The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 66:10-14  +  Galatians 6:14-18  +  Luke 10:1-9
July 3, 2016

“…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you….”

Father Sam may have explained that one of the reasons I’m residing at Aleppo is because my chief assignment is Chaplain for the IHM Sisters, who last year moved into their new convent two miles south of Colwich.  It’s a much shorter drive to the convent than the drive I had this past year.  But a happy consequence of residing at Aleppo is serving in the two parishes where my classmate, Father Sam, is pastor.

Father Sam and I were not only ordained deacons together on November 26, 1994 and priests on May 27, 1995.  We attended the same undergraduate seminary at Conception, Missouri, and the same graduate seminary outside of Chicago.  At the time, he and I were the only two seminarians from Wichita to attend the seminary at Chicago, so to save money, we drove together several times a year back and forth from our diocese to Chicago.

That drive took about 14 hours (or 12, if Father Sam was driving).  Either way, that’s a long time to be in a Crown Vic with someone, and you certainly learn a lot about someone over the course of several such trips.  For example, I learned that Father Sam has a strong baritone voice, that he admires President Ronald Reagan, and that he likes to make prank phone calls (thank goodness there were no cell phones back then!).

The more I got to know him, the more I shook my head at God’s Providence, that the Lord would call two such very different persons to the same priesthood.  You know, often young men ask the question—either out loud, or silently in their prayers—whether they’re the right kind of person to be a priest.  But that’s the wrong question, because there is no single kind of person God calls to be a priest.  The right question to ask is simply, “Does God want me to be a priest?”  You see that the emphasis is on God and what He wants, not on me and what I want:  “Does God want me to be a priest?”

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This emphasis on God and His holy will is also at the heart of today’s lengthy Gospel passage.  In fact, it’s not only lengthy.  Within it, Jesus changes the subject several times, shifting our attention here and there.  But the setting for everything that Jesus says shows how these topics fit together.  So what is this setting?

“At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs[,] to every town and place [that] he intended to visit.”  “At that time”, the evangelist states.  What time is this?  This is just some ten verses after last Sunday’s Gospel passage began, where the evangelist told us that “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem”.  That is to say, Jesus resolutely determined to journey to His death.  At that time, of Jesus resolutely determining to journey to His death at Jerusalem, He appointed and sent ahead seventy-two disciples.  This is the setting, the backdrop, for all that happens in today’s Gospel passage:  His journey to Jerusalem, the place of His destined death.

As you reflect on this passage, be mindful that in the year 2016, you as a disciple are mirrored by these seventy-two whom Jesus appointed.  What He wanted the seventy-two to carry out, He wants you to carry out.  What He says to them before they leave, He is saying today to you.  What He says to them when they return at the end of the passage, He is saying today to you.  What Jesus says here applies not only to those called to the priesthood and consecrated life:  His words apply also to those who are married and those who strive to be good parents and grandparents.

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The first parting words that Jesus offers might not at first seem relevant to the mission on which He’s sending out His disciples.  Hopefully you’ll understand how they’re extremely relevant to yourself.  There are two points here.

“‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for His harvest.’”  When we hear this command, our first thought might be praying for vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.  The faithful in the parishes of our diocese are very used to praying for such vocations, and we’re blessed here in Western Sedgwick County to see young people answering the Lord’s call.

There’s no doubt that every one of us needs to pray and make sacrifices for the sake of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life.  There’s no doubt that Jesus commands all of us to do so.  But we need to notice something particular about this command from Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t appoint the seventy-two, send the seventy-two off, wave good-bye to the seventy-two as they trail off into the distance, and then turn around to the rest of His disciples and command them to ask the master of the harvest to send out more laborers.  Instead, it’s the very people He’s appointing to go harvest that He commands to ask for more harvesters.  Why does Jesus do this?

In one word, the reason why Jesus does this is:  “fraternity”.  Brotherhood.  Those whom Jesus appoints to ministry are brothers in the harvest.  The harvesters themselves need to pray for more harvesters so that they will eventually have someone to take their places in the field.  Put another way, the harvesters need to remember while they’re in the field that it’s not their field, not their harvest, and not their commission.

This is the first point.  Jesus is the one in charge.  He is the “commissioner”, so to speak, as we hear at the beginning of today’s Gospel passage:  “the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place [that] He intended to visit.”  The Lord sends the seventy-two as “advance men”, we might call them, to prepare them for Jesus who will come afterwards.

