In the Readings for this Sunday, Jesus continues his final journey, his fateful “death march” toward Jerusalem (Luke 9–19, the “Travel Narrative”) that began formally in Luke 9:51. The past several Sundays have foreshadowed Jesus' coming suffering and death, but this Sunday we get a reprieve as themes of suffering recede into the background. We are temporarily caught up in the joy of Jesus' ministry, as he assembles around himself a congregation of disciples who constitute a spiritual “Jerusalem.” In the healing ministry of Jesus and his disciples, we see a fulfillment of certain prophecies of peace and restoration to the “holy city” of the LORD.
1. The First Reading is Is 66:10-14c:
Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her,
all you who love her;
exult, exult with her,
all you who were mourning over her!
Oh, that you may suck fully
of the milk of her comfort,
that you may nurse with delight
at her abundant breasts!
For thus says the LORD:
Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.
As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms,
and fondled in her lap;
as a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.
When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;
the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.
This text comes almost at the end of the Book of Isaiah, concluding a long section (Isa 56-66) that foresees the fate of Jerusalem and the people of God in the future, in days to come. Reading through these chapters, one finds again and again that their will be division of God's people at some point in the future (from the perspective of the prophet, c. 700 BC) into two groups who experience very different fates. Stern judgment will fall on the unfaithful among God's people, whereas the faithful will experience great joy at the restoration their city and people. This faithful group is called “my servants” (65:9,13-14), the “remnant” (46:3), and they also receive a “new name”(62:2; 63:15). They are hated by their own brethren for the sake of the LORD's name (66:5), but God will vindicate them and judge their persecutors (66:6). Nonetheless, this division within the people of God, resulting in a righteous remnant and a rebellious, persecuting majority does not mean a narrowing of God's plan of salvation. Instead, there will be successive waves of mission to the nations (Gentiles) in which God's glory will be proclaimed and the nations gathered to Zion along with the remnant of the people of Israel (66:18-21).
This Sunday's Reading is situated in the midst of this larger framework. The faithful of God's people, those who “love Jerusalem” and all that Jerusalem stands for (the true worship of God) will see the restoration of the city. They will experience her as a tender mother who nourishes her children.
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is assembling around himself a “new Jerusalem,” a new community of properly ordered worship. As he sends out the seventy-two on a mission to preach Good News and heal the sick, the people of Israel experience God's love as like that of a tender mother, and they themselves have the opportunity to join the “new Jerusalem” by accepting the preaching of the disciples.
The prophets frequently personify Jerusalem as a young princess from the House of David under the title “the daughter of Zion.” In this way we perceive lady Jerusalem as a type of our Blessed Mother, the most perfect embodiment of the Davidic royal daughter. Though the Marian dimension of the text is not developed in this Sunday's Readings, we may understand Isaiah's prophecy as also being fulfilled in the tender spiritual care Our Lady provides to those who love her Son. It pleases God to express the maternal aspects of his love for us through the intercessions of the Theotokos.
2. The Responsorial Psalm is Ps 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20:
R. (1) Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Shout joyfully to God, all the earth,
sing praise to the glory of his name;
proclaim his glorious praise.
Say to God, “How tremendous are your deeds!”
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
“Let all on earth worship and sing praise to you,
sing praise to your name!”
Come and see the works of God,
his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
He has changed the sea into dry land;
through the river they passed on foot;
therefore let us rejoice in him.
He rules by his might forever.
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Hear now, all you who fear God, while I declare
what he has done for me.
Blessed be God who refused me not
my prayer or his kindness!
R. Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.
Psalm 66 falls in Book II of the Psalter (Pss 42–72), which is the most triumphant of the five books of the Psalter save the last (Book V). Unlike Book I (Pss 3–41), Book II is not dominated by psalms of individual lament, that is, complaint psalms reflecting the worshiper in distress. Instead, several psalms in Book II reflect the glory of Zion (=Jerusalem), the Temple-sanctuary, and the Davidic reign. Psalm 66 occurs in a subsection of Psalms (Pss 65–68) that reflect on God's great acts of salvation, and call on all the nations to praise God, especially at his sanctuary in Zion. This psalm provides us appropriate words of response after hearing of the salvation of Zion/Jerusalem prophesied by Isaiah in the First Reading.
3. The Second Reading is Gal 6:14-18:
Brothers and sisters:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
through which the world has been crucified to me,
and I to the world.
For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.
Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule
and to the Israel of God.
From now on, let no one make troubles for me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,
brothers and sisters. Amen.
