Homily for January 20th, 2017: Mark 3:13-19.
Jesus “appointed Twelve,” our gospel has just told us, “whom he also named Apostles.”
Why twelve? Because God’s people was composed of twelve tribes. Jesus was establishing a new people of God. The twelve men Jesus chose were already disciples: men who followed Jesus and learned from him. An apostle is more: someone who receives a commission or sending to speak and act for another. Indeed the word apostle means ‘one who is sent’ – like an ambassador, sent to abroad to represent his country, and especially the head of state who sends him.
He chose them, Mark tells us, “that they might be with him and [that] he might send them forth.” There seems to be a contradiction there. How could they be with Jesus while at the same time being sent forth into the world? This seeming contradiction is the tension of the whole Christian life. It is the tension between the vertical and the horizontal; between our duty towards God and our duty toward others – between transcendence (vertical) and immanence (horizontal).
Ideally there is no conflict between the vertical and the horizontal. The first (our relationship with God) is the support of the second (our duty toward others). And the second (service of others) is the active expression of the first. Prayer and our whole relationship with God make it possible for us to have something to give to others. And active, self-sacrificing love of others is the expression and proof of genuine love of God.
Jesus’ life was the perfect combination of the vertical and the horizontal; of total consecration to his heavenly Father, combined with unrestricted service of others. That was why his earthly life ended where the vertical and horizontal intersect: on the cross. Note: I said Jesus’ earthly life. Beyond that his heavenly and eternal life continued. Raised on the third day through the power of God’s Holy Spirit from the tomb where his heart-broken friends had laid him, Jesus started appearing to his initially frightened but then overjoyed friends to inspire and empower them to live as he lived: totally devoted to his heavenly Father, yet totally at the service of others. That is why we are here: to worship and adore our crucified but risen Lord, and to receive his power to live as he lived: at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal: devoted and consecrated to him, while serving others by sharing with them the love he pours out on us through his Holy Spirit.