07Feb 7 February. (Thursday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time)

Hbr. 12:18ff. The outpoured blood of Jesus opens up a new Covenant.

Mk. 6:7ff. Jesus sends out the twelve in pairs, to preach, anoint and heal.

First Reading: Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24

You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Gospel: Mark 6:7-13

He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Twelve Messengers of Heaven

Jesus chose twelve men (their names are listed several times, though with some inconsistencies in the names listed (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:16-19-19; Lk 6:14-16; Ac 1:13). Mark tells us that he named them “apostles” (Mk 3:13) and it is clear that special significance was seen in the number twelve, since they are often referred to later as simply “the twelve” (Mt 20:17; 26:14. 20.27; Mk 4:10; 9:35; 10:32; Jn 6:67-71 etc) and when Judas Iscariot dropped out of their number, another had to be chosen in his place, to fill up that sacred number (Ac 1:20ff). According to St. Peter one of the group who were present during the public ministry of the Lord Jesus “must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” Filling the place of Judas would fulfil a prophesy, and amalgam drawn from Psalm 69:25 (“let there be no one to dwell in their tents”) and Psalm 109:8 (“may another take his place of leadership”), but the main reason for bringing the number back up to twelve seems to be that it mirrored the twelve tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28; Lk 22:3). They were clearly to be the leaders of the new community formed by the followers of Jesus.

Over the subsequent centuries the idea of church leadership as apostolic succession has taken various forms, most especially in the episcopate, with the bishops seen as ordained successors to the Twelve. The formal episcopal functions of teaching, ruling and sanctifying are therefore linked in some direct way to the election of the apostles. But while this structural, organisational interpretation remains valid and important, it would surely be wrong to forget what was the original task entrusted to the apostles according to Mark, the earliest of our Gospels and the one most redolent of the living memory of St. Peter who, according to bishop Papias, was Mark’s patron and mentor in Rome. They were to travel around in poverty and simplicity as messengers of the Kingdom of Heaven, with a message of repentance and of hope and healing, and to preach a message of peace. This would be the kind of apostleship upon which each bishop should often reflect, along with St. Peter’s own added reflection: each bishop must be must be with us a “witness to the resurrection of Jesus.”

Inspired and encouraged by such a renewed sense of apostolic mission on the part of our church leaders we might resonate more warmly to the bright vision of the church sketched in today’s passage from Hebrews, as “Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, .. the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven,” and be gathered around Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, the One who determines our identity as children of God.

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