JULY 3RD, 2016: FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!
For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.
When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;
the LORD's power shall be known to his servants.
Brothers and sisters:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.
Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule
and to the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make troubles for me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,
brothers and sisters. Amen.
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
'Peace to this household.'
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.'
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
'The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.'
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town."
The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said,
"Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name."
Jesus said, "I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
Behold, I have given you the power to 'tread upon serpents' and scorpions
and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven."
I presume Paul would have benefited from a class or two in anger control before he wrote his letter to the Galatians. It’s an understatement to say he was uptight when he dictated it. He had personally evangelized the Galatian community, teaching them how to become other Christs by imitating Jesus’ death and resurrection in their own lives. Only by giving themselves for others would they be transformed into the same new creation into which the risen Jesus had been transformed.
Yet in a short period of time, some of them – as former Jews - had reverted back to their old practice of finding salvation in keeping the 613 laws of Moses, symbolized by the men being circumcised. They found more security in that than in being crucified with Jesus. Paul was so infuriated by their behavior that a chapter before today’s pericope, he angrily writes, “Would that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!” (Somehow the church has never found a liturgical setting for this particular passage.)
Using himself as an example, the Apostle encourages people just to look at him and see the damage to his body that his dying with Jesus has brought about. (Scholars believe his “marks of Jesus” have nothing to do with the later phenomenon of individuals receiving the “stigmata.”) Paul’s been scourged and beaten because of his imitation of Jesus, not because of his keeping the Mosaic regulations. Though he’s endured great physical pain, he’s convinced there’s also a huge amount of psychological pain in discipleship. That seems to be what he means when he speaks about “the world being crucified” to him.
That’s precisely the kind of pain Third Isaiah is presuming when he talks about “rejoicing with Jerusalem.” Among other things, the prophet is trying to stimulate his community to simply leave Babylon and return to the Jewish capital. The problem is that when he’s preaching these words, Jerusalem is in ruins, wiped off the face of the earth by the Babylonians over 60 or 70 years before. These formerly exiled Israelites not only have to return, they also have to rebuild. After one glance at the destroyed city, most decided to go back to Babylon. They found more peace and security in a foreign land than in rebuilding their native land.
Obviously we must go beyond the here and now and have a vision of what can be if we’re true disciples. Living by such a vision entails a real psychological death; something not only many Israelites, but also many Galatians were unwilling to endure.
As we hear in today’s gospel passage, giving oneself over to the vision of Jesus frequently causes rejection. Luke’s Jesus is not just predicting what’s going to happen when his followers try to evangelize others, like all gospel writers, Luke is also reflecting on what already happened to some of the “missionaries” in his own community. He wants to make certain they don’t get down just because they were often rejected. No matter how their message was received, God is still among us working effectively in our daily lives. God’s presence doesn’t depend on people recognizing it. Whether proclaimers of Jesus’ word succeed or fail, as long as they keep working to make the risen Jesus’ vision a reality in this world, their names are “written in heaven.” According to Luke’s Jesus, that’s the only thing that matters.
Obviously a lot of Catholics again accepted Jesus’ vision after Vatican II. And a lot of Catholics eventually abandoned that vision for the sake of their own security. Thank goodness we have a pope who’s calling us to return to that vision, no matter the cost.