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Reflections for the XIV Sunday

Fr. Antony Kadavil reflects and comments on the readings at Mass for the fourteenth Sunday in ordinary time. He says that announcing the Good News of the Kingdom is the task of all Baptized Christians.

Is 66:10-14c; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10: 1-12, 17-20

Introduction: Today’s Scriptures are about announcing the Good News. They remind us that announcing the Good News of the Kingdom by words, deeds and life is not the task of only a few. Rather, it is a task for all baptized Christians.

Homily starter anecdote: Jesus needs leaders: One leader in the Old Testament who possessed both expressive and instrumental leadership abilities was Josiah (2 Kings 22-23). King Josiah was a great leader. When he came to the throne of Judah at age eight, the nation was essentially pagan. Heathen altars stood on the high hills, and the people offered incense to false gods. The Lord God was forgotten. The Law was lost. The Temple was closed, and the Passover was only a distant memory. When King Josiah died 31 years later, the nation had been completely changed! The pagan altars were only piles of rubble. The Covenant with God had been renewed. The Law once again was read and revered. The Temple doors were opened, and the priests fulfilled their duties faithfully. The Passover was celebrated and the Lord God, Yahweh, was worshiped. Josiah was a leader who knew how to lead God's people Israel. Today’s Gospel outlines Jesus’ action plan for future leaders in his Church. (http://frtonyshomilies.com/).

Scripture lessons summarized: In the first reading, Isaiah announces the good news to the returned Babylonian exiles that the ruined and desolate Jerusalem will take care of them “as a mother comforts her baby son.” Isiah assures the returned Jews that they will live in the certainty of Yahweh’s promises of love, protection, prosperity and salvation. In today’s Responsorial Psalm, Ps 66, the Psalmist urges, “sing praise to the glory of God all the earth,” because of the wonders He has done. In today’s second reading, Paul removes the confusion created by the Judaizers, in the minds of the new Gentile Christians of Galatia. Paul reminds us that the mission of each member of the Church is to bear witness to the saving power of the cross of Christ through a life of sacrificial, self-giving service. In today’ Gospel, Luke describes the fulfillment of the prophetic promise made by Isaiah, in Jesus’ commissioning of 72 disciples to preach the Gospel or the Good News of God’s love and salvation in towns and villages in preparation for his own visit. Jesus gives the paired disciples “travel tips” for their missionary journey. They must be walking witnesses of God’s providence by relying on the hospitality of others, living very simple lives, preaching the Good News and healing the sick.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that the 1.5 billion Christians in the world today have the mission of the 72, to proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the other 4.5 billion        non-Christians.

First reading: Isaiah 66:10-14 explained: The prophet Isaiah is encouraging the Jews, who are returning to Israel from Babylonian exile, to see their beloved city of God, Jerusalem, alive under its ruins.  In poetic and symbolic language, he describes the prosperity and peace which the New Jerusalem will give them. Both the Holy City of Jerusalem and God are presented under the image of a mother. The prophet offers a maternal image of God. The returned exiles will have the experience of a child being fondled by its loving mother. They will be like suckling infants enjoying the comfort and nurture of a mother because the city will give them the experience of Yahweh’s love and care, the Temple of Jerusalem will represent and house God’s presence in their midst, and "the Lord's power shall be known to his servants." The prophet calls on his fellow-Jews to rejoice and be glad because Jerusalem will be greater, more peaceful and more prosperous than she ever was before. In today’ Gospel, Luke describes the fulfillment of the prophetic promise made by Isaiah in Jesus’ commissioning of 72 disciples to preach the Gospel in towns and villages in preparation for his visit.

