Live and labour on the side of light

  • June 29, 2007
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), July 8 (Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)

Some places are best visited only in the realm of the imagination. After longing to see a cherished city in person, the initial visit leaves some disappointed or disillusioned. Jerusalem is a prime example.
Over the centuries, Jerusalem has endured numerous destructions, crusades and battles, the latest occurring in our own lifetime. It is not — and never has been — a stranger to tension, fear, hatred, degradation or violence. It is one of the most contested pieces of real estate on earth, for it is sacred ground to three great religions.

And yet Jerusalem is described in Isaiah with comforting maternal images, along with promises and visions of new life, abundance and prosperity. In both testaments, the “new Jerusalem” was a symbol of human hope for peace, justice and prosperity.

Why the dissonance between the two realities? Jerusalem — like many other things — is a symbol of higher things and it resides in the religious imagination where it gives hope and inspiration. It voices our loftiest and most spiritual ideals and a hope for a world transformed by God’s compassionate justice. Jerusalem also portrays a sanctuary where human beings can feel safe and communicate directly with God, but its holiness and sacred nature is not found in the stones or buildings of the city. It is present in the hearts of those who live and worship according to the ideals for which Jerusalem stands.

Isaiah’s exiles are told to return to Jerusalem and build a just and peaceful city and nation. God’s blessings will be with them and they will prosper in every way. By fighting and spilling blood over the holy city, the three religions of Abraham demonstrate in an ironic and tragic way that they have not fully comprehended the meaning of Jerusalem or God’s teachings.

Paul’s rhetoric is sometimes dense and difficult to unpack. Often one is left with the feeling that something has been lost in the translation or that he is assuming that we are familiar with the context of his words. But Paul has a few basic and powerful ideas, and the cross is the most powerful one of all.

In a society that thrived on the pursuit of honour, Paul throws everything that people hold dear out the window — except Jesus and His cross. Paul uses the cross — total giving and surrender to God — as the measure for all human activity.

Circumcision and “uncircumcision” represented the two opposing poles in a fierce debate being raged in the early Christian community. Which is right, A or B? Paul insists that neither is right, for the new creation inaugurated by the Christ event transcends both. This involves a transformation of consciousness, beginning with a renewal of the religious imagination. Thinking in new ways might be helpful in leading us out of our contentious political and religious stalemates.

When the Lord sent the 70 out on their mission He made it very clear: travel light, keep on the move and let nothing distract you. Their mission was to proclaim the nearness of God and the new world that God was in the process of creating. This was good news to some, bad or indifferent news to others. No matter — say what you have to say and move on. Their complete reliance on God enabled the Spirit of God to work through them in powerful ways.

When the 70 returned they were definitely “on a high,” overwhelmed and thrilled by the power that they had exercised. But this is always the danger: allowing the inflation of the ego. Many a spiritual charlatan, tyrant or demagogue has begun with honest motives and intentions.

Jesus recognizes that indeed there is incredible power at their disposal. He has seen the defeat of the fear and negativity symbolized by Satan that has enslaved humankind. But He issues a warning that Paul would have appreciated. Rejoice over one thing alone — that you have made the right choice and that you live and labour on the side of light.

Proclaiming the nearness of God’s reign is not ranting or imposing one’s views on others, but inspiring people with a vision of God’s future for the world and humanity. Proclaiming that message in a fresh and credible way is the most important challenge we face in the 21st century.