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THE DANGER OF MATERIALISM IN EVANGELIZATION

Read­ing Time: 6 minutes

14th Sunday of the year © July 3, 2016 – (Ref. Text: Luke 10:1–12.17–20)

Con­stantly expos­ing your­self to pop­u­lar cul­ture and the mass media will ulti­mately shape your real­ity tun­nel in ways that are not neces­sar­ily con­du­cive to achiev­ing your Soul Pur­pose and Life Call­ing. Mod­ern soci­ety has gen­er­ally ‘lost the plot’. Slav­ishly fol­low­ing its false gods and idols makes no sense in a spir­itu­ally aware life.” “Any­thing you can­not relin­quish when it has out­lived its use­ful­ness pos­sesses you, and in this mater­i­al­ist­ic age a great many of us are pos­sessed by our possessions.”

Last Sunday’s Gos­pel read­ing ended with the dis­cern­ing of dis­ciples and the cost of dis­ciple­ship (cf. Luke 9:57–62). In this Sunday’s read­ing, Jesus makes sev­enty-two of his dis­ciples exper­i­ence the pros and cons of pro­claim­ing the Gos­pel. Though not indic­ated, but these sev­enty-two dis­ciples must have under­stood bet­ter Jesus’ words that “foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). They must have also learnt that the pro­clam­a­tion of the Good News have abso­lute precedence.

Much Harvest, Few Labourers

Hav­ing sent out the Twelve apostles (cf. Luke 9:1–6), Jesus deemed it neces­sary to send out oth­er sev­enty-two dis­ciples to facil­it­ate the pro­clam­a­tion of the Gos­pel and the accom­pan­ied phys­ic­al and spir­itu­al heal­ings. By remind­ing them that the har­vest is much while the labour­ers are few, and implor­ing them to pray that God sends labour­ers to His har­vest, Jesus explains to them the reas­on for send­ing them. Since the Twelve can­not spread the Gos­pel alone, it became neces­sary to send these oth­er sev­enty-two dis­ciples. Even this num­ber is not enough, hence, the sense of the request to pray for more labour­ers. I am send­ing you out like sheep in the midst of wolves is an instruc­tion on how to go about the mis­sion of the pro­clam­a­tion of the Gos­pel, and the per­se­cu­tion, rejec­tion, and ridicul­ing the dis­ciples are to endure. The allu­sion to lambs implies that the dis­ciples should not employ force in announ­cing the Gos­pel. The pro­clam­a­tion of the mes­sage of life must be done in such a way that people should respond freely and will­ingly (cf. Matt 11:28; John 1:11–12; Acts 3:19; Rom 10:14–17; Rev 22:17). A genu­ine reli­gious com­mit­ment should not be by com­pul­sion. In Mat­thew 10:16 we read “I am send­ing you out like sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as ser­pents and inno­cent as doves.” While the ser­pent is the sym­bol of shrewd­ness and intel­lec­tu­al cun­ning (cf. Gen 3:1; Ps 58:4–5), the dove sig­ni­fies inno­cence (cf. Hos 7:11). The dis­ciples should pos­sess these qual­it­ies. They should be harm­less, wise and inno­cent as far as their mis­sion is concerned.

The Sending in Twos

Luke notes that these sev­enty-two dis­ciples were sent out two-by-two. In the Gos­pel accord­ing to Mark (6:7–13), the author records that it were the Twelve who were sent out in twos. This should not sur­prise us because Mark and Luke developed their theo­logy dif­fer­ently. Beside the Twelve apostles, Luke deemed it neces­sary to send out oth­er dis­ciples in pairs, some­thing not neces­sary for the Twelve who had no need for any wit­ness, hav­ing been with Jesus. The send­ing out in pairs is prob­ably to bol­ster cred­ib­il­ity by hav­ing the testi­mony of more than one wit­ness as stip­u­lated by the law (cf. Deut 17:6; 19:15).

Materialism as a Burden and Hindrance

It was D. Hor­ton who noted that “mater­i­al­ism is the only form of dis­trac­tion from true bliss.”
The instruc­tions on what to take and what not to take is almost the same with that giv­en to the Twelve apostles. Car­ry­ing no purse, no haver­sack, no (extra) san­dals, no staff, etc., are on the same line with leav­ing the dead to bury their own dead (cf. Luke 9:60); and not being suit­able again for the king­dom of God after put­ting hands in the blow and look­ing back (cf. Luke 9:62). A dis­ciple must not give room to any form of dis­trac­tion. Fur­ther­more, the Gos­pel must be announced with sim­pli­city. By not allow­ing them to take these items, Jesus wanted the dis­ciples to be free from mater­i­al attach­ment, a bur­den to the dis­ciple and a ser­i­ous hindrance to the mis­sion of the dis­ciple. They should only equip them­selves with spir­itu­al qual­it­ies because the people they are sent to, will provide their mater­i­al needs includ­ing accom­mod­a­tions. In the words of O. Gold­smith, “our chief com­forts often pro­duce our greatest anxi­et­ies, and the increase in our pos­ses­sions is but an inlet to new dis­quiet­udes.” Hence, the dis­ciples should off-load their minds of every mater­i­al­ism. The com­mand not to greet people (cf. 2Kgs 4:29) is not lack of cour­tesy. As I said in last Sunday’s reflec­tion, the pro­clam­a­tion of the Gos­pel does not tol­er­ate dis­trac­tions. Since such greet­ing used to be lengthy and time con­sum­ing, it was bet­ter avoided.

