14th Sunday of Yea
‘The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speaks all languages,
It esteems and embraces all cultures.
It supports them in everything human and,
when necessary, it purifies them.
Always and everywhere the Gospel uplifts and enriches cultures
with the revealed message of a loving and merciful God.’
Pope John Paul ll
Pope Francis constantly calls the Church to get out of itself, to let go of fear and self-interest, to connect with the reality of people’s lives, and make the Gospel come alive where people are suffering, struggling, working and even rejoicing. He says that the church can become asphyxiated and sick when it is self-defensive and withdrawing into itself. For Francis, ‘The Church must go out of itself to the edge, to bear witness to the Gospel and meet others’ in concrete ways, to meet the poor, to meet the stranger, to meet the vulnerable wherever they are, to reach out to understand them, learn from and be in solidarity with them. And when people are pushed to the edges, we must also be there. Our challenge here is to be in solidarity, to walk with, listen with deep ears to all people.
The readings have much to say given the current state of the world. The Earth bears the burden of climate change, pollution, and deforestation. We are increasingly divided and demoralised with increased racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, classism, and xenophobia. It is here that we are conduits of God’s love and mercy in the world. As things look bleak, unforgiving, and even hopeless, we are reminded of the transforming power of the ordinary and how small things can make a difference in our world. This is not always obvious when we do not see signs of hope. When Jesus sent the 72 out, they were preparing for the change that comes with repentance, the peace kindness brings, the relief that comes with healing and the strength coming with being acknowledged.
Isaiah offers a message of hope, freedom, and renewal. The destroyed city Jerusalem, as the chaotic or ‘ragged’ church, can be instrumental in bringing comfort to a defeated and deflated people. God will act to bring about true humanity. Hope is essentially quiet, yet people are ministering in refugee camps in Greece, Kenya, Eritrea, Central African Republic, Somalia, and at Cox's Bazaar, not to mention 8 million displaced Ukrainians. These people create hope. The point is that God does not act in a vacuum but through human (sacramental) means to show a merciful face to people facing life-shattering experiences: loss, brutality, abandoned, abused, ridiculed, etc. Isaiah presents God as Mother of the Exiles, for those who are imprisoned, tortured, terrorised, alienated, expelled, deported, and oppressed. ‘As one whom a Mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be strengthened.’ This powerful image must be revived from the margins and find a place in our hearts, prayer, and daily living. This God is capable of pathos and grieving. God grieves for the brutalised and exiled Palestinians; God grieves when First Nations people are estranged in their own land and live with racist policies that sees them incarcerated at percentages beyond their population; God grieves when people, persecuted in their own countries have their experience dismissed and their sense of alienation reinforced when they seek protection; God grieves with peoples of Oceania facing the effects of climate change; God grieves when LGBTIQ people are still marginalised. Isaiah’s shows that God identifies with us and grieves when we fail to look, to listen, to act, and to act imaginatively and creatively. God’s heart has been allowed to break open in order to embrace the pain in the world. It is the only way in which healing is possible. The invitation is to us to allow our hearts to break open to allow compassion and love emerge. The harvest that Jesus is referring to is the tremendous pain so many people live with day. We could go into that world and bring open hearts, listening ears and prayerful presence and relieve the burdens of others – but only if we are authentic about the pain we carry, as Henri Nouwen puts so well in The Wounded Healer. Others can relate, when we share experiences of grief, mental illness, economic insecurity, addiction, strains on our families, and other challenges that cause us hurt. And in relating, they are not only meeting us, but meeting Jesus, who has sent us out ahead of him. So often we our message has not been hope-filled for a hurting, bruised and broken world. The laborers will grow, not through promotion or marketing strategies, but through attraction. We can only help if we are authentic about our own pain. People can relate when we are vulnerable – not dominating or controlling. We can, each of us in company, bring hope to our hurting, bruised and broken world. It is not through promotion, great lights, or slick advertisements but through our humanity that we can attract people into the company of the God’s love and care.
