Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 8, 2001
At St. Agnes, Cincinnati
In this period from Pentecost until the beginning of Advent next December, the period the church calls 'Ordinary Time', we are challenged to dig deeper as the church in her readings unfolds for us the fuller implications of our Baptism. Last week the focus was on attitudes. The liturgy centered on our inclination to find excuses for postponing the kind of commitment God asks of us: "Can't I just wait until I've buried my father?" And Jesus' strong answer is: Let the dead bury their dead. It's like the song we sometimes sing at liturgy here: "Tomorrow." I'll give myself -- but tomorrow. And as the end of the song tells us, our tomorrow very well might be today. Our God calls for single-minded commitment.
This week the focus shifts from personal attitude and we're introduced to some of the consequences of the mission entrusted to us.
And the first thing we find is that it is no picnic. Jesus tells the seventy two that they are going out as lambs among wolves. (I can't help recalling Woody Allen's comment on the Old Testament prophecy about the promise of peace: "The lion may lie down with the lamb -- but the lamb won't get much sleep...")
The mission involves risk. And there are no securities to protect them. No money, no walking-stick, no extra cloak. They are vulnerable; they have to go forth in trust.
In ancient times when a king wanted to explore the possibility of peace with a strange and potentially hostile country, he would send an emissary. And the emissary would have no protection; no horses or armed guards or weapons. The emissary would carry only a small carved image of the king, and the emissary would hold it out to the people he was visiting and say, "Will you trust us, that we want peace?" It was a very dangerous moment. But that was all the emissary had, an offering of trust.
The 72 disciples have only their trust, their reliance on the word of Jesus. And the image the Christian brings? As Paul tells us in the second reading, it is only the image of a crucified criminal: Christ crucified. A figure rejected and despised, an outcast, one scorned by the religious leaders of the Temple and synagogue.
And here's the catch in it all: there's no promise of success!
They may accept you -- and they may just not. They may not want to hear the word the disciple is bringing. The disciple is proclaiming peace, after all. That involves reconciliation and the lowering of defenses and hostilities and barriers. And that will require change, it will cost conversion. And people don't want that price. Paul tells us the Gospel is folly, it's a scandal. Life, yes, but through death. Who wants that?
We preach a word that is called "Good News" but which the world around us sees as absurd. Self-denial, acceptance of others we'd rather eliminate from our world because they think differently or act differently or look different? That's too hard.
Once again, we realize that the story is not just about the 72 disciples, it's about us. We can choose to identify with these disciples sent out on mission, but then we have to ask ourselves whether we can be that vulnerable, whether we can really trust in the naked promise, whether we're prepared to be rejected. Or on the other hand, we can choose to identify with the people the disciples are going to meet, and then we have to ask ourselves whether we ready to receive this difficult word with welcome and hospitality.
But in either case, there is a word to be proclaimed. God's word has gone forth and will not be denied, it must bear fruit.
And where is that word in our time, the word of the coming of God's kingdom in our world in 2001? Let me offer some suggestions:
These are not messages everyone wants to hear, they are things a lot of people would call foolish or disturbing. That's the nature of the proclamation of the Kingdom.
And will our voices be heard, will we be listened to? Maybe some will listen, probably a lot won't. But you know, today's Gospel contains a very liberating notion. Jesus tells the disciples that if the people won't listen, don't waste your time with them, just shake the dust from your feet and move on. Just take the word someplace else. We're not promised that people will be converted --- but we're apparently not responsible for that either. Conversion is God's business, our job is to proclaim the message.
And maybe we don't have the best idea of. 'success' anyway. Winston Churchill said "Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."
The final word of the Gospel tells us where our center must be. It doesn't matter whether people are cured or Satan falls like lightning, what matters is that our names are written in the book of life. As we receive the Lord in Communion, let's ask that we can maintain that center as we try to fulfill our mission of proclaiming the Kingdom by our lives.