14th Sunday – Year C (July 4th)
14th Sunday – Year C (July 4th)
Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
There is enormous joy in being disciples of Jesus; but that does not mean that we live in a magic world which no pain ever approaches. Next Sunday’s readings are all quite clear-eyed about the suffering that we can expect; but they know that it is not the end of the story, because God is in charge of our world.
The first reading is addressed to the exiles who had come back to Jerusalem from Babylon, and discovered that it was not all that they were hoping it would be; and they are on the point of losing all their trust in God when the prophet addresses to them this very upbeat hymn. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and exult on her account”, he carols, to people who were clearly feeling like doing nothing of the kind; and he offers an unusually powerful image for Jerusalem as a generous mother (which I shall leave you to read for yourself, as the language is rather strong). Then we hear God’s solemn promise, “For thus says YHWH, ‘Behold, I am spreading peace over her like a river, and the power of the nations like a stream’.” And to this disillusioned group of wobbly believers (which might be us) God offers the startling idea of “comfort”, mentioned three times towards the end of the reading; and we hear the promise, “you will see, and your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like the grass…and the Lord’s hand shall be known to his servants”. It is a beautiful vision for the discouraged.
As is nearly always the case, the psalm for next Sunday does not indicate much in the way of discouragement; “make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” sets the mood, “remember the glory of his name”. Nevertheless, in all the invitations to acclaim and adore this God, there is a profound awareness that without a God who has done “wondrous deeds”, life might not be very easy. For the nation’s memory goes back to the awful moment when they thought they were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptian forces, and they recall that “he changed the sea into dry land, and in the river they passed on foot”. So what can one do but sing about such a God? “Come and hear, and I shall proclaim, all those who fear God, what he has done for my soul”. And we notice that the prayer is now very personal, not about the nation as a whole; “blessed be God, who did not refuse my prayer”.
In the second reading, Paul is finding his way to a calm ending to the decidedly ill-tempered letter to the Galatians, and he is likewise aware that discipleship does not mean that there is no suffering, and so his prayer is “may it not happen to me to boast except in the prayer of Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me and I to the world”. Despite all the religious controversies that the letter has been dealing with, all that matters, for Paul, is God’s “new creation”; and, by the end, Paul can sign off with a degree of peace.
The gospel for next Sunday is well aware of the discomfort involved in discipleship. Here we have the Lord sending out the first missionaries. They are to travel very light indeed (“no purse, no wallet, no sandals, no greeting anyone on the road”). They are to expect rejection; and when that happens, they must simply move on. Then we hear them come bouncing back from this apostolic venture, wagging their tails “with joy, saying, ‘Lord – even the demons are subordinated to us by your name!’” Jesus responds by gently teasing their excitement, perhaps, “I saw Satan like lightning falling out of heaven!”. And then he warns them what they must face, “snakes and scorpions, and all the power of the enemy – and it will not touch you”. In the end, though, it seems that power over spirits is not all that important, “don’t rejoice that spirits are subordinated to you – no, rejoice that your names are written in the heavens”. Let us this week pray to find joy in all the dark places of our discipleship.