FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR


Commentaries on Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke10:1-12,17-20

IT IS ALWAYS AN EXPERIENCE for people who are committed Christians to be living among people for whom God in practice hardly exists, people who seem to have little direction and meaning in their lives beyond having a job, getting money and indulging in some level of enjoyment. For such Christians the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage have much meaning: “The harvest is great and the labourers are few.” Certainly those words must have seemed so true for the early Christians as they lived in relatively tiny communities in a sea of paganism and religions steeped in superstition and fatalism. At the time, the Church was truly like the tiny mustard seed or the small measure of yeast swallowed up in a large batch of dough.

Today, there are reportedly about one billion Christians in the world. That is about one fifth of the world’s total population. Those early labourers clearly did not work in vain. The mustard seed grew into a large tree providing shelter for thousands. The invisible yeast worked its influence on the seemingly inert dough.

How many labourers?

Yet, put another way, four out of five people have not yet accepted the Way of Jesus. (Of course, a large proportion of these are committed to other faiths and many of them are deeply religious. But there is still a large proportion which is agnostic or are practical atheists – they live their lives as if God did not exist.)

Among so many who do call themselves Christians, how many could be deemed active labours in God’s vineyard? For the harvest is still great. Quite often, by “labourers” we think of priests, or religious brothers and sisters, those who have a “vocation”. One hears people expressing regret that today there are so few “vocations”. What will the Church do? How will it carry on?

However, it is doubtful that Jesus was thinking of priests and religious when he spoke those words. In fact, in the world of the New Testament there were no priests or religious as we understand those terms today. In the mind of Jesus – and in the mind of the early evangelists – everyone who was known as a follower of Christ was expected to be a labourer in the harvest field. (Paul, for instance, was an apostle, a great preacher and evangeliser but he was not a bishop or a priest, terms which had not yet taken shape. He was a layman and made his living as a tentmaker.)

What are we to do?

What kind of work are we expected to do? Where can we find the time above and beyond earning our daily living and being with our families? Are we to try and convert every single person in our society to the Christian faith? Certainly, if we find that no one wants to share our faith-vision and the life that follows from it, then there is something seriously wrong with the way we are seen to live our Christian lives.

On the other hand, it would be quite unrealistic to expect that every single person will find faith in Jesus. Experience over 2,000 years tells us that this does not happen. And, while we may experience that our Christian faith provides a precious dimension of meaning which is everything to us, we cannot exclude the possibility that God can and does call others to himself in his own way.

What really matters

In the Second Reading, Paul, speaking to the Galatians, says that it does not matter if a person is circumcised or not. Could we say today that going through the ritual of being baptised may not be the most important thing either? What does matter, says Paul, is “to become an altogether new creature”. Unless I am on the way to becoming a genuinely transformed person in the image of Jesus, then my baptism and all my other religious experiences have very little value.

Christianity is not an end in itself. It is simply a very effective, and, we believe, the most effective way, of becoming that altogether new kind of human person that Jesus and Paul speak about. This new person has a deep sense of both God’s utter transcendence and utter immanence, the God who constantly calls us beyond where we are and who, at the same time, deeply penetrates our being and our every experience. This new person lives a life of perfect integrity and truth, a life of deep compassion and concern. This new person lives in freedom and peace.

So it is that, in today’s Gospel, Jesus recommends his disciples not to weigh themselves down with all kinds of bag and baggage. Their security is not in material possessions, in what they have – money, property, investments, credit cards… It is not in their status and standing in the eyes of others. It is not in the power and influence that they can wield. Their security comes from deep within, a security that no one or no circumstance can take away from them.

Peace

One word that occurs in all three readings today is “peace”. Isaiah, in the First Reading, speaks of God sending “flowing peace, like a river”. Paul speaks of the peace and mercy that come to all who become that transformed person in Jesus Christ. And, in the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to bring peace with them to every house they enter. This peace is not dependent on outside circumstances. It can exist even when we are surrounded by storms. It is the peace Jesus experienced after his prayer in the garden. It is the peace that Paul experiences, even though he has had his share of the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and who bears in his own body the marks of Jesus’ pain and suffering.

So our task as Christians is to be bringers of peace. Of course, we need that peace and inner security within ourselves first of all. It is a peace that a close following of Jesus can bring. It is a peace that our conventional society, wracked as it is with so many externally-caused stresses and fears and ambitions, seldom seems to know.

We are called today to become labourers with Jesus in the harvest that is the society in which we live. It is a society that seems so rich and prosperous and yet is so impoverished of the security and peace it so frenetically seeks to find. We are called today to labour so that our society may be gradually transformed into a place where the values of the Gospel, often so little understood even by ourselves, will prevail.

Bringing Jesus

Jesus sent out his seventy-two disciples “to all the places he himself was to visit”. That is an interesting remark. Who comes first to any place? Is it Jesus or me? As a person baptised in Jesus’ name, I am a part of his Body. Where the body is, there, too, is the person. Where I go the then, Jesus also comes to visit. Jesus does not go before us. Nor does he come after us. We come together!

But if I do not go, if I do not reach out, then to some extent Jesus does not go, Jesus does not reach out. I am part of his Body, I am the visible indication of his presence. My voice is his voice. “Who hears you, hears me,” he told his disciples once. If I do not speak his message, who will get to hear it?

The disciples came back from their mission rejoicing and excited. They discovered they could do the same things that Jesus was doing. So can we. And, unless we try, we are not worthy of our baptism, which becomes an empty ritual like circumcision.

Where to start?

But where do I start? I cannot single-handedly convert the whole of my society! We can, however, follow the example of someone like Mother Teresa. She realised that there were thousands and thousands of the poor, destitute and dying who needed her immediate help. But she started with just one at a time.

It reminds one of the story about the man who was seen picking up beached starfish from the strand and throwing them back into the sea. Someone who was watching said, “You’re wasting your time. There are thousands of them; throwing back a handful will make no difference.” “It will make a difference to each one thrown back,” replied the man. I too can start with just one person – today.

To be a labourer in the harvest is for the happiness of others to be as important as your own. It is to experience inner peace and to be a bringer of peace to others. How life would be changed if we all tried to do that! What a difference it would make!

 

 

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