Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Week 14 Tuesday (Year 2)

Readings: Hosea 8:4-7, 11-13; Matthew 9:32-38

In his commentary on this passage of Matthew's gospel, St Thomas Aquinas says that in how he acts here Jesus 'gives an example for preachers'. It is not the only place where he uses this phrase, understanding the public ministry of Jesus as the apostolic school, the place in which Jesus is teaching the apostles what is expected of them.

Thomas picks out three points in this education of preachers. Jesus goes around the towns and villages. Preachers must be ready to move, Thomas says, not staying always in one place. We can think of place geographically, of course, but in other ways also. The preacher must be willing to work in different situations and contexts, with different kinds of people responding to different needs and challenges. There must be an availability in the preacher, a willingness to move to where needs are greatest.

Secondly, Jesus preaches and teaches and cures as he goes from place to place. The preacher must be ready not just to talk but also to act. Jesus is a healer as well as a teacher. The one who preaches but does not practise will realise (please God) that his words are empty, blowing in the wind. Compassion is the root of preaching as we are also taught in this passage and compassion moves people not just to preach and to teach but also to alleviate suffering in other ways, to correct injustice, to undertake any of the works of mercy.

Thirdly, Thomas makes the point that some preachers have the task of preparing the harvest and others (it seems to be implied by him) the task of reaping it. Perhaps he is influenced by how St Paul was to speak later about Christian preachers, that some sow, some water, and some reap the harvest. How has the harvest become 'full'? Thomas understands it in the sense of mature or ripe and feels that some work of preaching and teaching must already have taken place to bring it to this point.

All of this in the context of the cure of a dumb man. It is a reminder to the preacher that it is God who gives not just words, the capacity for speech, but effective words, words that achieve their purpose. It is God who takes away our dumbness, the limitations of our preaching that come from sinfulness and tiredness and whatever other source. Wherever the words we speak become for another person words that carry the Word, it is the work of the Spirit moving their minds to see what is true and their hearts to embrace what is good. But the preacher has an essential, and privileged, role in assisting this process of encounter with God's compassionate Word.

Pope Francis, in his exhortation on The Joy of the Gospel, reminds us that all baptised Christians are, by virtue of their baptism, missionary disciples.  All must be ready to bear witness to Christ, in ways appropriate to each one's vocation, through availability, through speaking, through action.

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