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14th Sunday OT 2016
14th Sunday OT 2016
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Isaiah tells God's people to rejoice with Jerusalem! Their mourning is over. Flourish and rejoice! The psalmist leads us to sing, “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, sing praise to the glory of his name; proclaim his glorious praise.” And our Lord watches the seventy-two he appointed return to him rejoicing from their work against Satan in the world. So much shouting and cheering and rejoicing. Jerusalem returns from exile. Rejoice! God rescues His people – again. Rejoice! Christ's workers return victorious from the field. Rejoice! It may seem obvious to us why there is so much rejoicing this morning. There's homecoming and divine rescue and victory against an enemy. And that's probably why many of those rejoicing are rejoicing. Can we rejoice with them? In a way but not truly. We can only share their joy second-hand through scripture, believing – as we do – that God again and again fulfills His promises of protection and loving-care. Fortunately, we have our own reasons for rejoicing. Our Lord says to the seventy-two and to us, “. . .do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven."
Our names are written in heaven, but we still live in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven, but we abide – like alien residents – in a foreign land. That's the paradox of being a child of the Father and a subject of the world. Our hearts and minds are aimed at our perfection with Him, yet we still have to eat, sleep, love, work, and die among the temporary things He created. And not all those created things welcome our presence as witness-bearers to Christ. Our Lord appoints and sends out seventy-two witnesses to preach and teach the Good News. He says to them, “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” 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. He 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 sheep. Satan has fallen like lightning from the sky.
The world we live in welcomes us – our labor, our money, our votes – but it is less than welcoming when we bring the Gospel and try to live out our faith. Jesus give the seventy-two careful instructions. 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, calling them money-grubbers, moochers, long-lingering guests, spiritual and civil provocateurs, and snake-oil salesmen. We hear these accusation this even now. We've heard it all before, and we will hear it again. And so, our witness to God's enduring mercy must be motivated by veritas in caritate, truth in love. That's our defense and our offense. Truth in love. We cannot defend ourselves by lying to the world – we tried that and it blew up into the abuse scandals in 2002. We cannot defend ourselves by hating the world – we've tried that too and it led us to hate ourselves as embodied souls. So, we endure as witnesses to God's mercy by telling the truth and loving our enemies. No easy task!
It is no easy task to watch this world pass by and find a reason for rejoicing. It's difficult to see why anyone could be joyful. Where do they find the time and energy to rejoice? So much to do! We could count the sources of temporal joy if we need to. But there is just one source of eternal joy: Christ Jesus. For those chosen for this work – all the baptized! – our delight, our moment of joy is bringing the peace of Christ to the world by preaching his gospel with our hands and feet, our words and deeds. 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 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 prowl: God's kingdom is at hand, and you have been chosen as His witness. Think of Paul. He writes to the Galatians that he bears the marks of Christ 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? Does the peace and power of Christ rule your heart and mind? If so, rejoice!
And what good does rejoicing do us? God doesn't need us to rejoice. He doesn't need our prayers or our praise or our thanksgiving. We rejoice and pray and praise and give thanks b/c we need to do things to grow in holiness. We need them all to do the work we have vowed to complete. If we live in the world as citizens of the world, then rejoicing and prayer and praise all seem pointless, utterly useless wastes of time. However, if we rejoice and pray as children of God living in the world, then we bear witness to God's mercy and show – with our words and deeds – that His promise of eternal life is true and good and beautiful. Like hard exercise that builds muscle, or intense study that builds knowledge, persistent rejoicing and praise nurtures holiness, and we grow closer and closer to our Father. Think of it as getting fat on prayer! And go preach and teach and bear witness where you are. And wherever you are, rejoice b/c your name is written in heaven as long as you endure in his name. That assurance, that promise is sure spiritual protection from whatever the Enemy can throw at you. So, go out rejoicing, serving, preaching, teaching, bearing witness, being merciful, and all the while grow in holiness until you meet Him face-to-face.______________________
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