Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 7, 2019)
Last week we saw in Luke’s Gospel people coming to join Jesus. This week we see Jesus sending them off two by two on mission as “advance men.” Curious that what we see politicians do today is what Jesus wisely did two thousand years ago. He sent disciples ahead of him to announce the Good News; he will not be far behind. Two by two affords some protection on the dangerous, ancient roads; it was also Jewish custom to believe testimony based on the witness of two people.
“Sending” has been the story of Christianity from the beginning. Jesus was sent by the Father. Disciples were sent forth by Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus’ instructions are not detailed on what they are to say. Instructions on how they are to conduct themselves are more detailed than what they are to say. They are to travel light - they are not vacationers. They are not to lose time with lengthy, oriental greetings. They are not to upgrade their lodging. In a word, they are to be single- minded.
We stand in this same tradition. This was actually the beginning of Christian “tradition,” literally “handing on.” In our day we are in the midst of change in the process of handing on the story of Jesus. As the number of priests, brothers, and sisters, who have been the professional “handers on,” diminishes, it is the laity who are playing an increasing role as the second Vatican Council urged. The role of the laity in celebrating Eucharist has passed from being observers to being active participants: lectors, Eucharistic ministers, ministers of hospitality, ministers of music. The locus of teaching both in the parish as catechists and rcia team members and in the home is increasing.
I think it helpful for us, as individuals, to identify those who have been the best in handing on “the faith” to us. Most of us seem able to identify those with whom we have experienced interpersonal contact, “Ah hah” moments in our faith development. We need to ask ourselves what we have to pass on, and discern how best we, now as disciples, can pass on what is our best.
Today, I would like to focus on one line in the Gospel that may not immediately catch our attention: “The seventy returned with joy…” There is joy in being disciples, a joy that is strong and is unique.
A story. When I came to teach at Salesianum in 1974, the theology department embarked on an enterprise of revising the course offerings to our students. We had only “required” courses and we then introduced “optional” courses.
In an effort to promote orthopraxis as well as continue the traditional orthodoxy, we decided to make as a “required,” one-semester course in junior year a service project where the students would go into the community, engage in some ministry for x-number of hours and submit regular reflection papers to the teacher. The reports were to be oriented beyond being “do-gooders,” to a reflection on putting faith to work. Praxis - this was a pioneering idea at the time.
There was some initial grumbling from students and some parents. “How can you make works of charity, love, mandatory? This should be voluntary.” We held firm. One family withdrew their son from Salesianum in protest. The service-director scouted many regional enterprises for placements. Students were free to come up with original sites with the director’s approval.
One of the strangest experiences in my years of teaching followed – one that was never anticipated by department members. We had a case of chaos at the end of the first semester. The students who had completed their service project would not leave their projects. Many of the other half of the junior class had to find new projects, new placements.
Salesianum students had discovered the joy of serving. It was more than discovering that they had newly-found talents. Many reflection papers were revelatory. They discovered the joy of ministering, the joy of cooperating with God in helping others in the building of the kingdom. The reflective life was worth living.
The words of a non-Christian, Rabindranath Tagore speaks to this:
“I slept and dreamt life was a joy.
I awoke and saw life was service.
I acted and behold service is joy.”
“The seventy returned with joy…” We are each called to a life of discipleship. The “tradition,” the “handing on” of what Jesus taught and what Jesus did needs to be passed on. How I do that is the question the Gospel asks us this day.