Likewise, when Jesus sends the seventy-two, He sends them in pairs.  Here is the second point.  Surely Jesus did this, also, for the sake of fraternity:  so that the harvesters would not feel alone in the field.  But being sent in pairs would also have another beneficial effect:  it would keep an individual harvester from putting himself forward as the master of the harvest instead of as his laborer.  In the Church, when a “cult of personality” develops around a single harvester, the message of the Lord gets lost.  So being sent in pairs, as well as asking for additional harvesters, helps keep the focus of everyone on the Master of the Harvest:  on Jesus, who intends to visit, to beckon others to join His journey to Jerusalem.

So it’s not hard to see how Jesus’ first two points apply to those called to Holy Orders, and to those called to consecrated life.  But do they also apply to the majority of Christians who are called to Holy Matrimony and parenting?

The first point was this:  the person called to labor for the Lord is a laborer, and not the Master of the Harvest.  Jesus is in charge.  This is a vital truth for married persons and parents.  Do you know any married couples who ever argue whether the husband or the wife ought to be in charge?  Do you know any couples who have divorced because they couldn’t agree on who was supposed to be in charge?  Do you know any married couples who hold grudges against each other because of past disagreements over who was meant, in a given situation, to be in charge?

Most of these arguments assume that either the wife must be in charge, or the husband must be in charge.  They altogether overlook a third possibility:  that Jesus be in charge of their marriage.  This isn’t only a possibility, of course.  It’s the truth that Jesus is trying to get through our thick skulls today.

Practically speaking, how can a married couple, or for that matter how can a separated or divorced couple who want to reconcile, make this truth a concrete foundation for their lives together?  The answer is very simple, and takes very little time, but many couples choose not to make it a part of their marriage.  It’s for the husband and wife to pray together each and every day.

It doesn’t have to be a Holy Hour spent together before the Blessed Sacrament, although that might be a goal to set for down the road.  It doesn’t have to be even a Rosary prayed together each day, although that’s a goal that couples ought to work towards.  A couple’s daily prayer together can be as simple as a single decade of the Rosary:  that is, announcing the Mystery, and praying an Our Father, ten Hail Mary’s, and a Glory Be.  A husband and wife might each voice out loud one of two petitions before beginning the prayer.  By means of all of this, couples allow their prayer to shape their minds and hearts, so to understand and to believe that Jesus is the Lord of their married life, the source of all blessings, and the source of true reconciliation whenever needed.

When a married couple, through prayer, places Jesus in charge, the second point of Jesus to the seventy-two becomes more clear.  Just as Jesus sent the seventy-two out in pairs in order to help them as they labor in the field, so it is with marriage and parenting.  This truth benefits not only the spouses themselves, but also their children well.  This truth is part of God’s design for Marriage and family life:  that each child has a mother and a father to help him in different ways to see in his life that Jesus is the Lord of his life, so that he can more freely accept whatever vocation that God wants for him.

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The majority of today’s Gospel passage, which follows after the part we’ve just reflected on, consists of Jesus describing to His harvesters what their work in the field will involve.  Jesus offers something that sounds like a warning:  “behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”  Why does Jesus say this?  He’s helping His harvesters to understand that their mission is like His own.

Just as Jesus is headed resolutely for Jerusalem, the place where He will be condemned for your sins, and crucified on a hill just outside the city, so Jesus sends His harvesters, His laborers, His field workers, “like lambs among wolves.”

I don’t need to tell you that the last thing that parents want for their children is for them to be in harm’s way.  Every instinct of a parent is to shield their child from every danger.  But parents:  if your children are going to follow Jesus, He is going to send them “like lambs among wolves.”  This really isn’t any different than what Jesus says countless times throughout the whole of the Gospel.  For example:  “the gate is wide and road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few.”[1]  Your children need to be among those few.

Your children—that is to say, the children of our parish—need to be ready to follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.  We heard Jesus put this to us very plainly two Sundays ago:  “Deny your self and take up your cross daily and follow me.”[2]  These words are not just for adults.  These words apply just as much, if not more, to children, because if you’re not schooled from an early age to deny your self, to take up your cross daily, and to follow Jesus, you’ll never have the strength once you’re an adult to walk the constricted road.

Maybe this doesn’t sound very optimistic.  But Jesus always wins against the wolves.  So do those who faithfully follow Him.  We only need to read for ourselves the end of today’s Gospel passage to understand this.  We need to take solace in the final words Jesus speaks to us today:  “[d]o not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.”  If we follow the Will of Our Father, Jesus will lead us to Him, through all things.

[1] Matthew 7:13-14.
[2] Luke 9:23.