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Learn the rhythm of evangelization: Go out and welcome

Published: November 18, 2021   

Over the years, I’ve been in several Bible study groups and other faith-sharing groups. One of the temptations I’ve noticed is that we can be hesitant to welcome newcomers or consider splitting a group that is too large to be effective. We value the relationships that have formed and the trust that has developed in the group, and rightfully so. It is rare in our world to experience the intimate kind of sharing that can be found in groups that have long been together, especially if their sharing is meaningful.

I can well imagine that the closest followers of Jesus might have felt the same way. Sometimes this group is referred to as The Twelve (John 6:67; Luke 9:1; Acts 6:2) and other times as apostles (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:2-4). 

Scripture tells us there are women of Galilee who accompany them (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3). They travel with Jesus, sleep out under the stars together, argue over what he was doing or not doing, share meals and listen to his teachings more consistently than any others that we know of. We can easily imagine those closest to Jesus wanting to stay together and continue experiencing this intimacy, and yet Jesus decidedly demonstrates that is not the way.

Most obviously, Jesus teaches by word and example the power of welcome. His apostles, while all Jewish, include a tax collector, a member of the zealot party and several fishermen. Two are overly ambitious, one is a doubter, and one is a betrayer. Jesus himself dines with all manner of sinners -- tax collectors who colluded with the Roman occupiers of Palestine, Pharisees who thought themselves above the Mosaic Law and known sinners. He speaks in public to a Canaanite woman of ill repute and defends another woman caught in adultery just as she is about to be stoned. He touches lepers and those possessed by demons, those who were true outsiders. 

"We can easily imagine those closest to Jesus wanting to stay together and continue experiencing this intimacy, and yet Jesus decidedly demonstrates that is not the way."

In all these ways, Jesus is showing his apostles that unexamined loyalties are short-sighted and counter to the message of God’s kingdom.

Jesus also teaches that while it is necessary always to follow and learn from him, this emerging community cannot turn on itself and stay comfortable. The goal is always to move the tent pegs, so to speak, to widen the circle. 

And so, Jesus sends them out: to heal and drive out demons (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:6-13) and to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-2). We know that even when Jesus was alive, this was not an easy task. They are sometimes rejected or scorned. And after Jesus returns to his Father and sends the Spirit, the going is not any easier. The Acts of the Apostles describe how Jesus’ followers suffer misunderstanding, arrests, being run out of towns and even martyrdom.

The rhythm of going out and welcoming in is the rhythm of evangelization in every generation. It requires the flexibility to widen our hearts to others and the energy and will to share the Good News beyond the comfort of our usual relationships. It requires that we allow others to encounter Christ through us. It is not an easy task, but it is an essential part of who we are called to be.

In a 2014 address to the Pontifical Mission Societies, Pope Francis encouraged the whole Church: “It is Christ who gives us the strength to undertake the missionary path and the joy of proclamation, so that the light of Christ may illuminate those who still do not know him or have denied him. This takes the courage to go forth to ‘reach all the peripheries in need of the light of the Gospel.’ We cannot be held back by our weaknesses or our sins, nor by the many obstacles to the witness and proclamation of the Gospel.”

Questions for reflection or discussion:

  1. Where do you feel most comfortable talking about your relationship with Jesus and your struggles in the spiritual life? And how do these experiences help to nourish and deepen your faith?
  2. When you consider how Jesus welcomed a wide variety of people during his public life, are you intimidated by doing this as well—or encouraged?
  3. Look around your parish community. Does your local body of Christ reflect the diversity found in the larger civic community where you live? What are some practical ways that your community might become more committed to going out and then welcoming in?
  4. How might Jesus be asking you to introduce others to Christ? What are the gifts you have that can be put to use in this effort?

Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith. 

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