As disciples of Jesus, we are to look and listen. Where life is harsh and nasty, we can promote peace and nonviolence, rather be tempted to consign hostile places and people to fire and flames as his disciples wished. By sending the disciples out in pairs, Jesus indicates that presence and strength comes from community support and mutual encouragement. The message of peace may be rejected. Our efforts at promoting change may not always be appreciated. But the value is in the doing, not the achieving.
This week we commemorate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday. The 2022 theme: ’The Harvest is Plentiful, but the labourers are few. Get up! Stand up! Show up!’ As we stand up and show up we are to speak ‘peace be upon this house’ – this place, this venue, this workplace, this school, this church. We need to reflect on how this peace can emerge as we look to learn about their culture, how to care for creation, and interrelatedness with all beings. Our words are meant to reflect the one who has sent us.
The sending of the disciples is a prophetic movement. Pope Emeritus Benedict said: ‘the Church does not exist for itself, but for humanity.’ The constant temptation is to withdraw into a shell of our own interests, our past, our doctrinal universe, our rituals, and customs, and harden our relations with the world. What kind of church is it that is rigid, stagnant, shut in on itself, asphyxiated, without prophets when the good news is that is God is close to us, calling us to make life more humane? We must learn to listen more, to accept people and reflect the one who brings healing to people who suffer. How can people accept the message if they do not feel understood by those of us who present ourselves in the name of Jesus?
Do we want our town, our church, our country to be like the city on the hill as Isaiah describes where the lost and needy will find rest? It is not an impossible dream. Jesus, like the prophets, addressed the present moment as the locus of God’s reign. It is present in our respect for one another; in our attempts to love and forgive; in our attempts to promote justice and resist injustice. This way, by our presence we can reflect the heart of our God.
It is now our turn to carry on the task entrusted to the seventy-two. God does not despise the power of small things. God’s commitment to justice, restoration and healing is often proclaimed through ordinary people and actions. It is often in the quiet work of nurturing care and service within our community, and in doing the slow, transformative work of growing into caring, serving Christ-followers in our homes, workplaces and sports clubs that determine the effectiveness of our ministry.
We don’t walk this journey alone. We need each other — for support, encouragement, a listening ear, perhaps even advice at times. We learn from the experience of others who have walked before us, and we share our own experience with those who walk with us. The harvest that needs reaping is the tremendous pain that many people carry each day. Our opportunity is to build relationship by going out into the world (leaving the comfort of our pews and homes) bringing open hearts, listening ears and a prayerful presence. It is by this presence, that our open ears and hearts can harvest much that burdens our neighbours.
Jesus witnessed to God's vulnerability and non-compulsory interaction with humanity, and we are called to present ourselves in that way despite sending them as ’as lambs among wolves." Their ministry was primarily to be one of presence. The wolves they encountered, as we do, are war, greed, drought, violence, starvation as well as greed, abuse of power, ignorance and indifference. They lived at a time of brutal oppression by a foreign power, systemic local government corruption, food insecurity, fragility of life and capricious fortunes. Jesus warned that it would not be easy as they might face rejection, thirst, hunger, forces of evil. We can easily lose hope in the face of these but also as we witness in this wealthy country neglect of vulnerable people among the First Nations people and asylum seekers; the lack of interest in justice when corruption is exposed from Julian Assange to Bernard Collaery. The gospel is countercultural. Though we live in a wealthy and relatively powerful country little of this has much to do with God’s vulnerable and noncoercive by witnessing to the Gospel of peacemaking, solidarity and justice for the marginalised in a society filled with violence, individualism and white and private privilege. Being chosen does not sound very special. It can be dangerous. When the disciples rejoices at their success, Jesus said, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” The wolves keep rising. Their joy is not based on successful outcomes or strategies but rooted in a faith that is oriented towards living the life of God’s reign which is always about relationships, about people, all living things and Creation. So the hope we seek comes not as something we have, what we create by our actions. It is something we can manifest into the world, and it can be contagious. As people share, care, dare to act, other people start acting and creating hope. I will conclude with this quote by social critic and author Rebecca Solnit (from Hope in the Dark): ’Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal...To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.’!4