14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading 1. Isaiah 66: 10-14c
Reading II. Galatians 6: 14-18
Gospel. Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20 (lambs among wolves.)
Today's first reading from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah is a song of praise for Jerusalem. "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her..." Isaiah compares Jerusalem to a mother from whom we all take nourishment. Obviously, Jerusalem was the heart and soul of ancient Israel. It was more than a place or even a capitol city. It was the holy city of God, in a way the source of all that the Jews were as well as the place to which they all aspired to ultimately return.
We often think of America in the same way. On July 4th we can compare Isaiah's words with the words to "My Country Tis of Thee," set to the melody of the English national anthem, "God Save the King."
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing
Land where my fathers' died, land of the pilgrims' pride
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
For Isaiah Jerusalem is something feminine. He compares it to a nursing mother. From the earliest times the Church has been viewed in the same way. How many times have we heard the expression "Holy Mother Church?"
Christians have always valued these readings from Isaiah because the Church itself is a spiritual Jerusalem. It is not just a city or country. We have our holy cities and shrines which we visit on pilgrimages but we don't regard Rome in the same way that Jews regard Jerusalem or Moslems regard Mecca. The Church is a community of believers and we can feel right at home anywhere in the world, but no where more so than here in our own little parish. From here we embark on our own spiritual journey to the heavenly kingdom that our Lord speaks of in today's gospel.
Perhaps you noticed in today's gospel that Jesus sent 72 disciples ahead of Him to visit the cities and places that He would pass through on His road to Jerusalem. They were to go in pairs and prepare the way for Him. He gives them their marching orders and warns them that the going will be rough. "Behold I am sending you like lambs among wolves." He tells them to travel light and to expect to be sheltered and fed by those whom they serve. He even tells them what to say. "Into whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this household.'"
If they are welcomed, they are to behave as dutiful guests, cure the sick, and proclaim, "The Kingdom of God is at hand for you." If not welcomed, they are to shake the dust of the town from their feet and go on to the next town. Jesus always insists that the door to the kingdom of God is wide open but that no one can be forced to enter.
Whenever our Lord speaks to His disciples, we can assume that He is speaking to us. Like the disciples we are being sent to prepare the way for the Lord. Like the first disciples it is our job to cure the spiritually sick and to show them that "the kingdom of God is at hand." It is not just the job of the bishops or priests or sisters. It is not just the job of the Pope although God knows that Benedict is giving his life for "the kingdom of God."
What or where is the "kingdom of God?" What does our Lord mean when He says that it's "at hand?" I know that many people believe that our lives here on earth must be filled with pain and suffering and that we will only know true happiness after death. However, our Lord always seemed to work at alleviating pain and suffering right here on earth and he instructed his disciples to do the same. He cured the sick both of their physical and spiritual ailments.
It's interesting that in Dante's, Divine Comedy, the most famous poem of the Middle Ages, all the characters in the poem are portrayed as being the same both before and after death. Those whom Dante placed in Hell--the lechers, the gluttons, the drunkards, the misers, the cruel, the proud, the angry, the murderers, the traitors--had made a hell for themselves and for others during their lives on earth. Those journeying up the great mountain of Purgatory had already begun their journey of redemption while on earth. Those whom Dante placed in Paradise had already exhibited the saintly qualities of love and humility during their life on earth. They had already found heaven on earth and had spent their lives in bringing it to others.
I know that there is always room for conversion, even on one's own deathbed. Tragically, some of us might even fall at the last moment. That's why St. Paul urges us to consider that we're in a race and to keep our eyes on the finish line. Today, he ends his letter to the Galatians by telling them that the question of circumcision is irrelevant. What matters is whether we've been willing to give up our lives in the service of others. Like those first disciples Paul was sent to prepare the way of the Lord. It wasn't easy--"for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body." He ends with a famous blessing which reminds us of the blessing that our Lord gave to the disciples. It's one that we can still use today.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,
brothers and sisters.