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WHAT IS CHRISTIAN MISSION TODAY?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, Fourth Week of the Year, February 04, 2016
1 Kings 2:1-4, 10-12, 1 Chronicles 29, Mark 6:7-13


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them" (Mark 6:12-13 NKJV).


The missionary character of the Church began with Jesus himself in his mission from the Father into the world to be its Savior. But as soon as Jesus had called his twelve apostles, he sent them out on mission as an extension of his own mission to the world. They went out two by two and traveled light, depending on local hospitality for food and lodging. They were told to preach "that people should repent" (Mark 6:12), and they were empowered by Jesus to work miracles of exorcism and healing, which would give witness to the supernatural, God-sent character of their mission.


This was clearly not a merely human movement. It was a special in-break of God into the world. Their calling people to repent was accompanied by convincing miraculous signs that gave witness to the divine origin and truth of their preaching. These exorcisms and healings made it clear that it really is God who is calling the people to repentance through the preaching of these disciples of Jesus.


According to St. Matthew, Jesus also told them at this time, "Preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand'" (Matthew 10:7). And St. Luke adds here, "And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere" (Luke 9:6).


At this point, the apostles still had a very imperfect understanding of exactly what the gospel, the good news, was, because they did not yet understand how Jesus' death fit into it, and his death on the cross was the central event of God's salvation of the world. But they did preach repentance. They called people to repent of their sins, and they preached, as Jesus did, that the kingdom of God was now at hand.


Presumably they preached that we are now in a new phase of God's history of dealing with the world, that now was the time of salvation, that the long-awaited kingdom of God was at last coming into the world; so people should repent and be ready for it. Then, their miraculous exorcisms and healings verified the truth of their proclamation, that this was indeed a new message from God, that the kingdom really was coming, and that they really should make themselves ready to receive it and to receive Jesus, in whom it was coming. This was Christian mission in its earliest phase, during Jesus' lifetime.


A whole new phase of mission began with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the apostles at Pentecost. Peter then said to the crowds, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). And three thousand people were baptized that day (Acts 2:41).


Only now did the apostles really begin to understand the content of the good news that they were to preach. Only now did two of Jesus' key sayings become clear to them, namely his saying that "the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45), and his saying over the wine at the Last Supper, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28).


They began to understand that Jesus was a ransom for sinners by giving his life unto death on the cross. His death on the cross ransomed us sinners from our sins and hence from the kingdom of Satan, which Jesus came to push back and destroy (Luke 11:20-22).


But Jesus' giving his life unto death is not a ransom in the sense of paying a ransom price to Satan to releases his captives, as many have thought, but only in the sense that a price was paid. His blood, shed unto death on the cross, was the price he paid to ransom us. But this was not a ransom in the ordinary way that we understand ransom, of a parent paying money to a kidnapper to release his child. It is only a ransom in the sense that he did pay a price to release us from the captivity of sin, and hence from Satan's clutches. But he did not pay the price to Satan.


To whom, then, did he pay the ransom price? He paid it to God. Why to God? Because we owed the all-just God a debt of suffering in just punishment for our sins so that he could justly forgive us without compromising or violating his own infinite justice. The suffering we owed was eternal death for our sins. But God is not only all just. He is also all merciful, and in his infinite mercy he decided to become a man and himself suffer and die as an executed criminal on a Roman cross, which was the instrument of capital punishment in those days for the worst criminals, to pay the debt of punishment for our sins, which we owed to God.


In this way, Christ, the incarnate Son of God, gave his life as a ransom for many. He paid our outstanding debt that we had with God by shedding his blood on the cross in punishment for our sins. He took our sins upon himself (2 Corinthians 5:21) and suffered our punishment for them, as our substitute, in our place, on the cross, with the result that if we accept him as our Savior, we are set free by God, in all justice, from our sins.


Once this had been understood by the apostles, the real apostolic preaching of the gospel, that is, the preaching of the good news of God's salvation in Jesus Christ, began and spread. This was and is, in essence, the mission of the Church, which extends Jesus' own saving mission in the world.


The apostles could now clearly proclaim that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3), that he poured out his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). In this way God himself rendered himself propitious or favorable toward us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ as a sin offering for the just forgiveness of our sins. Christ is the one "whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Romans 3:25 NKJV).


It is clear that God wants all peoples everywhere to be reconciled to him through hearing this good news preached to them and through their accepting it with faith, receiving baptism, and entering into his Church. This is why Christ sent out his apostles, saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).


God wants all peoples everywhere to be reconciled to himself by coming to a clear and explicit faith in Jesus Christ who died for our sins under Pontius Pilate that we might be freed from them, and who rose again that we might walk with him in the light of his resurrection, in the newness of life (Romans 6:4), justified and made righteous before God as "new men" (Ephesians 4:22-24).


It is the mission of the Church, given to her by the risen Lord, to accomplish this, that is, to enable all peoples everywhere to hear the gospel, and to invite them to believe in it, accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, be baptized, and enter into his Church for the glory of God and their own salvation and growth in holiness.

 

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