TWELVE PLUS SEVENTY-TWO EQUALS YOU AND ME!

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
July 8, 2007

Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12,17-20


We are not speaking of mathematics here. Neither are we referring to what is known as quantitative research. We speak more of quality, of something that qualifies our attachment to the Lord, our discipleship, the manner by which we live our following of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Last week, we spoke of the need to be focused. We reflected on the need for us to “tune out” so that we could “tune in” positively to God and His call. We said we needed to unclutter our lives, and “put to rout everything that is not life” – to “front the essential facts of life,” to “free ourselves from,” so as to “free ourselves for,” that is, to “follow God more closely, and love Him more dearly.”

Our question for today is basically not one of quantity. It is not “how much do we need to do to follow the Lord?” It is, rather, “what qualities do we need to have so that we can be called genuine disciples of the Lord?”

The answer boils down to one word – values. The Liturgy’s answer today is not a sum total of numbers, not a summative quantity, but a qualitative summit of values of, and for, the Kingdom.

The first reading starts out with some such values – the values of care, concern, and solicitous love. Isaiah paints a picture of God’s maternal love. All images represent a quality of God’s love that is patently maternal and eminently personal: “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.” Although the literal sense really refers to Jerusalem, its fuller and allegorical sense ultimately refers to our expanding understanding of who God is for us, His people.

The second reading reminds us of something that is qualitatively “new.” Paul rejoices, not so much on account of measurable physical attributes like circumcision, but on the “new creation” effected and provided by the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” What marks the disciple is not a physical mark, but a qualitatively new attribute that is interior, first and foremost.

But the real clincher for today is the Gospel passage from Luke. What values of and for the Kingdom do we see in it? What qualities do we need to see in the disciples?

The first thing that strikes us is the choice and sending of the seventy-two. It would be all too easy and simple for us to see this as a matter of mathematics, an issue of numbers. The more, the merrier, is what we often think and say. In addition to twelve apostles, it would certainly be a good idea to have 72 extra pairs of hands and feet to multiply what the twelve were doing. We often think of discipleship in such shallow, mathematical terms. Twelve plus seventy-two surely sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?

But hold it a second. Yes, 12 plus 72 adds up to many. But “many” is not what the Lord points out above all today. It has to do, not with the many, but with the manner of our being disciples. And that manner begins not with having much, but with having what it takes to be a disciple – utter dependence on the Lord, for one. Certainly, the many does not even refer first and foremost, to money, as we often think. “Carry no money, bag, or sack.” It has to do with depending not on what we have, but on whom we have – the Lord and our attachment and obedience to His will.

As you can readily see, dependence is not quantitative, but qualitative. It has to do with a universe and cluster of values for the Kingdom, and not for the material world that St. Paul really refers to in the second reading. As one can also notice, Jesus arms the seventy-two, not with material tools, but with one qualitatively superior tool par excellence – the gift of peace. He counsels the seventy-two to offer, not lengthy greetings and endless self-introductions, but the greeting and the gift of “peace.” Peace, not material prosperity, is among the first values of the Kingdom the Lord has come to bring us.

Our postmodern, consumeristic world is one that values the more, the many, the quantifiably greater, higher, and better. For many of us, we cannot even imagine how life would be without cell phones, without computers, and so many other stuff. Henri Nouwen once referred to a very big danger lurking in the shadows of this materially cluttered world of ours. We can run the risk of being “filled yet unfulfilled.”

Discipleship is not about having things, but about having Jesus. “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Because of Jesus’ name … this is the qualitative difference between the true disciple and the charlatan. And this is all that matters - to do as he did … to act in His name, and not in our own name, not by our own strength, not by or through our own talents, but all in His name.

In our days and times, we need committed and dedicated disciples. Priests are not increasing by droves all over the world. Ordained ministry is not the most popular choice of “career” in our times. In the setting where I am – the Philippines – the most popular career has to do with “caregiving” – nursing, and the like. No matter the state of denial in many dioceses all over the world, priests are not going to increase dramatically anytime soon, most especially in the more prosperous western hemisphere. A recent study reported by John Allen says that whilst the number of priests in America declined, the number of “lay ecclesial workers” increased almost exactly equivalent to the rate of decline of priests.

Jesus and the 12 apostles certainly did well and did rightly in asking the help of seventy-two others to do what they were doing. Discipleship is not a monopoly of us priests and bishops. Even the good Lord needed the help of 72 extra pairs of hands. Vatican II, among others, has established that the Church is, or ought to be, lay centered, not clergy centered. Lay people are called, as much as priests, bishops, and deacons are, to make discipleship real, alive, committed, and dedicated. But lest we think that all this translates only to a mere numbers game, today’s liturgy reminds us, that the more in discipleship consists in the more in terms of quality, first and foremost.

That leaves me with the final clincher. 12 plus 72 is not just 84. Twelve apostles of the Lord, plus seventy-two committed disciples who do everything “in Jesus’ name,” equals – or should equal ALL OF US. We pray for ourselves that we may really become what he expects us to become: “Make us one with you always, so that our joy may be holy, and our love may give life.” (Alternative Opening Prayer)

National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians
Paranaque City, July 1, 2008



WHEN BOASTING IS APPROPRIATE


The readings today are a study in contrasts. We hear a call to rejoice to those who previously were mourning. We hear St. Paul’s readiness to boast, but this boast is associated with the “marks of Jesus on [his] body.” We hear the Lord exhorting us to ask the harvest master to send more laborers to his fields, but we also are made aware of the danger attached to the work of reaping, a danger not unlike that of lambs sent in the midst of wolves.

