when politicians must deal with their problems the one who raises the loudest voice wins. It is the voice of the possessed. They are possessed by demons, by pride because they are stronger. These demons suggest the language of insult and then they speak no more and make the weapons speak. The language of retaliation, of revenge, of answering a crime with another crime.
This is the language of the old world. The new humanity needs a new language, which is the one suggested by the gospel, the gospel of love, of forgiveness, of reciprocal, unconditional service; and the disciples must be able to speak this language well. This language must be natural to them by their very nature as sons and daughters of God. In the same way as when speaking a language, one does not reason to remember the rules of grammar and syntax, it is natural to speak a certain language. The disciple who is imbued with the message of the Gospel speaks naturally this language of love.
"They will pick up serpents with their hands” This is also a biblical image. We remember how the psalmists, the prophets, employed the image of animals fighting each other and then making peace in the new world. Through the images of the animals the kingdom of God is indicated where there would be no more room for hostilities, rivalries, aggressions between people. And these serpents are an image that we find at the beginning of the Bible. The serpent that tells people to turn away from God. Jesus says that the gospel immunizes you from these serpents.
The disciples should not be afraid because the strength they have received from Christ, from his word, makes them invulnerable. Let us remember what Luke reminds us in chapter 10, the words of Jesus: "I have given them power to walk over serpents and scorpions and over all the powers of the enemy, nothing can harm you."
Another comparison: "If they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them." There is a lot of poison circulating in our society. He or she spreads poison who trivializes the sacredness of love and marital fidelity; he or she spreads poison who no longer distinguishes between what is good and what is evil, between what is true and what is false, for whom everything is valid and also its opposite, and in the end one does not know what to do. The norm becomes doing what I like. Thus poison is scattered; it suggests as a norm of life the unconditional pursuit of pleasure as the highest good. These are the messages that are poisoning the new generations.
Despite everything, we must drink some poison. Jesus says that the gospel immunizes you. You can get a little dizzy and even think that what the media tells you is true, but if you have absorbed the gospel message you will realize that they are not the ones who are right. It is Jesus of Nazareth who tells you the truth about the person. And then: "They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” It does not say that they shall be healed. The Greek text says: καλ?ς ?ξουσιν = 'kalós hexousín' = will benefit from this laying on of hands. Healings are performed by physicians. But the reception of the gospel makes you understand and also give meaning even to these moments of weakness and fragility that are part of our human condition. And when you reflect with serenity on this reality and accept this condition it helps you also to obtain a greater beneficial effect of the medications that the doctor prescribes for you.
And now the handover takes place: Jesus has completed his mission and now it is our turn to carry it to fulfilment. Let us listen:
"The Lord Jesus, after he spoke to them, was taken up into heaven and took his seat at the right hand of God. They went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs.”
According to people’s judgment Jesus was a loser. A loser who ended up in a tomb. Then they rolled a huge stone in front of this tomb and that was the end. It's a saying that we also say: 'To cover something with a stone,' which means that it's all over. The evangelist Mark says at the end of his gospel that things did not end like that and presents God's judgment on Jesus of Nazareth. He presents this judgment using the cultural criteria of his time. He says that his story did not end in a tomb, but that he was taken to heaven and sits at the right hand of God. Heaven is not the atmosphere, it is the abode of God, the Father's house, not in the grave but in the glory of the Father's house.
And then he 'sat down at the right hand of God.' This is an image reminiscent of the customs of the oriental courts, where the subjects who had shown loyalty to their lord were placed next to the king, in the presence of all the people and before all, the great king made them sit at his right hand. Let us remember the words of the psalmist who addresses himself to the king of Israel on the day of his enthronement with these words: "The Lord says to my lord, sit at my right hand" that is, it is the invitation to all the people to consider this king of Israel as a protégé of the Lord.
The evangelist wants to tell us that Jesus of Nazareth, the defeated one, has been proclaimed by God as his faithful servant and for this and for his faithfulness the Lord has exalted him. He has given him a name above any other name, as the letter to the Philippians says. "To him has he subdued every creature" as Paul's letter to the Corinthians says.
"The disciples went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the word through accompanying signs".
The final message is to tell us that the disciples should not feel alone; Jesus who travelled the roads of Palestine, and was physically with his disciples, has not gone away. He is no longer where he was then, but he is where we are today. He is always with us, at all times and accompanies our announcement with signs.
Let us keep this in mind and let us ask ourselves: Does the word that we proclaim produce these wonders, these signs? Because if these wonders do not occur then we must ask ourselves if the gospel that we proclaim is the authentic one because the Lord said that the adherence to his words will produce extraordinary signs.
I wish you all a good MISSION SUNDAY