“He… began to send them out” (Mk 6:7)
It was Pope Paul VI who began to speak about new approaches in evangelization, in his post-synodal exhortation: Evangelization in the Modern World (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975). This was to be an adequate “response to the new challenges that the contemporary world creates for the mission of the Church.” Pope John Paul II began to explicitly use the term, “New Evangelization” and to advocate it very energetically in his writings, speeches and pilgrimages. Following his footsteps, Pope Benedict, and now Pope Francis continue to do the same.
What is happening all over the world, I think, as a response to this call of the Popes, is a new impetus in evangelization that is marked by the involvement of a great variety of people. People – young and old, men and women, lay and ordained – are becoming active participants in spreading the Good News. What seems impressive in the recent years is the mushrooming of so many lay groups and associations – all dedicated to living, witnessing, and sharing the message of Jesus. I don’t cite examples here, for fear of not mentioning the most influential of these. In any case, the methods that these individuals and groups are employing are also very impressive. From the various presences in the internet (“the new Aeropagus”, as Pope Benedict called it) to the numerous groups of families coming together for prayer and reflection, what we witness is a real Kairos! I see this happening in all over! This is truly amazing.
In the context of this bourgeoning phenomenon of New Evangelization, the gospel text of today is as meaningful today as it was to the Twelve. It could offer a set of guidelines for our own efforts in sharing and deepening of the Christian faith. The message of the gospel, not just the points that I mention here, could help not only in preserving the “Catholic” character of these spontaneous evangelical efforts, but also in being faithful to the Good News itself.
Evangelization is a communitarian mission
Jesus “summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs” (Mk 6:7). One important aspect of the three-year earthly ministry of Jesus was that he formed a community of disciples. All the gospels mention the Twelve apostles, and the gospel of Luke even talks about a larger community of 72 others (Lk 10:1). This was also at the center of the missionary journeys of St Paul: he founded communities that lived and witnessed to the message of Kingdom.
Jesus sent them out in pairs. There is a challenge in this, however! One becomes accountable to the other. One verifies and confirms the action of the Spirit in the other. Similarly, one encourages and supports the other in times of doubt and discouragement. Ministering together, in a communitarian manner (Koinonia), is in itself a powerful message (Kerygma).
Therefore, the evangelical purpose of the community is not merely a pragmatic functionality – to do some work or to maintain an institution. Too often, lay associations are formed and religious communities are founded with the lot of good intention, just for the sake of carrying out some work without pay! The value of a group of people who are motivated by their faith to minister in the church should not be reduced to mere cheap labor! Here it is important to recall what Mark has already said earlier in the gospel: “and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message…” (Mk 3:14). The communitarian aspect in evangelization is, first and foremost, a spirituality in itself – “to be his companions”! Being sent out is only an overflow of the experience of God in Jesus, which is often mediated in the context of the community!
Evangelization is a journey
As Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs on a journey, he gives them a set of instructions. It is interesting to compare this piece of narration across the three synoptic gospels (Mk 6:8-11; Mt 10:9-14; Lk 9:2-5; 10:2-11). There are many details here, and they can be interpreted in different ways. What is unique to the version of Mark is that he insists: “They were to wear sandals…” (verse 9). To me, this is a symbol indicating that evangelization is a journey. And the journey is going to be long! Yes, often evangelization might entail physical journeys. But understood symbolically, evangelization is also a process.
In his address to catechists and religion teachers on the occasion of the Jubilee of Catechists, in the year 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger (later-Pope Benedict) spoke about a temptation in evangelization: “the temptation of impatience, the temptation of immediately finding the great success, in finding large numbers. But this is not God’s way. For the Kingdom of God as well as for evangelization, the instrument and vehicle of the Kingdom of God, the parable of the grain of mustard seed is always valid (see Mark 4:31-32).”
Evangelization is an invitation
The need for patience in evangelization is consistent with Jesus’ instructions on how to handle people who refuse to listen to the Gospel. The apostles are to witness to the Good News by their speech (Mk 6:12) and action (Mk 6:13). Eventually, let the listeners exercise their own free will to make a choice towards the Kingdom of God. “And if any place does not welcome you and people refuse to listen to you, as you walk away shake off the dust under your feet as evidence to them” (Mk 6:11). The apostles are not responsible for the lack of will among their listeners. The gesture was only to show the people that they were making a wrong choice. But the apostles are to move on (see Acts 13:50-51). There is no need for discouragement. Always the listener’s freedom is to be respected. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mk 4:9, 23; 7:16).
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.