This is the ending of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, from which we have been reading selections over the past few weeks. The main point of this Epistle has been to emphasize that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ (that is, by entering into the New Covenant which he embodies), not by the observation of laws and ceremonies of the Old Covenant (that is, the covenant mediated by Moses and finalized in the Book of Deuteronomy). In this passage, Paul uses “circumcision” and “uncircumcision” as loaded terms. “Circumcision” refers to the entire lifestyle characterized by observation of the purity laws of the Old Testament. “Uncircumcision” refers to the lifestyle lived by pagan Gentiles before their conversion. Neither Old Testament religion nor paganism “mean anything” anymore--that is, neither is salvific. The only thing that is meaningful is “a new creation,” which is Paul's expression summing up the fullness of the New Covenant established by Christ: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation!” (2 Cor 5:17).
The immediately following phrase should be translated in this way: “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, that is, to the Israel of God.” St. Paul identifies the Church as the “Israel of God,” that is, as the spiritual Israel, for “he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal. His praise is not from men but from God” (Rom 2:28-29). Paul reinterprets Israel in spiritual rather than ethnic terms. This reinterpretation is fundamental to Christian identity and faith, even if simultaneously the Church does not deny a continuing theological significance to the community of ethnic Jews. Paul explains the continued significance of ethnic Israel in Romans 9–11, and the Catechism explains further in §839–840. St. Paul's understanding of the Church as the “Israel of God” also provides the necessary hermeneutical principle for applying the First Reading to the Church. “Jerusalem” as the “mother city” (Gk metropolis) of the “Israel of God” now applies to the Church in her ministers and sacraments. The flow of the sacraments from the Church to her children, especially the Eucharist, is the “mother's milk” with which Jerusalem nourishes her young.
Jesus is a “Jew of Jews,” the embodiment of Israel, and the Church is his body. Therefore the Church is the Israel of God. In a special way, St. Paul's physical body was conformed to the body of Christ. He says “I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” This may refer to all the wounds and scars Paul bore due to his many tortures (2 Cor 11:22-29), badges of honor in his service to Christ. Or perhaps it indicates St. Paul was the first stigmatist in the history of the Church.
4. The Gospel is Lk 10:1-12, 17-20:
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”
The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said,
“Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.
Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions
and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.
Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
The role of the seventy (or seventy-two) disciples, in addition to the Twelve Apostles, is frequently overlooked in our study of the New Testament, but it was important. Jesus was setting up the New Israel in his ministry, and in addition to the Twelve, who were simultaneously the New Patriarchs, the New Tribal Princes (see Num 7), and the New Officers of Israel (see 1 Kgs 4), Jesus also chose seventy others, who correspond to Moses' seventy elders over the tribes (Num 11:16-30). Just as Moses had twelve tribal princes and seventy elders (Numbers 7; 11:16-30), the New Moses has the Twelve Apostles and Seventy Disciples.
The mission of the seventy in Luke 10 is similar to, but clearly distinct from, the mission of the Twelve in Matt 10:5-15 and Luke 9:1-6. Although the passages are similar, they refer to two distinct events. The Twelve are explicitly sent only to Jewish territory (Matt 10:5) and for that reason are given no instruction about how to deal with Gentile or Samaritan food. The Seventy, however, are sent to Gentile and Samaritan territory, so Jesus has to instruct them explicitly on how to handle conscience issues regarding the observation of Kosher laws. Gentiles did not keep kosher, and Samaritans had different kosher regulations. Jesus tells them not to be concerned about this: “eat whatever they provide” (10:7) without asking questions of conscience.
The Seventy are part of the nucleus of the Church, the “Israel of God.” Better, as office holders and official representatives, they represent the New Jerusalem of the First Reading, that is, the ministering Church that cares for her members. Their role is analogous to that of the diaconate: they serve under and in support of Christ (the great episkopos) and the Apostles (the presbuteroi). They go before to prepare the way in towns which Jesus and the Twelve would later visit. So their ministry was preparatory, focused on preaching and attending to material needs (healings). Nonetheless, they also participate in the ministry of spiritual deliverance against the demonic.
Jesus gives the Seventy specific instructions based on the time and culture in which they ministered. These specifics may be impractical elsewhere: it would be difficult to evangelize Scandinavia barefoot, for example. Nonetheless, the general principle of apostolic zeal and trust in God for material provision should continue to characterize the Church's evangelistic mission. The Church still needs people who will go without the comforts of a bourgeois lifestyle (like having health insurance and a 401K) in order to evangelize in a direct and immediate way. The Catholic Church needs preachers, persons who will proclaim Jesus to people who haven't heard of him or have forgotten him, not just lapsed church-goers. The mission of the Seventy was accompanied by deeds of power. Perhaps one of the reasons deeds of power seem rare these days is the lack of bold action based on faith among those of us who call ourselves Catholic. Heaven and hell are still real. The Gospel of Jesus Christ still confronts every human being. Preaching and evangelistic mission are just as necessary now as they were two thousand years ago. This Sunday let's pray for revival of the Church's evangelistic zeal, beginning in our own parishes.