Sixteenth Sunday: Are we being accountable?

In the Gospel today, we hear how the Apostles rejoined Jesus after being sent out in pairs (last Sunday’s Gospel) and told Him all they had done and taught, and He took them to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. Reflecting on both the readings, I would summarise it in one word, “accountability.”

Jul 17, 2021

16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Jeremiah 23:1-6;
Ephesians 2:13-18; Gospel: Mark 6:30-34

In the Gospel today, we hear how the Apostles rejoined Jesus after being sent out in pairs (last Sunday’s Gospel) and told Him all they had done and taught, and He took them to a lonely place where they could be by themselves. Reflecting on both the readings, I would summarise it in one word, “accountability.”

Firstly, let us look at accountability as debriefing. Jesus delegates His ministry to the Apostles and makes them partners in His redemptive work. As a good leader, He has a moment of debriefing with His Apostles after they have completed their task. This moment is significant for Jesus, to see how the Apostles were growing, and to check whether they were gaining confidence in continuing His mission. Were they able to prioritise what is most important? I suppose this moment of debriefing had a greater significance for the Apostles, who had just returned from their first attempt at active ministry. It was a moment to celebrate their success stories. They had cast out many devils and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them. This debriefing was also a moment to evaluate, to feel as a community, and to rest with “the master!” To illustrate this episode, it is like a traditional radio that has a variable capacitor we know as a tuning dial. Its purpose is to help us tune to the right frequency and blot out competing stations. Nothing distinguishes the solid disciple of Jesus Christ like his willingness to tune into and follow his Lord, blotting out competing masters. We can then march to His beat. Hearing that beat does not come by default, nor is it instinctive. It does not come through denial, procrastination or going with the flow. It takes time in the Word, in church, in fellowship, and in prayer. We must tune and retune, because our tuning dial slips. Before we know it, we are on another station.

We are all delegates or disciples of Jesus today, in the Church, sharing in His ministry. For those who share in some form of responsibility over others in the church, this simple Gospel story leaves us with a score of meaningful questions - how much do we appreciate moments of evaluation, accountability or debriefing that are already in place? Do we see these moments as not only necessary, but as helpful opportunities to form in ourselves the heart of a true shepherd, the new type of shepherd that we heard described in the first reading of today, who would ensure that there is “No fear, no terror for the people anymore; and not one shall be lost”?

In the secular world today, those who are involved in caring ministries are part of a system that has stringent mechanisms of what they call supervision. Counsellors, therapists, chaplains, and even nurses in some countries, are expected to have sessions of supervision after a certain number of hours of work. During these sessions with another experienced person, the practitioner has the opportunity to report, to evaluate, to grow, and to improve their practice. Looking at similar situations in the Church, we might notice that there is much to be desired. Does the God we serve deserve any less? Do the people we care for in the Church deserve any less? A simple example would be to ask ourselves how wellattended are the meetings of apostolic groups, ministries, BEC and pastoral councils? How are they programmed, and how much time is set apart in these meetings for reflection and animation, rather than merely planning for the next feast? Pastoral supervision is another area that needs much attention, even for priests in the Catholic Church. Being more accountable would help us avoid abuse of power, and to uphold the glory of God!

Secondly, we look at accountability as faithsharing. In the light of the Gospel story of today, accountability in the Church context could be seen as an experience of faith-sharing, “The apostles rejoined Jesus and told Him all they had done and taught…” (Mk 6:30). Faith-sharing is a practice of speaking in groups about how the Lord works in our lives. It is a way of talking about our success stories within the framework of faith.

In our Church communities today, we need more moments of faith-sharing. In some parts of the world, there is a revival of Basic Ecclesial Communities or BECs. I call it ‘a revival’ because it is one expression of returning to the way early Christians lived their faith at least in a limited way. I see the gatherings in these communities as providing the opportunity for faith-sharing. I would even dare to suggest that BECs could be a powerful means of New Evangelisation.

The Gospel of today challenges us to give an orientation of faith-sharing to the gatherings in BECs, moving away from mere administrative agenda, to sharing on the Word of God; moving from a homiletic (preaching) approach to the Word of God to a personalisation of the working of God in our daily lives; moving away from an apologetic (defensive) style of reading the Word of God to drawing meaning from it for the events of our daily lives. Simply put, we need occasions to talk about what we have been able to say and do during the week by the grace of God, and to spend silent moments savouring the working of God in our life and work.

––Fr Martin Arlando is from the Diocese of Penang. He is currently studying for a Licentiate in Canon Law

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