Heaven is our only reward

  • June 26, 2013

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 7 (Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)

When the situation is really grim people need not only words of encouragement but visions of hope to give them courage and strength. Jerusalem in the late sixth century BC was anything but encouraging. Although some of the exiles in Babylon had been allowed to come home, Jerusalem — especially the temple — lay in ruins. Feeble and half-hearted attempts had been made to rebuild the temple but apparently there was not much enthusiasm for the undertaking. Traditions and rituals were only a dim memory for many. The nation was also economically poor and many struggled to eke out a living. Jerusalem did not seem like an overly friendly or consoling place, but Isaiah’s vision told a completely different story — God’s story. Through the use of feminine and maternal images of God and the Holy City, the people were reassured that their negative experience was temporary. They would experience prosperity and plenty, but beyond that, flourishing, comfort and consolation.

The overriding theme of the passage is that of joy and abundance. This was not a promise of a quick fix or pie in the sky but a demonstration of God’s compassionate concern for the nation and people of Israel. They were not forgotten or abandoned. These beautiful visions were often dashed to pieces on reality when they did not immediately come to pass. Much patience was called for and those alive then might not live to see it but in the end God willed only happiness for the people.

The visions have to be seen for what they are — not immediate and concrete promises but sources of hope and inspiration. Similar proclamations in our own economic and social milieu might aid us in resisting the temptations of despair, fatalism and disillusionment.

They could also provide the encouragement and hope necessary to begin co-operative work necessary to move towards God’s future for the world. Making a joyful noise to God, as the psalm exhorts us, is not something we do after conditions are to our liking. It is what we are called to do at all times and in all situations.

At no time in the history of the Church has controversy been lacking. In Paul’s time, the burning issue was what one had to do to be a follower of Christ. There were those who insisted that one had to enter into the fullness of the covenant, which included circumcision, observance of the Law and the dietary regulations. Paul and others were equally adamant: faith in Jesus Christ was enough. Both sides in the debate were devout believers — no villains here. Paul made an interesting observation: both sides in the debate were on the wrong track — the answer was neither A nor B. The coming of Christ had ushered in a new era of human history. The world was being created anew in Christ, the unifying principle of the universe. Paul exhorted his audience to see the much bigger picture rather than focusing exclusively on the two opposing poles in the debate — grand advice for our own time too.

This sense of newness was evident in the sending of the 70 to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God. The disciples were ordered to travel very lightly, with only the clothes on their back. They were not to tarry or be distracted but to remain fixed on their mission. Whatever food and accommodations offered to them would have to be sufficient. There was not even time to argue with anyone who might oppose them — they were just to keep moving. What was behind this urgency and severity? Just this — the turning of the ages, the new creation of the Galatians letter, was imminent.

Jesus observed with satisfaction that Satan’s power was already being broken and the restoration of the world to God had begun. The disciples were elated and probably a bit puffed up at the power that they seemed to exercise in their mission. Jesus warned them that this power was not the most important thing and they shouldn’t be enamored of the things that they were able to do. The most important thing, for them and for us, is that they were serving God and their names were written in heaven. That is the only reward we need.