George F. Riley, O.S.A.
Saint Thomas Monastery
Am 7: 12-15
Ps 85: 9-10, 11-12, 13-14
Eph 1: 3-14 or 1: 3-10
“So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
Hospitality was a sacred duty in the East. When a stranger entered a village, it was not his duty to search for hospitality; it was the duty of the village to offer it. Jesus told his disciples that if hospitality was refused, if doors and ears were shut, they must shake off the dust of that place from their feet when they left.
It is as Jesus said, “If they refuse to listen to you, the only thing you can do is to treat them as a rigid Jew would treat a Gentile house. There can be no fellowship between them and you.”
So we can see that the mark of the Christian disciple was utter simplicity, complete trust, and the generosity which seeks always to receive and never to demand.
When the Twelve went out to preach to men, they did not create a message, they brought a message; they did not tell people what they believed and what they considered probable, they told people what Jesus had told them. It was not their opinions they brought to men; it was God’s truth. The message of the prophets always began, “Thus says the Lord.” The man who would bring an effective message to others must first receive it from God.
To the people they brought the King’s Message, and the King’s message was, “Repent!” Clearly that was a disturbing message. Repentance means a change of heart and a change of action. It is bound to hurt, for it involves the bitter realization that the path we were following is wrong. It is bound to disturb, because it means a complete reversal of life.
In the novel Quo Vadis, Vinicius, the young Roman, has fallen in love with a girl who is a Christian. Because he is not a Christian she will have nothing to do with him. He follows her to the secret night gathering of the little group of Christians, and there, unknown to anyone, he listens to the service. He hears Peter preach, and, as he listens, something happens to him. “He felt that if he wished to follow that teaching, he would have to place on a burning pile all his thoughts, habits and character, his whole nature up to that moment, burn them into ashes and then fill himself with a life altogether different, and an entirely new soul.” That is repentance. Repentance is no sentimental feeling sorry; repentance is a revolutionary thing–that is why so few repent.
To the people the Apostles brought the King’s mercy. Not only did they bring his shattering demand for conversion, they brought also help and healing. They brought liberation to poor, demon-possessed men and women. From the beginning Christianity has aimed not only at soul salvation, but at whole salvation. It brought not only a hand to lift from moral wreckage, but a hand to lift from physical pain and suffering. It is most suggestive that they anointed with oil. In the ancient world oil was regarded as a panacea. Galen, the great Greek doctor, said, “oil is the best of all instruments for healing diseased bodies.” In the hands of the servants of Christ the old cures acquired a new virtue.
So the twelve brought to men the message of conversion and the mercy of the king, and that remains the Church’s task today and every day.