SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  1 COR 15:12-20; LK 8:1-3 ]We read in today’s gospel “Jesus made his way through towns and villages preaching and proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God.”  We are told too, that the Twelve, “as well as certain women who had been cured of evil spirits and ailments” accompanied Him.  It is clear that already in the ministry of Jesus, many of His disciples had shared in His mission.  The question of interest to us is: what drew these people, men and women to share in the ministry of Jesus?

What could have inspired such men like the apostles to give up everything, their families and livelihood, to follow Jesus and accompany Him on His mission?  The fact that some of them were doing well in their careers, that they were of different personalities with contrasting visions of life and politics, would make them unlikely colleagues.  Another man most unlikely to qualify for apostleship was St Paul.  As he said of himself, he was a great persecutor of the Church and “hardly deserve the name apostle.”  As an educated man, a staunch believer of Judaism, the Law and a rabbi, the Christians, including the Church leaders, initially met his conversion with skepticism and disbelief.

Equally surprising is, how women could be among Jesus’ disciples.  We know very well that Rabbis never accepted women as disciples.  They were considered to be second class citizens and categorized with the children.   So how could one ever imagine that not only a woman, but also someone of ill repute like Mary Magdalene, supposedly an adulterous woman, could abandon her flirtatious lifestyle to join Jesus’ band? Furthermore, we know that Magdalene was previously possessed by seven demons, therefore an evil woman.  So too, Joanna, a lady of the court. How could she leave her palace to mix with the vagabonds, the band of disciples of Jesus?  Then again, how could these two ladies, coming from totally different economic and social standing, come to pool their resources to provide for Jesus and His apostles?

So on all counts, both the men and women who followed and supported Jesus in His ministry must have somehow been profoundly touched by Jesus.  The key to their transformation lies in the text of today’s gospel.  They must have come under the “spell” of Jesus and His Good News message.  Isn’t this what the Good News is all about?

The etymology of the word “Good News” originates from the word “God spell”, which literally means the news of God.  So the gospel is the good news from God that entices and overwhelms us.  Perhaps, from the suffix, we have the word “spell.”  Spell refers to some magic charm, using words or gestures or things to lure and fascinate us.  When we refer to the gospel, then it is concerned with the attractiveness and empowering beauty of the gospel message of Jesus. So, what kind of god spell did they each receive to enable them to break from their past and follow Jesus in His mission?

For the apostles, it must be the experience of being called and chosen in spite of their unworthiness.  St Peter was only an uncultured but proud and confident fisherman; and Matthew a tax collector, a traitor of the Jews.  As for Mary, it must have been her experience of forgiveness for her sinful past when she was possessed by “seven demons”.  Although everyone despised her and many would have wanted to have her stoned, Jesus’ acceptance of her was like a spell that healed her of her low self-esteem and raised her dignity. By exorcising her, she was liberated from the grip of evil; especially that of her lack of authentic self-love.  As Jesus said, “her many sins, must have been forgiven her, or she would not have shown such great love.  It is the man who is forgiven little who shows little love.”  As for Joanna, Jesus too must have touched her in ways not mentioned to us.

Finally, the most dramatic of all conversion experience is that of St Paul.  The God spell of Jesus struck him whilst he was on his way to Damascus.  The Acts narrate how Paul encountered the Risen Lord.  In that encounter, he experienced Jesus as the Risen Lord in His forgiveness for him and His solidarity with the persecuted Christians.  That experience, which changed the course of his life, strengthened his conviction that Jesus is truly Lord and Risen from the dead.

Conversion of St. Paul on the Road of Damascus (Circa 1600 by Caravaggio)

Hence, he was in dismay when he heard that some Christians were denying the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead.  If that were so, Paul contended that the corollary would be to deny our faith also in Christ’s resurrection; and if we were to deny His resurrection, it would lead to a denial of His glory and divinity.  Consequently, we are not saved as we continue to be in our sin.  He could then be accused of perjury before God, since the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection is a lie. But such a logical consequence contradicts his existential experience of having been saved by Him and encountering Him as the Risen Lord.  In gratitude and humility, he confessed, “I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am.”  Indeed, St Paul’s transformation as a consequence of his experience of the unconditional love and mercy of Jesus in his life resulted in him preaching the God spell to others.  He said, “I, or rather the grace of God that is with me, have worked harder than any of the others; but what matters is that I preach what they preach, and this is what you all believed.”

So it is clear that all those who collaborated with Jesus in His ministry were given a mission on account of a special experience of the love of the Lord in their lives.  A real experience of God’s love according to one’s situation is what the gospel or the spell of God is all about.  It could be a call, forgiveness or a healing experience. With the experience or encounter, one is overwhelmed by the spell of the love of Jesus and His message that one could properly respond to only by following Jesus and joining Him in His mission.  Hence,it is the god spell that liberates us for love, service and mission. 

As Christians we should ask, “What is the god spell I have received that so inspired me to become His disciple?” Unless, we have been so charmed by that god spell, it would be difficult for us, especially those of us who are serving in various Church ministries, to give up the lure of the secular world, our time and even our financial resources, to continue the work of Jesus, like the apostles, for the sake of the Good News and the Church.  Recalling our god spell will awaken the call in us, our love for Him, which we may have forgotten, thereby reinforcing it.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore