To Whom Are We Sent?
Each Sunday, we profess that we are “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” The Church is apostolic both because of our living continuity with the Apostles who were called by Jesus and because we share the mission of evangelization given to them.
By virtue of our baptism, we too are in the nature of apostles, a word which means “one who is sent.” We too are called to go out and spread the Good News – but to whom are we sent?
Jesus and the Apostles were each Jews, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and during the thousands of years of salvation history leading up to Christ, God had set apart Israel as his chosen people. Was Christ’s kingdom to be only for the people of Israel over all other nations? Many who heard him during his ministry thought that was how it should be.
Even among the Apostles and other disciples, there was some question as to the extent to which they should go to the Gentiles, the pagan non-Jews, or if those who were to be accepted into the Christian community should be required to follow the Jewish Law, including various dietary restrictions and circumcision.
In the Acts of the Apostles, which recounts the first years of the spread of the Gospel, we read that one day Peter was invited to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion. When he arrived and saw many people assembled there, Peter said, “You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit, a Gentile” (Acts 10:28).
A short time earlier, however, Peter received a vision from the Lord in which he was commanded to eat certain foods deemed “unclean” under the Law. A voice said to him, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane” (Acts 10:11-15). Cornelius also had a vision, this of an angel in dazzling robes who told him to summon Peter (Acts 10:3-5, 30).
So Peter said to those at the house of Cornelius, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). Peter then proclaimed the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection. While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon those who listened and they were baptized. Later, when some objected that Peter had associated with Gentiles, Peter said, “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” When they heard this, they glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too” (Acts 11:17-18).
After initially preaching to Jewish communities, Paul too took the Gospel to the rest of the world. He famously and forcefully argued in his letters and the book of Acts that salvation is not gained simply by following the Mosaic Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.
We recognize in Paul an enormous commitment to share his experience – his encounter with Jesus. From his conversion onward, he was consumed with sharing the Good News. The last half of Acts is devoted to this “Apostle to the Gentiles.” His mission would take him to the Greek lands of Asia Minor, where he established communities of faith in many major cities of the Roman Empire such as Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi and Thessalonica. Eventually, he would come to Rome.
Last week, it was my great joy to dedicate and bless a recently restored 17th century organ at the Basilica of Saint Peter in Chains, which is my titular church in Rome as a Cardinal. Every time I visit, it reminds me of our connectedness to Peter and to his mission, a mission shared by Paul and the entire Church.
We have wonderful news to tell and we are sent to all peoples – to Jews and Gentiles. Jesus calls us to go to all nations, to the ends of the earth, proclaiming Christ is Risen! Jesus is Lord and he calls us to be a part of his family!