That Jesus sent out oth­er sev­enty-two dis­ciples after send­ing the Twelve apostles, indic­ates that evan­gel­iz­a­tion is not a sole respons­ib­il­ity of the Twelve. No mat­ter the num­ber of priests we have in Cath­ol­ic Church for instance, the faith­ful can­not be left out in the pro­clam­a­tion and propaga­tion of the Gos­pel. Today, the mis­sion of announ­cing the Gos­pel has taken dif­fer­ent and diverse forms. How­ever, the heart of the mes­sage can­not be altered.

Accountability and Responsibility

While account­ab­il­ity means being respons­ible to someone or for some activ­ity, respons­ib­il­ity means doing what you are sup­posed to do and in a respons­ible man­ner. Account­ab­il­ity and respons­ib­il­ity are two sides of the same coin. In our con­text, account­ab­il­ity means giv­ing account of your activ­it­ies. In Luke 10:17, we read that the sev­enty-two dis­ciples came back and nar­rated to Jesus what happened. Mark puts this bet­ter. In 6:30, Mark makes an inter­est­ing remark. At the end of the mis­sion of the Twelve, Mark observes with keen interest that the “apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.” In oth­er words, they gave Jesus account of their mis­sion. In the same way, lead­ers must always give sin­cere account of their oper­a­tions to the people for whom and to whom they are work­ing. In like man­ner, every dis­ciple must be respons­ible. A respons­ible per­son is a reli­able indi­vidu­al. That is, one who can be trus­ted and depended upon. A respons­ible per­son is known for good judg­ment and sound think­ing. A respons­ible per­son car­ries out his/her duties and oblig­a­tions without wait­ing to be reminded or policed around. A respons­ible per­son knows that he/she is answer­able for his/her actions. A respons­ible per­son does not exchange yes for no and vice versa (cf. Jas 5:12). A respons­ible per­son gives account of his or her oper­a­tions. Con­versely, an account­able per­son is a respons­ible indi­vidu­al (cf. Matt 25:14–30). Unfor­tu­nately, today espe­cially here in Niger­ia, many lead­ers both civil and reli­gious are neither respons­ible nor account­able. If they are, they are to them­selves alone. Too bad! No mat­ter what, strive to be account­able and respons­ible. Jesus was and we must be.

While the dis­ciples rejoiced because of what they achieved, Jesus recalled their atten­tion to a primary fact. Their joy should be because their names have been inscribed in the heav­enly book and not because of what they achieved.

Proclaiming the Gospel Today

While Jesus, the Twelve and the oth­er dis­ciples oper­ated in a dif­fer­ent envir­on­ment, today, everything has changed even the way people under­stand the mes­sage itself. Since our cul­ture, view of life, psy­cho­logy, eco­nomy, and oth­er con­texts are quite dif­fer­ent from the ori­gin­al con­text in which the Gos­pel was first announced, the present day dis­ciples must adapt the Gos­pel mes­sage to suit the actu­al con­texts of the people. This how­ever, does not mean ridicul­ing the mes­sage or mak­ing it busi­ness ori­ented, as it is in many Afric­an coun­tries includ­ing Niger­ia. It means know­ing how to present the same mes­sage to the con­tem­por­ary men and women in a lan­guage that is prac­tic­al and com­pre­hens­ible to them. The mes­sage should be presen­ted in such a way that it reflects and touches their every­day life. Sim­il­arly, Jesus’ instruc­tions not to take any­thing need to be inter­preted dif­fer­ently and with­in the social con­text of the people. How­ever, no mat­ter how we inter­pret such instruc­tions, the fun­da­ment­al mes­sage remains the same. And that is, that those involved in the mis­sion of announ­cing the Gos­pel should beware of dis­trac­tions. Dis­trac­tions that derive espe­cially from the quest for mater­i­al acquis­i­tion and fame. The truth is that the Gos­pel has been ter­ribly com­prom­ised and dis­ciples have made mater­i­al­ism the sole and centre of everything. Some­times, a good num­ber of dis­ciples worry not about the recep­tion of the mes­sage, but about mater­i­al gain. As B. Rus­sell noted long ago, “it is pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with pos­ses­sions, more than any­thing else that pre­vents men from liv­ing freely and nobly.” The con­tem­por­ary dis­ciples are not exempt from this danger. The chal­lenges not­with­stand­ing, the Gos­pel must not be mis­ap­pro­pri­ated or mis­ap­plied for selfish goals. Hesiod’s words that “acquis­i­tion [of mater­i­al wealth] means life to miser­able mor­tals”, should be taken serious.

Dear read­er, to the dis­ciples, Jesus assured that noth­ing shall ever hurt them. This is so long as they remain faith­ful and keep to the instruc­tions. If how­ever they decide to do things their own way, then, they should be ready to bear the con­sequences. Wel­come to the month of July. So long as you remain faith­ful to God, you will remain unhurt. God bless you and have a nice week. Ciao! Sha­lom!

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