The Second Reading, Galatians 6:14-18 explained. Today we hear the concluding words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Shortly after Paul left Galatia, some ultra-conservative Judeo-Christians ("Judaizers”) arrived there from Jerusalem. They taught that, since the historical Jesus was Jewish, circumcised and observant of the Torah, his disciples had to be circumcised as Jews and had to observe the Torah. Responding, Paul wrote a letter to those in Galatia who were disturbed and confused by these new teachings. Paul was angry with the Galatians for their stupidly in accepting the false arguments of the Judaizers.  In the letter, Paul argues forcefully that God requires no such thing, and that keeping such a false obligation is nothing to boast about.  Astonishingly, Paul boasts about what would otherwise be shameful, the execution of Jesus on the cross. "Crucified to the world" is another strong image, meaning that Paul's relationship with the world is no longer governed by the old Mosaic Law or anything else from the past, but by his relationship with Christ crucified.

Gospel exegesis: 1) Travel tips for the seventy-two walking witnesses on their first mission trip: While all the synoptic Gospels mention a mission of the Twelve, only Luke adds a second mission of the 72.  Moses selected the seventy-two elders to guide and govern his people. Here, Luke shows us Jesus doing something similar, sending out in pairs, seventy-two other disciples to towns and villages to announce his visit.  In this way, Jesus connects his Messianic mission with the whole of Israel’s history in which 72 had become a symbolic number. In the Book of Genesis, seventy descendants of Jacob moved with him from Israel to Egypt to begin a new life.  In the Book of Exodus, seventy elders go up the Mountain of God along with Moses to learn about the new Covenant with YHWH. The Jews also believed that there were seventy-two nations in the whole world, and they had seventy-two members in the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews. Each of us, by the very fact that we have heard the Lord's call, is likewise sent on a mission. Hence, announcing the Good News of the kingdom is not something optional for a Christian. The disciples received instructions as to how they were to carry out their mission. For example, they were to "carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals." There is also an ominous warning that they are sent as “lambs among wolves.” Their guidelines were simple: go where they were received (verses 5-6); remain in one place (verse 7) and eat what was set before them (verse 8). This would help them avoid the appearance of being mercenary.  The basic idea behind Jesus’ instruction is that his disciples were sent as walking witnesses, and, hence, they were not to
depend on anything or anybody except on the Holy Spirit of God and on Divine providence.

2) "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to the harvest.” The mission of the seventy-two disciples was not a human project, and, hence, they needed strength from God to do the work.   In proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, we, too, participate in God’s work. It is the Lord Who is working in and through us. He gives us the power to announce His presence with our lives. Therefore, constant contact with the Lord of the harvest is necessary.   This means that we must be men and women of prayer -- not only for an hour a week at Mass but on a daily basis.

3) "Do not carry a walking staff or traveling bag; wear no sandals." In Jesus’ day, travelers carried a stick as a defense against snakes and wild animals and used sandals as an aid in traveling along dusty roads and rocky byways.  Likewise, a change of clothing as well as food and drink were thought necessary—but Jesus forbade all these. His command was that the disciples should give up even these necessities so as to be both a living act of Faith in God and “walking signs” to those who saw them.  The disciples were only armed with their Faith and the name of Jesus. They needed nothing more. Their detachment from material goods would enable them to uphold the absolute priority of preaching the Good News. They did not need a staff or provisions because God would take care of them through the people to whom they were to preach. The spirit of detachment would also help them to trust more deeply in Divine Providence and would oblige them to rely humbly on the hospitality of those who were receptive to the Gospel. Their lifestyle should help proclaim their message: "The reign of God is at hand." In other words, "God is among you as Jesus of Nazareth, working with power."

4) "Greet no one along the way." (See also 2 Kings 4:29). This instruction implies that the mission was so urgent that nothing should divert the disciples from it.  Likewise, the disciples were told to travel in pairs (perhaps for mutual support), suggesting that the work of evangelization should be a collective one.

