The National Catholic Review
Daniel J. Harrington
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), July 16, 2006
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3)

Do you ever count your blessings? Much in today’s advertising strategy is designed to make us dissatisfied with who we are and what we have. The idea is that buying this or that product is going to solve our problems and make us happy. Counting the blessings that we have as Christians (instead of obsessing over our deficiencies) from time to time can help us regain perspective, renew our love for God and others and give us hope for the future. Today’s Scripture readings offer an occasion to do just that.

 

In Mark 6 Jesus invites his disciples to share in his mission of preaching and healing. Just as God sent the prophet Amos to preach repentance to ancient Israel, so Jesus sends his followers forth to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and to bring healing to those who need it most. While the instructions in Mark 6 have as their original historical setting the rural conditions of first-century Palestine, the privilege of sharing in Jesus’ mission is offered to all Christians in every circumstance and is the greatest blessing of all.

As he sends out the Twelve, Jesus also gives precise instructions about what we today call “lifestyle.” With regard to their food, clothing and material goods, Jesus’ message is one of stark simplicity. As to lodging, their orders are to stay wherever they first land and not spend their time and energy trying to better their circumstances. This kind of evangelical poverty is not asceticism or self-denial for its own sake. Rather, the simplicity that befits Jesus’ followers is always in the service of the mission to proclaim God’s kingdom in word and deed.

The blessings that we have as baptized Christians is the subject of today’s reading from Ephesians 1. It places the exercise of counting our blessings in the form of a benediction and thanksgiving in which we point to God as the source of our blessings in and through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Those blessings include election, adoption, redemption and wisdom. Through Christ, God has chosen us to be holy, made us the adopted brothers and sisters of the Son of God, forgiven our sins and given us right relationship with God, and enabled us to understand God’s plan of salvation.

Moreover, through Christ God has given us a clear purpose in life—to praise and to serve God and one another—and the Holy Spirit as a help to carry out the task. Having been sealed with the Spirit, we have received in baptism the first installment toward fullness of eternal life with God. We are especially blessed because our lives have purpose and direction, and we have God’s help in carrying out that purpose. Instead of focusing excessively on our inadequacies and deficiencies, it is important to count our blessings—not as an exercise in self-congratulation, but rather as a way of giving thanks to the One who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual gift.

 

Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., is professor of New Testament at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

Readings: 
Readings: Amos 7:12-15; Ps 85:9-14; Eph 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13
Prayer: 

• What do you count as special blessings in your life? Why are they so important?

• How can you in your own circumstances share in Jesus’ mission of witnessing to God’s kingdom and bringing healing to others?

• How might recognition of the blessings you have received in baptism help to shape your life in the present?