Dominican breaks open the word for the NZ church

Hearts and minds were warmed, nourished and challenged by the humanity of New Testament scholar, Dr Barbara Reid, at a recent seminar in Palmerston North. This writer, teacher and acclaimed preacher from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was a gift to the New Zeala

Judith McGinley op

Barbara described her mission as to awaken in others the recognition of what God has done and is doing in our lives and in our world.

This refreshing definition was the backbone of the day’s study, which covered Mission linked with discipleship; Mission as Proclamation and Healing; Mission as Prophetic Dialogue and Building Community for Mission.

On paper these topics could look rather dry, academic and removed from everyday life. In fact, Barbara’s delightful sense of humour together with her ability to explore questions and concerns faced by individuals and communities today in the light of similar events in the New Testament gave new life and meaning to familiar texts.

Participants were able to make connections with their own lives and had the opportunity to reflect on and share the wisdom and questions born of their own experiences. The leadership roles of women in early Christian communities, the importance of dialogue in any missionary endeavour and the awareness that transformation (conversion) is a slow, ongoing process were among topics covered.

During a detailed exposition of the sending of the twelve in Matthew, chapter 10, a reflection on vulnerability as the gift of the missionary was particularly poignant for me. cf Matthew 10: 9-10 ‘take no money, bag, clothing, shoes, walking stick …’ ie, when you go on mission, just go as you are; be open and vulnerable to the other; your vulnerability gives the other the opportunity to offer hospitality and to tell her/his story. In this simple giving and receiving between people God is present.

The last session of the day acknowledged the reality that difference and conflict arise in any community. Using passages from Paul’s letters and the Acts of the Apostles, Barbara outlined a model for discernment when weighty matters need to be decided and a course of action adopted. This proved successful in the time of the apostles. I wonder if any courageous parish community would be willing to put this model to the test today?

Additional factors which made the day even more enjoyable for me were the beautiful works of art which Barbara used (via power point) to illustrate her presentation, the energy and enthusiasm of the participants, the fine venue and the generous hospitality of the Dominican family in Palmerston North who prepared for and hosted the day.

Elizabeth Julian rsm

Barbara Reid explored in particular several challenging aspects of mission as proclamation and healing described in Matthew’s gospel [10:1-42].

For example, what is received as a gift must be given as a gift [10:8]; there is always the possibility of rejection [10:14-18]; and the necessity of persevering [10: 22].

Sr Barbara also reminded us that the mission of Jesus was entrusted to all the disciples [Luke 10:1].

Using the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman [Mt 15:21-28] Barbara also pointed out how Jesus’ own understanding of his mission had to develop. His meeting the feisty woman who was not going to stand for his accusation of being a dog, brought about a transformation in him.

In her understanding of mission as our task of awakening in others the recognition of what God has done and is doing in our lives and in the world, Barbara explored some of the confusion surrounding the terms ‘apostle’, ‘disciple’, and ‘The Twelve’.

She looked at the New Testament uses of the terms and showed how John, preferring the word ‘disciple’, uses ‘apostle’ only once [Jn 13:16].

Barbara reminded us that Paul, as well as recognising himself as apostle [one sent, ie, to proclaim the gospel], also names Junia [Rom16:7] as an apostle and Phoebe as a ‘deacon’ [Rom 16:1]. She explained that Paul also described Phoebe as a prostati [benefactor] of himself and many others [Rom 16:2]. In Greek literature this term was used to describe a ruler or leader. Luke and Paul name several women as heads of house churches: Priscilla, Nympha, Mary, and Lydia.

Explaining how the terms presbyteros, diakonos, and episkopos were interchangeable in the early church, Barbara examined several New Testament examples.

She explained how Paul, recognising various kinds of diakonia (ministry), identifies preaching the gospel, providing financial assistance, toil and suffering in the service of the gospel as examples. According to Ephesians 4:11-12 apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers do the work of ministry.

She examined the conflict between the Hellenist and the Hebrews in Acts 6: 1-7 concerning the ministry of the table and the ministry of the word.

Barbara also explored the vision of community found in Acts 2:42-47 and 4: 32-37 and the challenges involved in building such a community for mission.

Barbara Reid’s books on the gospels of Matthew, women in Luke and on parables for preachers years A to C are available through Pleroma, 0508 988 988.