Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Readings: Isa 66:10-14c; Ps 66: 1-7, 16, 20; Gal 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Two sides of the same coin
Today's readings offer us two conflicting images: one of abundance and rejoicing; the other of the cross and self-denial. One might think that these two images cannot be harmonized. However, if we look carefully, we can see how they really do fit together. They are, in fact, two sides of the same coin.
The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah. It is an oracle of salvation, a vision of a joyful future. Through it the prophet announces that the city of Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians and its inhabitants taken into exile or scattered, will be made prosperous again and its people brought back home. The ancient Israelites certainly clung to this promise of future security and happiness. The restoration of the city symbolized the restoration of the entire nation. The scene is quite poignant. Jerusalem is depicted as a tender mother, offering her children the comfort and nourishment of her milk. In what some might say is a bold move, the prophet characterizes divine comfort as maternal. The language itself invites this particular feminine characterization, for the word for comfort (also translated compassion) comes from the Hebrew for 'womb.' In other words, God shows 'womb-love' for the people of Israel.
There are many cities over which we mourn today. Some cities such as Gaza or Baghdad have been ravaged by war. Other cities like Calcutta and Lagos are plagued by poverty. We can all name cities in our own country that are riddled with crime. The circumstances of destruction may be different in each case, but many of the inhabitants of these cities can easily identify with the desolate Jerusalem. These ruined cities were their homes, places that they love. The people of today's devastation probably harbor the same hopes and dreams of restoration as did the ancient Israelites. We grieve over such cities, and we pray that, as was the case with the ancient Israelites before them, God will turn their mourning into rejoicing. This is not a vain hope, for as the Psalm reminds us, God "changed the sea into dry land; through the river they passed by foot." God liberated a people before; certainly God can do it again. But how?
The gospel reading provides an answer to this question. The world has an immense need of laborers who will bring the reign of God to life. During Jesus' own lifetime, he sent a group of disciples out into every town and place that he intended to visit. They were to cure the sick and to announce the advent of the reign of God. Like Isaiah before them, their message was one of restoration. However, the restoration that they announced was more than that of a city or of a single nation. The reign of God was for all people, in every time, in every place. An example of the fruitfulness of this mission is Paul. His life exemplifies the description of the apostle. He went from city to city announcing the salvific power of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Though he went like a lamb among wolves, he boldly declared: "Let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body."
Today we are sent to continue this work of announcing the restoration of the people through the gospel of Christ. Today we are the ones with the message: "Peace to this household." 'Peace' is a simple greeting to give, but it is a monumental task to accomplish. It involves more than rebuilding cities; it requires rebuilding lives. The first reading suggests that we might accomplish this by taking the broken and desolate people into our arms and our hearts, by comforting them with a compassion like the 'womb-love' of God. We do not have to travel into a foreign country to accomplish this. Genuine world peace really begins in our families and in our neighborhoods. We can, indeed we must, establish it there.
We are the ones who today, through the power of Jesus, can make "even the demons subject to us." And there are many demons roaming around in our world. There are addictions of every kind, greed under many guises, grudges held for years on end. The transformation of our lives is encompassed in the vision of the rebirth of the city of Jerusalem. We are the new creation of which Paul speaks today. Like Paul, we too must be willing to be crucified to some of the standards of our world, standards that stand in opposition to the reign of God. It is in this way that the cross enters our lives.
Jesus warned us that the message of peace, and the means we employ to establish that peace, might be rejected. Our efforts at change might not always be appreciated. However, God restored the people in the past, and through us, God can continue to restore the people today.
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies
This reflection first appeared in America magazine and can now be found in The Word for Every Season: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2010).
© Copyright 2013 Catholic Theological Union. All Rights Reserved.