Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Homily 7 July 2019
IS 66:10-14C; PS 66; GAL 6:14-18; LK 10:1-12, 17-20
In the Gospel passage which we read today, we find it’s often referred to as the sending out of the seventy-two. It’s a wonderful piece full of details beginning with the fact that the Lord sent them out, not alone, but two by two. I’ve a particular love for this Gospel because it’s the one I chose for my first Mass thirty-eight years ago. Many beautiful commentaries have been written about it, but I’d like today to reflect on the part that is commented upon less-the return of the seventy-two to Jesus, and His teaching of them and His guidance of them.
The first thing we’re told is that they came back rejoicing. It reminds me of when I was in youth ministry. Debriefing is very important, especially at the end of a long day at World Youth Day. We would look together at the events of that day and share our reflections of what had been done before, good and bad. In today’s Gospel, the debriefing is exciting because the disciples are full of joy, and they want to share their success with the Lord, “Even the demons are subject to us because of Your name.” This is a little bit like our small group meetings in the Monastic Institute when we share our wisdom and what is happening among us, and what is important is that it is done joyfully. Joy is one of the hallmarks of the Christian disciple. Blessed Columba Marmion famously said, “Joy is the echo of God’s life in us.” A joyless Christianity is a contradiction in terms. Pope Francis has even spoken of “Sourpuss Christianity” as no Christianity at all. So the question for us is, “What do I radiate on my face? What does my face tell me about my heart?”
The next moment of the story is that Jesus encourages them. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you power to tread on serpents and scorpions and the full force of the enemy, and nothing will ever harm you.” Encouragement is a great gift. Recently I had the privilege of speaking on the Feast of St. Barnabas, who was known as the “Son of Encouragement.” The number of people in the community and the others that spoke to me about encouragement afterwards taught me that I struck a deep chord, not because of any particular eloquence of mine, but because encouragement is so important and needed in all our lives. Nelson Mandela once said that people won’t remember a lot of things about you after they have met you, but they will always remember the way you treated them. It is encouragement which builds up community, which we are to use in ministry again. When I took over my job I remember reading several books on management, and the best bit of advice I got from them all was the one which said, “Go around as the leader; try to find someone doing something good or right, and then praise them immediately for their efforts.” I’ve always found it works. We could ask ourselves, “Am I an encourager or a discourager? Do I build people up or bring them down? When did I last say a word of encouragement to someone?”
The next moment in the story is when Jesus gives them a wider perspective than success for their efforts. “Yes,” He tells them, “it is great that you are rejoicing, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.” He is aware that while this mission is very successful, others will not be, and they will have to cope with failure too. So, He emphasizes their call, that they are called by name. It reminds me of a close friend of mine who went profoundly deaf. His mother once asked him, by writing out the question, “What do you most miss about being able to hear?” And he wrote back, “What I most miss is that I will never hear anyone utter my name again.” Names are important and are given to be used. That’s why we use name tags. That’s why in the communion we name saints for us to venerate and imitate. In monastic life, we celebrate name days, as some of us change our names to illustrate our commitment to a new way of life.
Finally, and this is not in the text, but we can presume on it, Jesus sends them put again, probably again two by two, and with the same instructions. We can draw from that that God is not finished with us yet, and as we read today’s Gospel, we can ask, “What am I being called to do now? What road am I being sent on? Who am I being sent to?” The call is different at different stages of our lives.
Dear sisters and brothers, what a wonderful Gospel this is. Let us know that it is the Lord that sends us out two by two, who welcomes us back with joy, who encourages us, who calls us by name and then sends us out again. It is surely a cause for rejoicing for us too.