Our Gospel this week continues the Gospel from last week. Last week Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, and told those who wanted to follow him that, regardless of whether they went to bury their dead or say farewell, they must keep their face set on that goal: to heaven through the cross. This week begins with him sending others “to every town and place he intended to visit.” The verb for sending is the word for apostles, but I think it’s not so much that these are “other” apostles, as that even those of us who are not apostles are still sent.
The first reading, from the end of Isaiah, sets the tone in a surprising but helpful way. “Rejoice with Jerusalem . . . . Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts!” The Lord strangely unites himself to Jerusalem: “You shall be carred in her arms . . . ; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” Through Jerusalem, the image of the Church and the heavenly city, God comforts us.
The rest of the readings will be about the crosses we face. But we can face those crosses because we know that God comforts us. We set our face joyfully towards Jerusalem, the place of our crucifixion, because the cross seems like nothing, knowing that God is there.
So too at the end of Galatians, in our second reading, Paul says, “I never boast except in the cross” and “neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.” There are all these sides issues that people get really focused on—but all that matters is passing through the cross with Jesus, entering into God’s new creation, the power of his Spirit and his comfort. (Paraclete is Greek both for the Holy Spirit and for comfort.)
In the second part of our Gospel, Jesus talks about going into the cities. “I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” Yes, the world is hostile. Yes, the world is full of the cross. But he doesn’t say, “so you’d better get ready to fight.” He says the opposite, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” This is the freedom of the children of God: to march toward the cross fearlessly, knowing that we have God, and God’s comfort, and nothing can hurt us.
There’s a scene where Plato describes Socrates wandering around a battle field with his head in the clouds. He was a terrifying warrior, because he didn’t care what happened to him. That’s not a perfect parallel, but it’s kind of like what Jesus describes.
Go into the houses. Offer peace. Sure, you can eat, “for the laborer deserves his payment,” but don’t seek out great opportunities, don’t worry. Just proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” and “Peace”: and the kingdom and the peace of God will be at hand for you, whether or not they receive it. If they don’t receive it, shake the dust from your feet—no big deal—and move on.
There is a kind of carefree attitude of the disciples of Jesus.
The third part of our Gospel (after the Lectionary skips a couple verses of extended scolding of those who haven’t received Jesus) says that when the seventy-two returned, they rejoiced, saying, “Even the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
Jesus responds, sure, yes. “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.” You are winning a cosmic battle—or, sharing in my victory, which obviously you can’t make happen on your own. And you will win earthly victories, “tread upon serpents and scorpions.” Nothing can hurt you.
And yet, again, the attitude is care free. Jesus is not saying, “you have almighty power! Strike them!” He is saying, “don’t worry, I have the victory.” And so he concludes, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject o you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Keep your face set on Jerusalem. Find your comfort there. The battle is won not by focusing on the battle, but by focusing on the Lord. Satan can do nothing to you if you live for Jesus Christ.
The first part of our Gospel had the line, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Often we read this line in terms of evangelization: we need missionaries to go bring people to Jesus. And that’s fine, sure. And the seventy-two are somehow “apostolic.”
But it isn’t just about evangelization, the harvest isn’t just converts. (And anyway, if it is effective to pray for God to send out other apostles, then it doesn’t sound like God exactly needs our help.)
The harvest is also all God’s goodness. He sends us out into a world brimming with his presence, if we want it, a world where the kingdom is near and his peace is there for the taking. Receive, and pray that others will gather the same riches for themselves.
Do you get so focused on the fight that you forget to be grateful?