Isa 66.10-14; Galatians 6.14-18; and Luke 10.1-12, 17-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
’s Hospital, Dallas, TX
Listen to this homily and all my homilies hereWatching this world pass it seems strange to find anyone rejoicing; strange to see or hear anyone playing out a joy, a moment of bliss or delight. From where do they snatch the energy required to spend even a second in glee? Where do they find air abundant enough to waste on trifling giggles? Even a small flash of laughter, burning at light speeds, holds heavy in a heart where darkness has soaked into muscle and blood; where something like sticky despair suffocates the tissue and sinew of faith. It is blinding and not enlightening—that burst of excited breath. Or maybe, like Paul’s revelation on the road to Damascus, it is both: to be blinded is to be enlightened. You come to believe by trust what you cannot see in color. And you rejoice not b/c you see in faith but b/c your name is written in heaven.
Think about the seventy-two appointed in pairs to go out ahead of Christ! They go out, preach his Good News, and return rejoicing b/c of their great success. They have cast out demons in his name, healing the sick, restoring the diseased to purity. Jesus tells them that he has seen Satan fall like lightning from the sky. And he tells them that he has given to them the power to “tread upon serpents and scorpions.” They rejoice. They celebrate, throw praise and thanksgiving to the sky and give God their joy and their enlightened hearts. Then Jesus says to them, “. . .do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Do not rejoice in the Lord b/c you have been given power in His Name. Do not rejoice in the Lord b/c you can heal; because you can pray in tongues; because you can prophesy; because you can teach, preach, administrate, judge, preside, or serve. Do not rejoice because you are special in the Church, but rather rejoice because you are in the Church at all, because you are a member of the Body in the first place. Rejoice; please, rejoice because you are special in the world. But do not relax too much in your worldly specialness: there’s work to do. The harvest is HUGE and we don’t have enough workers to get it all done.
And why not? Why don’t we have more workers? And why do some of the workers we have not work? This work of Christ’s, this labor of love in Christ Jesus to sow his Saving Word, is appointed work, that is, work to which one is called, invited to. This is not the sort of work that one picks up on the side, or pecks around at for a week or two and leaves, or the sort of work that attracts “easy in, easy out” devotion. Jesus selects the seventy-two; he appoints them. You, you, you, you, and you and you…and he send them on their way with instruction. Note: they do not choose themselves for this work. They do not decide to go among the wolves as lambs and take charge of demons themselves. They are picked to do this and they are commissioned in Jesus name. Are we now short on workers because no one is taking on the responsibility of appointing disciples for the work to be done? We can ask—and we do all the time!—where are the seventy-two for us today? Where are the vocations to priesthood, religious life, lay ministry? Here’s a better question: why aren’t those who are charged with appointing the seventy-two for us now not doing so? Christ didn’t ask for volunteers. He NAMED his workers. Matthew. John. Simon Peter. Philip. Paul. He named them. At no point did Jesus ever stand before the crowd and say, “I need seventy-two volunteers to go like lambs among the wolves! Let’s see those hands, people!” Jesus knows what he is sending his workers to do. And he knows where he is sending them to do it. This is why the seventy-two are appointed ministers and not volunteers. Jesus knows that the harvest is abundant—it’s HIS harvest, after all—but he also knows that there are wolves among the sheaves. Satan has fallen from the sky like lightning. And his false light casts shadows where serpents and scorpions and wolves move to hide. . .and wait.
Jesus’ careful instructions to the seventy-two tell us a bit about what he thinks the wolves are waiting to do. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; pray peace on whatever house you enter; stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered; cure the sick where you are; preach the coming of the kingdom of God; and, if any town refuses you hospitality, shake off their dust—Sodom’s fate will look kind compared to what will happen to this town. Know this: the kingdom of God is at hand! Clearly, Jesus knows that the wolves will attack his ministers as money-grubbers, moochers, long-lingering guests, spiritual and civil provocateurs, snake-oil salesmen, and dupers of the gullible. The wolves will follow and provoke dissent under the pretense of righteousness; they will entice violence in the name of preserving purity and safety; they will lay claim to the prophet’s mantle and prophesy out of their dark hearts that these ministers of Christ are intolerant of other opinions, closed to dialogue, blind to a plurality of possible “kingdoms,” and committed to an cultural and social ethos that excludes the open-ended celebration of diversity and difference. The ministers, who are preaching nothing but the peace of Christ and the truth of his Good News, will finally be charged with preaching Hate. And when that charge is repeated on the streets, in the media, among the disciples, the wolves all sharply smile.
Watching this world pass it seems strange to find anyone rejoicing; strange to see or hear anyone playing out a joy, a moment of bliss or delight. From where do they snatch the energy required to spend even a second in glee? We could count the sources of material joy if we needed to. But there is just one source of eternal joy: Christ Jesus. For those chosen for this work—all the baptized!—our second of glee, our moment of bright delight is bringing the peace of Christ to the world by preaching his gospel with anointed lips and calloused hands. Our enduring joy comes from the knowledge that our names are written in heaven. We are, you and I, inscribed—essentially, substantially— carved into the very book of God’s Beauty; we are Words of Truth and whole paragraphs of Goodness. And so we rejoice not b/c of our power or our gifts or our deeds. We rejoice b/c we belong to God! And His kingdom is at hand. Remember that when the wolves begin to howl and the snakes begin to rattle: His kingdom is at hand, and you have been chosen as his herald. What are you doing to preach the coming of the kingdom?
Think of Paul: he tells the Galatians that he bears the marks of Jesus on his body. That he has been crucified to the world and the world to him. He is a new creation for whom the old law means nothing. How have you been crucified to the world? How have you been both blinded and enlightened? What can you no longer see in the world b/c of the light of Christ? Let the peace of Christ control your heart! And give thanks that his light burns away the shadowed hiding places of wolves and scorpions for they cannot harm you.
One last question, if you are ready to rejoice: when you are appointed, will you say, “Yes, I will be a worker for the harvest!” If so, may the Word of Christ dwell richly in you and may you flourish like the grass in spring. If not, well, be prepared to sweep up some sandal dust.Pic credit: Gerald Huthart