Fortieth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
This time of year I think of my home parish in Hyde Park, Boston’s southernmost neighborhood. Its cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1880, the Feast of the Most Precious Blood that year. That feast no longer exists in our liturgical calendar, but it does live on in both the name and the mission of the parish 136 years later. Through His redeeming Blood we are all constantly called to be “a kingdom and priests for God” – or, as the parish’s first pastor once put it, “to edify men by leading exemplary lives.” What does that mean, though – to lead an exemplary life? What does it mean to make of our very selves a pattern that other people should imitate?
The First Reading, taken from the last part of the Isaiah prophecies to be written, tells us to “[r]ejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her.” Before the exile Jerusalem was the dwelling place of the Name of God, the physical presence of the LORD on earth. The city was like a nourishing mother, in whose arms and at whose breasts all Israel’s children could be at peace. The message of the prophet is: it will be so again! “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” says God. But also, and perhaps more importantly, He says that “the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.” So full of joy and well-being will the people of Jerusalem be that all who serve God will know that it is God Who has done this. This is more than just the calling to be a light to the nations; by this joy they will also be a beacon to themselves, and to all who seek to serve God.
Several hundred years later, through the Gospel reading, we find Jesus doing exactly that with 72 of His disciples, granting them special graces and powers so they can evangelize the places He intends to visit. In response to their practice of these gifts, the disciples remark with surprise that “even the demons are subject to us.” This is no surprise to Jesus, of course, Who blithely – almost whimsically (for God’s sense of humor is never to be underestimated!) – remarks that He has seen “Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” But He cautions His disciples not to take any pride in these gifts, for they are exactly that: gifts, that can be freely given and freely taken away. “[D]o not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” Like the Israelites after the exile who were looking forward to the restoration of Jerusalem, the disciples needed to understand that God’s great plan is accomplished through God’s power, even if His beloved children cooperate with Him in His work.
This understanding needed by both the Old and the New is brought to bear in one of Saint Paul’s most famous sayings, one that frames the Second Reading today: “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.” The practice of religion, the very acts of faith that we perform are not meant to redound to our glory, but to God’s. Even the scars that litter Paul’s own body, the evidence of the slow martyrdom of his persecution and imprisonment at the hands of pagans and other hostiles, he refers to as “the marks of Jesus.” They are not his badges of honor as much as his badge of ambassadorship, his branding (Greek, stigmata) as a slave of his Master – which, ultimately is how he saw himself. All his accomplishments he handed over to his Lord and God, the One Who had justified him since he could not justify himself. And he invites the Galatians, as all of us, to do the same, to be crucified in the eyes of the world just as our Savior Himself was – and to see each other on that same level.
This calling to be “a kingdom and priests for God” is not exclusive to the people of Most Precious Blood Parish or of central Hyde Park, but is for everyone who would call themselves a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ. The Redemption is for everyone who accepts it. And It is Christ, the incarnate God, Who is that pattern we should imitate and that we should lead others to imitate as well. Just like the disciples whose glory was not their own but their Lord’s Who gave them the power, so too we risk boasting of our own accomplishments to the detriment of the thanks and praise we own to the One Who gives us gift. And that is the real meaning of leading an exemplary life: to show to ourselves and to each other that perfect pattern of love and mercy by which we are meant to unite ourselves to each other and to God: impartially, ministerially, compassionately.
There is an old saying that the only man-made things in heaven are the Wounds of Christ. And even those He glorified by His own power after He rose from death. May we never boast of anything except that power – and the reason we have it.