We are chosen, and we are sent. Every scripture reading today irrefutably tells us that. They do not say “some” are chosen, or “those people” are chosen. They say that “we” are chosen. God calls each of us to missionary discipleship. What does that mean? It means that we follow Jesus, we live out of our faith, and we go out to the world to do that.
Like Amos, we are called to listen and to be faithful to God. Amos makes the high priest of Bethel uncomfortable, and so he is told to leave Bethel and prophesy somewhere else. What is his response? He says, “I didn’t ask for this. I wasn’t trained for this, but it’s where God called me. So I listened and I went.”
In the second reading, Paul also tells us that God has chosen us. And most explicitly, just like the disciples in the gospel, we are sent out by Jesus to carry his message through our actions and our words.
We don’t have to be rock stars. Remember- the disciples were far from perfect- they doubted; they were fearful at times; other times they completely missed the boat on what Jesus was telling them.
I love this Gospel. First, Jesus calls us to leave our comfort zone- to go OUT and share his message. Sometimes we think, well I’ll help so-and-so if she asks, but Jesus sends the disciples outto meet people where they are. AND, he doesn’t just say, “leave behind your favorite book or give up your cable TV.” He says, “leave behind the necessities,” food, a backpack, money, a change of clothes. We are called to trust and follow him with reckless abandon and total faith.
I am a Maryknoll Lay Missioner- we are a Catholic organization that is predominantly lay people. We respond to the invitation to work in other countries, to walk with our global family, and to witness to the Gospel through our lives and actions. It is just one way to respond to God’s invitation to missionary discipleship.
And so I ask myself, what does this Gospel ask of me? What are my security blankets today that Jesus calls me to leave at home or to not be distracted by? Things I might use to buffer me from direct contact with others or that get in the way of my truly connecting with people? My cell phone? My academic titles? My skin color? And how can I disarm myself so that like in the Gospel, I can truly approach others and be unencumbered enough to accept their hospitality, to meet people where they are so as to walk with them?
For 30 years, my ministry has taken me to Central America, to Brazil, and to Kenya as well as to places in the U.S. I have been constantly blessed and challenged to leave my security and comfort zone. In São Paulo, Brazil, I accompanied women who lived on the streets. One day, I ran into Maria Isa and Hilda standing before a hotdog vendor. Isa said to me, “today is Hilda’s 70thbirthday.” “I know,” I said. Then Isa turned to the hotdog vendor and said, “three hotdogs please.” I immediately thought, “umm, not sure I want to eat a scary hotdog sold on the street,” and said out loud, “no… thanks. Just two hotdogs.” Isa gave me a stern look and repeated, “Three hotdogs.” Because I have learned to listen with my heart and not just my head, and because I have learned to meet people where they are and to let go of my own clutter and expectations, I did not lose this sacred invitation. I realized that even though Isa had to dig in the bottom of her purse to find enough change for 3 hotdogs, that she wanted to share with me, and that I had no right to refuse her hospitality. And more importantly, I am grateful that I heard the invitation to break bread (and hotdogs) with both of them.
We are sent out to share the Gospel. I also used to train people in Brazil to do pastoral visits in the prisons, and often when I asked what had led them to want to do so, they would say, “I want to bring Jesus to the prisoners.” But honestly, Jesus was there long before us. Our mission is not to bring Jesus, but to go out and meet him in our neighbor. For over 20 years, I have worked with women in prison as a human rights advocate, as a chaplain, and as social support. I have walked into some very tense situations carrying nothing but faith, experience and common sense
There are many other nuggets in this gospel- enough to last a long time- we are sent in two’s. We need each other to accompany us and to call our attention when we stray. Additionally, Jesus sends us to invite others to conversation, and as he says, when they are not interested, to shake the dust from our sandals and move on. And sometimes, we are called to take a prophetic, maybe unpopular, stand in the face of injustice just as Amos, Jesus, and the disciples have done. It means to do “more,” to stretch beyond what we think we can do.
My own invitation to missionary discipleship has taken me far beyond emotional, cultural and geographical borders. Sometimes though, Jesus sends us as disciples right to our own backyard, maybe our school, our community, or even in our own home. The call is to radical but profound faith - to put down our security blankets, even those that we feel are most necessary, to trust, and to go out to meet others. To do that, we must listen carefully and deeply to our God, and then we must act.
These readings invite every one of us today, to be missionary disciples. They tell us that we are chosen, blessed, redeemed, sealed, and destined by God. It is far too easy to slide by and think, “Yes, that’s true, but not me” or “not now,” but God calls each one of us- and the invitation is now.
Heidi A. Cerneka
Heidi Cerneka has lived in Latin America for over 20 years, and is currently living in Nairobi, Kenya, working with incarcerated women and refugees. Her journey with women and drugs, women in the streets, and most deeply with incarcerated women has made her a human rights advocate, an advocate for women’s rights and an advocate for justice. She claims to have been born with an extra “it’s not fair” gene, and a drive to create a more just world.
She honors the uniqueness of the story of every incarcerated woman she meets, while also identifying global truths about women and crime that stem from poverty, power imbalance, injustice, and oppressive systems. She has written numerous articles on women and justice in English and Portuguese.
Heidi has a Master’s degree in Pastoral theology. Additionally, after 20 years of advocacy for women and justice, she decided to return to school and to obtain a law degree. She is now a licensed attorney in the state of Illinois. She has served as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner (MKLM) for almost 20 years, and is on the MKLM board of directors. Maryknoll Lay Missioners is a lay Catholic organization inspired by Jesus and the Gospel to live and work for justice in communities around the world. (www.mklm.org)