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God's Word on Sunday: Love raises us above what tears us apart

  • June 26, 2022

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) July 3 (Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6: 14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

There is nothing as powerful as knowing that one is unconditionally loved. It gives hope, strength, courage and healing. With that knowledge of being loved we can bear the burdens that come our way and many things become possible. The spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola begin with this as the “first principle and foundation” — we are created out of love and for love. That is our reason for existing — to love and be loved.

The prophet Isaiah used words and images in a similar vein. They were addressed to a discouraged and broken-hearted people to heal and give hope. The inflated hopes of the people of Israel after their return from captivity in the mid-sixth century B.C. had given way to despair. Their land and the city of Jerusalem were still in ruins and the days of glory just a dim and rapidly fading memory. Using feminine and maternal imagery, God reassured the people of His unconditional and unceasing love. The land and its people would once again prosper and be a place of peace and joy. Whatever struggles they faced in the present did not mean that they were unloved or forgotten.

The hearers of this prophecy from Isaiah were meant to take the message and its images to heart. Prophecies of this sort are never meant to be analyzed or intellectualized — they speak to the heart. The world is in dire need of this message from God. Only by experiencing unconditional love can we rise above the hatreds, fears, selfishness and polarization that are tearing our world to pieces.

But we cannot give what we do not have. If our experience of God is one of harshness, rules, distance and earned love, then that is the message we will communicate to others. We then become part of the problem rather than the solution. The focus of our catechesis, preaching and spirituality should be the love of God as revealed in Jesus and how we receive and share that love.

Paul was one who had internalized this message. He joyfully proclaimed that the world had been crucified in Him by means of the cross of Christ. He had transcended the world with all its labels, division and separation. Something big and new was afoot — the world was being remade and renewed. Circumcision and uncircumcision were both equally without value, for they were tools of polarization and separation. Our own world is filled with similar tools, but we are offered freedom from them. The new creation begins in our minds and hearts when we accept the unconditional love of God that we are offered.

Jesus empowered 70 of His disciples to go out and proclaim the message. Seventy is a sacred number and echoes the 70 Israelites deputized and empowered with the Spirit by Moses in Exodus 24:1. Jesus had taught them much and now they were to demonstrate what they had learned and understood. The 70 were not to rely on money or visible means of support and were not to tarry on the road. They were to be content with whatever was provided. The blessings of peace that they were to give would be received by some but rejected by others. This was not their concern; their one mission was to proclaim in a convincing manner that the kingdom of God was present and very close to them. The authenticating signs of this nearness were the healing that people would experience and the hope that would be kindled in them.

These are irrefutable signs of God’s love and mercy and reflections of the divine nature. But many hearts were hardened and unable to comprehend or receive that mercy. Jesus told the 70 merely to walk away — the time was too short and the mission too urgent to be distracted. The 70 returned giddy and exhilarated at their success. They were impressed with their power over the demons. This is where Satan usually enters — through pride and ego. Jesus warned them not to rejoice at the powers they wielded but that their names were written in Heaven. They were doing God’s will and souls were being saved and that was the only recognition or reward they needed.

Proclaiming the mercy and love of God and expressing this in concrete and unselfish ways is how we continue the mission of the 70.