We have today a very sobering reality check for all followers of Christ!

Reality … that which so many people in our times try their best either to ignore, gloss over, or deny altogether. When reality gets too painful, when it strikes too close to home base, the common tendency for people is to pretend “everything will be alright.” But no amount of denial can reverse the hard facts of life. People suffer. People die. There are gross imbalances in the world, and whilst one fourth of the world’s population make use of three-fourths of the world’s resources, three-fourths of the world’s population make do with the remaining one-fourth of the world’s resources. Terrorists are a tough reality to deal with. So is the fact that “bad things happen to good people.”

I am sure you all can add a lot more to my short list.

But even in the fields of the Lord’s harvest, a bit of a reality check is in order. 25% of the current members of more than 5,000 cults in the United States are former catholics. So-called cradle catholics, they were born into the institutional community of faith but never really grew in their affective faith and personal relationship with the Lord. A lot more do not officially denounce the faith, but who engage in a variety of forms of syncretistic beliefs that mix elements of Christianity with esoteric teachings from Eastern gurus, thus effectively making a new brand of universal religion that are really nothing more than modern versions of Gnosticism, an early heresy in the incipient Church. Whilst keeping a nominal attachment to Christ by holding on to a smattering of Christian terminologies and basic theological concepts, the fundamental integration of the so-called three C’s (creed, code, and cult) is compromised by effectively doing away with the principles of the incarnation, mediation, and sacramentality. Saving truth is now mediated by gurus, who may or may not even mention Christ at all. The totality of the message of salvation, and the path towards definitive salvation, gets reduced to a unilateral effort of man, principally through self-deprivation, a distorted understanding of meditation, and a naïve – if, Pollyanish – drive to banish suffering entirely from the face of the earth. The concept of grace is effectively thrown out the window, and in its place, is plain, human effort at total self-emptying.
The list is by no means complete. One can add to that a lot more, not excluding the recent priests’ scandals, the “skeletons” in the Church’s closets that effectively muffled the teaching authority of Bishops in many places all over the world. It is not far-fetched to say that, indeed, those who intend to follow the Lord will end up being thrown very much like lambs in the midst of wolves, with their work of evangelization almost getting cancelled out by mainstream mass media that is patently anticlerical.

Christian faith, though, would have us transcend mere acknowledgment of reality. Accepting what is real is not the same as wallowing in the negative, and giving in to discouragement. Here is where today’s readings come in. Here is where our faith has to weigh in, and here is where today’s good news speaks to all of us powerfully.

They all speak, not of a weapon against irreligion, not some kind of a tool-box that one can draw from to counteract such unpleasant realities. They speak, rather, of a spirituality, an attitude of mind and heart that is born of faith, and a sense of personal conviction that the God of history who irrupted into our earthly history, is basically in control, that the God we love and believe in, will never leave his flock untended. Using the human language of maternal warmth, Isaiah reminds us: “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.”

Such solid conviction of God’s “maternal” love ought to be enough for us to shout out with the psalmist: “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!” Such adherence to the truth of God’s saving love in Christ was what led St. Paul to boast not of his achievements, but “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

There is no wishful thinking involved here, no Pollyanna attitude that ultimately is a fruit of denial. Jesus himself gives solid grounding on reality to his disciples, not shielding their eyes from the reality of what they would find as they go out into the fields of harvest: “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” But it was not to be pure suffering all the way, all the time either. We are told that “the seventy-two returned rejoicing.” Jesus gave them power, enough power for those who were ready and willing to do as he commanded them: “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.”

The world might well be in a real mess in many ways. The Church, too, may not be in the shape it was in back in 1958, when 78 % of American catholics attended Mass regularly on Sundays (as against the 25% now). There may be a deep sadness in many of us as the Church’s voice appears to remain unheeded, and, at times, even ridiculed by popular opinion. In Philippine context, I might add, the wonderful landmark teachings and decrees of PCP-II (Second Plenary Council) of 1991 are still far from being implemented. Corruption, a deteriorating educational system, grinding poverty, and the structural evil that is the political system continue to cancel out what little efforts are done by well-meaning NGOs and philanthropists. Reality is far too obvious to deny, far too deeply entrenched to simply gloss over.

Nor is there need for us to engage in denial. For something that does not exist cannot be given any solution. Acknowledging the problem is, therefore, necessary as a starting point.

Today’s liturgy shows us in concrete where to go from here. It shows us that in the face of such challenges, we need to have a spirituality that knows how to embrace the cross, a spirituality that ought to lead us to reorder our priorities, and separate what is important from what is merely convenient, a spirituality that is willing to confront the prevailing standards of the world, one that does not boast of “money bags, sacks, or sandals,” but one that values mercy, peace, and the possibility of one’s name not being honored here on earth, but on being “written in heaven.”

There is this undeniable reality of a sinful world to confront. But there is this equally undeniable reality of the power from above to “tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy.” This is the power of the cross. And this is a time when boasting in its name, is more than just appropriate. In the cross is salvation. In the cross is hope. In the cross is victory.

St. Rita Parish
Dundalk, MD – July 4, 2004




Comments

Rodrigo said…
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