An excellent Apostolic Work Report: Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday of the Year (B). By Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D
The Seminary formation is structured in such a way that Seminarians are obligated to go on apostolic work at the end of every formation year. This I believe is structured after the mission of the apostles we saw last Sunday under the direction of our Lord Jesus Christ. Apostolic work for seminarians is usually an experience that has a lot to do with the future of their vocation to the priesthood. Often some Seminarians lose their respective vocations to the priesthood after an apostolic work experience; this is often based on the nature of their apostolic work reports.
Today we are presented with an episode which can best be described as representing the report the apostles got after their apostolic work in various towns and villages. From the gospel periscope we are told that the apostles returning from their apostolic work gathered around Jesus and gave reports on what they did and taught. Analyzing their report our Lord saw how hard they worked and recommended REST for them at a location that is DESERTED because MANY PEOPLE were coming and going that they had NO TIME TO EAT. Consequent upon this recommendation they left to a lonely destination by boat but the people got there before them on foot. When they arrived there Jesus saw the crowd waiting and he had COMPASSION on them because they were like SHEEP without a SHEPHERD. Based on this knowledge he TAUGHT them MANY THINGS.
Last two Sundays we were presented with the PERSON of the messenger of God if you like the prophet that is not accepted by his own people. Last Sunday we reflected on the nature, character and content of the mission of the ONE SENT. Today we are presented with the outcome of the mission or the ideal apostolic work report. It is courteous and needful for any messenger to bring back some reports that could be positive or negative. In the case of the apostles from the gospel periscope we can infer that they had a successful mission. This could be deduced from the fact that Jesus Christ asked them to take a REST after a well attended task. Furthermore people followed them from the towns and villages they visited; an indication that they touched lives and got followership. We can imagine them quoting Jesus Christ and the things he had done and that made the people to follow them so that they can have a personal encounter with Jesus. We can imagine them leading the people to new and interesting way of life which they desire to stay with for the rest of their lives. We can also imagine the people coming with more questions, sicknesses, challenges, worries and so on. We can imagine a crowd in search of answers to some questions of varying shapes and sizes. All these actually came back to the one who sent them namely Jesus Christ.
The apostles got excellent report from their mission because they were attentive to the instructions of last Sunday: “Take nothing for the journey”. There was no need for them to take ANYTHING (material) because they had EVERYTHING (God). Their detachment from material things and attachment to God brought about the success of their mission. They were attentive to the words of the Lord and the result was a harvest of souls now in search of the Lord of the harvest. The apostles went to preach the message of Jesus Christ and the people responded by searching for Jesus Christ. Think of someone you have been hearing about from someone else and one day you had the opportunity of meeting the person. You will be like “waoo I have heard so much about you!”
From the gospel periscope we are made to understand that the end of an apostolic work actually marks the beginning of another tasking one. That was why on their return the apostle could not get a rest because the reward for their hard work became more work. This actually resonates with the words of our Lord: “My Father is always at work so do I” (John 5:17; see also John 9:4 and 4:34). This is an important element in the work of a priest as Fulton J. Sheen established in his book: “the Priest is not his own”. This is as relevant as the experience of the apostles. A soldier does not go to sleep when there is still war to be fought. When the war is over, he could then take a rest.
The encounter Jesus had with the crowd at the other side leaves us with so much to ponder. We are told that the crowd guessed their destination when they left by boat and went ahead of them. Obviously the crowd had at this time became a nuisance but our Lord did not see them that way. He looked beyond the awkward close marking and saw people who had been at the cross road of life. People faced with innumerable spiritual challenges, people who are unable to chart the course of their lives, people who need answers to their prayers. In the event of seeing them our Lord could not but have compassion on them. This is an indication for us that God is not only aware of our pains and challenges; He is also compassionate with us in our struggles and confusions. Psalm 103:8ff tells us that the Lord is compassionate and love and does not deal with us in anger in proportion to our offences. Jesus did not judge and condemn them, but had pity and gave them the good news. He did not unleash aggression on them but showered them with parallel love which even graduated to giving them lunch thereafter.
Yes the people where like sheep without a shepherd. One is moved to ask where those in charge of their spiritual lives were. In few words where have their shepherds gone to? This quickly calls to mind what we saw in the first reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah. We are told that the Shepherds have caused the people to be destroyed and scattered on account of their negligence (Jeremiah 23:1ff). The approach of Jesus to the crowd confirms his position as the good Shepherd who cares for and nourishes the flock (Ezekiel 34:15). If you read the episode of Jesus’ encounter with the crowd alongside with Psalm 23 you will see and appreciate the care we receive from God.
Today we are challenged at various points. How do we carry out our apostolic work as baptized Christians who share in the priestly ministry of Jesus and as ordained ministers who have it as a sacred duty? Do we like the apostles make spiritual returns of souls or do we measure our success based on the material fall outs of our ministry. Do we eat or tend the sheep under our care? Do we undertake the “extra-mile” ministry? By this I mean leaving our things to attend to others even at those times we consider private? Like Jesus do we see the need in the lives of the flock or do we only feel the disturbance? Like the crowd are we still in search of Jesus; taking the pain to over to the other side to wait for him. Those who search for the Lord will find him (Isaiah 55:6) and those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).
Have a happy Sunday and a wonderful week ahead!