5) Acceptance and rejection: One of the reasons we prefer to delegate our Lord's evangelistic work to priests, religious and missionaries is that we fear rejection. When by our words and lifestyles we tell others about Jesus, we sometimes find ourselves labeled as “religious fanatics," “Bible-thumpers,” or perhaps, simply as “old-fashioned.” Many times, we take the rejection personally.  So Jesus consoles us: "Let your peace come back to you.”  This means, “Don’t take it personally.  You have done your part, so don’t worry about the outcome.” He goes on, telling them, “Rejoice because your names are written in Heaven” in the Book of Life!  It is not up to us to force anyone to accept Jesus. Our mission is to prepare the way. If a person's heart is open, the Lord will enter in.

6) Preach that the Kingdom of God is at hand. The Kingdom of God comes into being wherever God reigns, and wherever His will is done. The Kingdom of God is present in the people through whom God acts. “Hence the early Church equated Christ with the Kingdom of God because God reigns in Christ, God’s will is done in Christ, and God acts through Christ” (Lumen Gentium, #5). Thus, to proclaim the Kingdom of God is the same as to proclaim Christ. In fact, the Church from its beginning, by proclaiming the Good News of Christ, was being faithful to his mandate to proclaim the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God has come upon us if God reigns in our hearts, if we do God's will and if God acts through us.

Life Messages: 1) We need to continue Christ’s mission by proclaiming the Good News: Just as Jesus in today’s Gospel gives instructions to the seventy-two missionaries, he also gives each one of us a mission to carry out. There were just a handful of followers in Jesus’ day to preach the Good News, but today there are over one billion Roman Catholics and about a half billion other Christians (in 30,000 denominations!) who accept Jesus as “Lord” and “Savior.” So there are 1.5 billion missionaries in a world of six billion people.  A recent survey asked the question, “Why do adults join the Catholic Church in spite of the scandals publicized in the media?”  Seventy-five percent of the new adult converts to the Catholic Church reported that they were attracted by a personal invitation from a Catholic who had a lively relationship with Christ and his Church.  As faithful Catholics, we will attract others to the Catholic Church—just as a rose attracts people by its beauty and fragrance. It’s our job.  It’s our responsibility. We must not miss the current opportunities to be apostles in everyday life by our words and deeds.

2)  We need to avoid giving counter-witness:  The Church is founded on the rock of Peter, a humble, uneducated fisherman who died for the Lord he loved. Compare his Faith and heroic witnessing with the “supermarket Catholicism” of our politicians who publicly proclaim their “Catholicism,” yet support abortion, gay marriage, human cloning and experimentation with human embryos. We should not be “Catholics for a Free Choice” who oppose anything proposed by the Church, including the most basic right to life. Nor should we be armchair Catholics, spiritual weekend-warriors, “cafeteria Catholics,” or “barely-make-it-to-Mass” members of the Church, who bear counter-witness to Christ. Instead of giving counter-witness, let us become heralds of the Kingdom in our own homes by treating each other with profound respect. When spouses respect each other and, thus, teach their children to do the same, our neighbors will experience the Kingdom in our families, because the Kingdom of God is God’s rule in our hearts enabling us to do His will.

3) The modern world needs the heroic witnessing of martyrs. The early writers of the Church never called the first Christians “martyrs,” in the modern sense of the word, but rather gave that name to those who died “giving witness” (martyrein) to Christ. The most important element wasn’t their deaths; it was their fidelity to their Faith until the last moment of their lives. Martyrs are not people to be relegated to the distant past. Recent history abounds with examples of martyrdom: civil war in Spain, religious persecution in Poland, Mexico, Vietnam, Russia, China, and Africa. The names of Edith Stein (Germany), Maximilian
Kolbe (Poland), Miguel Pro (Mexico), and Pedro Poveda (Spain) are only the beginning of a long list of innocent victims, witnesses for their Faith. Even today, religious freedom is still denied in various countries and, in fact, several Muslim nations forbid the celebration of the Sacraments. In our day, there are also “moral martyrs” who, although they are never physically killed, die an ignominious death, persecuted in the press, defamed in the media and falsely accused of faults they never committed. As successors of the seventy-two disciples, we are called upon to do Christ’s work with the courage of these martyrs’ convictions. (Fr. Antony Kadavil).

04 July 2019, 11:33