May zeal for God's justice be in our hearts

  • June 25, 2010
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 4 (Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)

How can we rejoice when there isn’t much to rejoice about? Calls to be joyful when we are in the midst of tragedy, depression or other difficulties can be hurtful and infuriating. And yet that is exactly what the prophet is telling the people of Israel to do. Jerusalem was in shambles — the exiles returned from Babylon to find ruin and decay. After decades there seemed to be no significant change and the beautiful images from the earlier prophecies began to ring rather hollow. Rejoice — right!

But a closer examination of the passage reveals that the people are asked to rejoice for things not yet seen. The will of God is new life, happiness and abundance — in fact, this is a reflection of God’s nature. These are the gifts that God is preparing to bestow on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but this abundance and new life has not quite arrived yet.

The promised gifts are still on the distant horizon. In a sense the people are encouraged to rejoice in the present for something that is still in the future — and that is a good explanation of hope. In our own time too joy is a scarce commodity. It seems that we are awash in fear and negativity. Do we believe in the compassionate and generous nature of God? Do we believe in God’s promised blessings? We must know and believe that God is with us and that out of this darkness and chaos will grow something beautiful and life-giving. That alone should be sufficient to coax a bit of joy from our fearful hearts.

The cross has a special meaning for Paul. It is the standard or measuring stick by which the importance and worth of all things is measured. There is not much that weathers the test. The cross is about renunciation, living for others, unity and wholeness, sharing, non-possessiveness and a host of other things that are not in sync with the way human societies and cultures operate. God has been at work creating a new order in Christ and in this new spiritual order many of the issues that torment us take on a new light. For Paul, the issue of the necessity of circumcision for admission into the community of God’s people had become a non-issue. The reality of Christ and everything that He accomplished by His life, death and resurrection transcended so many human concerns. Taking Paul’s perspective might help us all get a clearer — and calmer — view of the world in which we live.

Jesus expects a rather dangerous and hostile reception for the Seventy He sends out on mission. He warns them not to get entangled, but to travel lightly and keep on the move. Give freely and kindly — those whose hearts are open will receive your blessings and be comforted and encouraged. There will be those who will not receive it and who might be absolutely hostile. In the end they will be the losers and the Seventy should not waste time with them.

The work of these disciples is not spectacular. They are to heal, bless, encourage and open human hearts to God’s immediate presence. That is what brings Satan down and makes him “fall like lightning” — refusing to be mastered by the world’s darkness, fear and violence but continually carrying out God’s mission quietly and joyfully. That was the mission of the followers of Jesus then and that is the mission today for all who presume to call themselves followers or disciples of Jesus.

It is difficult to speak of the end of the world order and the beginning of God’s reign if we are deeply enmeshed in that order. The Church faces a future with less wealth, power, influence and prestige than it enjoyed in the past — perhaps not a bad thing. This could bring more freedom, spontaneity and an opportunity to depend solely on the power and spirit of God as the Seventy did in the Gospel passage. The labourers are indeed few but that does not just mean pray for traditional vocations but for commitment and zeal on the part of all the baptized. As Jesus reminds His disciples, it’s not about power and show but about having our names written in heaven because zeal for God’s justice and compassionate mercy has burned in our hearts.

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