3 July 2016
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Jesus sends the Seventy-Two out, and he says: “Greet no one along the way.” Greet no one along the way. And that’s a little strange because, if we’re going to share the faith, we have to talk to other people. And it’s strange, also because it’s Jesus the Son of God who said: “Love your neighbor; and even love your enemies.” But here he’s saying, “Don’t talk to anybody; greet no one along the way.” It almost sounds like he’s telling us to be inhospitable to other people; to turn our back on them.
Of course, that’s not what he’s saying—that would go against his own commandments. Instead, Jesus is saying: “Do not get distracted from the mission I’m sending you on; don’t get distracted; stay focused.” I’m sure we can all think of times when we were in the middle of something . . . and then the phone rang, or somebody stopped by the house, or maybe our mind just kind of wandered. And when that’s all done, we have to stop and think: Ok, what was I doing before?
“Greet no one along the way,” Jesus says—not to be inhospitable, but to remind us to stay focused on the task at hand.
And he says this because he knows how easy it is for us to get distracted. It goes all the way back to Adam and Eve; to that brief moment when they were so focused on the apple that they forget about God. They forgot why they were in the Garden in the first place. And, ever since then, humanity has struggled to stay on task.
We all know the stories of the ancient Jews: the Sadducees, Pharisees, and scribes. They’d become so obsessed with the Law, that they forgot to love God who gave them the Law. And, with that, they forget to love their neighbor. And then the whole thing fell apart, and then the mission and work was stopped dead in its track . . . all because they couldn’t stay focused on the work God had given them to do.
Something similar happened in the Middle Ages. You know, as good as the Church was at the time, she had some major problems. Many of the clergy were unfaithful, and some were even promiscuous. Some was selling the sacraments in order to make a profit. There was overindulgence in the pleasures of the world: food, money, power, property. And on the other end of the spectrum, some of the Church were so strict and heartless that were simply tyrannical. Of course, Martin Luther called them on it, and the Protestant Reformation happened.
And what do we have going on today? Well, the internet, for one thing. I mean, talk about being distracted from God! I grew up in the 1980s, and it was hard enough for kids not to be taken away by: television, Nickelodeon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nintendo, sports and MTV. But today we have a whole parallel universe right inside our iPhones. And people—even adults—can spend hours and hours getting lost in it.
In the Church, we’re concerned about the continual decline in the number of priests, and in the numbers of Catholics who practice their faith. We’re worried about our youth who live in world where God and Church are seen as just . . . optional. And we live in a society which—to a large extent—doesn’t support Christian values anymore; in fact, it’s increasingly and intentionally anti-Christian, anti-Catholic. It’s easy to see why Jesus would say: “Greet no one along the way. Don’t get pulled away from your mission.”
And here, at St Clare Parish, we have a lot going on. We’re in the process of hiring a new principal for the school. We’re looking at buying some land. There’s the big question of the future of the parish—the people, the buildings, the traditions, our worship and life together. And—let’s be honest—there are a lot of hard feelings; there’s unrest in this parish. And, to that, all I will say is that I am an ally to no one . . . but a friend to everyone.
My task as priest and shepherd is to keep us on task; to keep us from being distracted from our purpose and mission. And so, my role here is very much like the Prophet Isaiah’s.
Now, the background to the reading from Isaiah is that the people had just returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian exile. They were trying to rebuild the Temple, and there was a lot of disagreement as to how to do that. And, also, because the people had been separated from one another for so long, the community itself was deeply divided. They couldn’t agree on how to live together and worship together. (That should sound familiar.)
But Isaiah comes into all that and he says: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad because of her, all you who love her!” He comes out of left field and says: “Do not be distracted; remember who and what you are—People of God; children of the mother Jerusalem.” And it’s a great message and image for us.
We are children of Mother Church. We aren’t out here by ourselves, just doing our own thing; we’re children of a 2,000 year old Tradition—and it’s a very colorful Tradition. We’re children of all the Saints who love us and help us. They pray for us and share their wisdom with us. We’re children of an intellectual tradition; some of the greatest thinkers and movers are Catholic—people like: Justin Martyr, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Hildegard of Bingen, G.K. Chesterton, and so on.
Rejoice with Jerusalem! Rejoice with Mother Church, and be glad because of her, all you who love her! The Church keeps us on track, if we let her. Of course, that takes humility, faith, prudence and charity.
Saint Paul has some words, too, to help us from being distracted away from our mission. He says, “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule.” And the “rule” he’s talking about is to “never boast—except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” All that we have, all that we are is because of Christ; in particular, it’s because of the deep love shown by Christ . . . on the cross.
When the disciples come back from their mission, Jesus has to correct them. He says, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” In other words, if we have to boast, may our boasting be in the fact that Christ died on the cross for us; that we—sinners though we are—were found worthy of so great a love.
May we never boast—except in the cross of Jesus Christ. By imitating that sacrificial love of Jesus, the cross will keep us from being distracted. And if you’re wondering what the cross and Mother Church are trying to keep us focused on, it’s simply the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.
“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all strength, and with all your being. Love God; this is the first and greatest commandment. Love God.”
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Go make disciples of all nations, all peoples; teaching them and baptizing them in the name of the Holy Trinity . . . so that God will be all in all.”
You know, it seems that every parish in every diocese has a “mission statement.” But we don’t make up our own mission. That’s not why we’re here. The Church isn’t here to do what the Church wants . . . we exist to do the work of God. We share in the mission of Christ. Just like the Seventy-Two, he sends us as well—not to do what we want, but to do what he needs us to do.
And, like a parent who sends their kid off to college, Jesus gives us some strong advice for the journey: “Greet no one along the way. Do not be distracted from the mission and work I am sending you to do.” Our mission, our work: To love God with every ounce of our being. To love our neighbors as ourselves. To go make disciples of all nations, so that God will be all in all.
Every Catholic should know our common mission: “Love God, love your neighbor, make disciples, so that God will be all in all.” It’s all about God. That’s why we’re here. May we not be distracted from our mission, and the work of God.