GSC – 14th Sunday of the Year 2019
As I wonder round the parish I often try to say hello to people and not just those whom I know. I hope thereby to change the culture of society, little by little, so that people know when they see a priest they can say hello to him and surely that wouldn’t be a bad thing to break down barriers? With that in mind, I find the summer difficult because of sun glasses, which I wear not only to stop the sun getting in my eyes but because I think it helps prevent pollen from setting off my hayfever. It means of course it’s much harder to make eye contact with folk. But on the plus side, I do get some nice comments about my cool sunglasses, which is rather nice!
But perhaps I shouldn’t worry about eye contact with people, given what our Lord says in today’s Gospel: “Salute no one on the road,” or greet no one on the road. What does Jesus mean?
The context, as we heard, is the sending out of the seventy-two disciples. The church is hereby expanding its reach and upping its game for first the Lord calls twelve and now that number grows so that many more might hear the good news of salvation. This is great and something we are all to be engaged in. But this missionary sending out isn’t about us standing on street corners giving out leaflets (though that’s not a necessarily bad thing to do) but it will be about witnessing faithfully in the lives we live so that amid the chaos we let the love of Jesus radiate through by being calm, or forgiving, by supporting or praying, by inviting someone into a better relationship with the Lord of Heaven and earth.
So, why salute no one on the road? Two reasons.
First, it’s perhaps worth remembering that the prophet Elisha gives the same instruction to his assistant, Gehazi (II Kings 4:29). In that instance, Gehazi is being sent to lay Elisha’s staff on the head of the son of the Shunammite woman who has died, that he might have life again. Can you imagine anything more urgent than that? Surely this same urgency is to be about us as we seek to tell others about the kingdom of God, hence the Lord says, Salute no one on the road. Life on earth is short and it is during that life on earth that individuals need to proclaim a faith in Jesus Christ so that they might have eternal life.
Urgency does not mean, however, that we are to be frantic or chaotic or rushing around from one thing to the next and never doing anything well. Urgency will mean however that we are focused on this task and not be distracted. Hence already Jesus sends the seventy two out saying, “Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.” For if these things are upon those who are sent out it’s all too easy to be distracted by them, “Oh, I need a new purse because this one is worn out … I haven’t got the right change for this.” etc etc. Some religious, that is monks and nuns, are called to live this out clearly and openly with no possessions to their name, taking the vow of poverty. Saints like St Francis of Assisi and St Martin de Porres lived this poverty out. We may live with possessions but we are to carry them lightly. St Gregory, commenting on this passage, says the reference to not wearing shoes, which would have been made out of the skin of dead animals, is an allegory of all dead works, all things that profit no one and do not build up the kingdom of God. “Carry no sandals.”
Second, the other reason for not saluting folk on the road is perhaps because it might indicate that the will of God is haphazard and not thought through. On the contrary, there will be someone whom God has placed in your life whom you need to draw closer to God because He wants more people saved and He wants us to bear fruit. This isn’t left to chance, there is a plan.
It can be daunting to talk about our faith in such contexts because people’s responses can be uncertain: will they think we’re bonkers? will they hold it against us when we ourselves are far from perfect and label us hypocritical? will they ask us a question we don’t know the answer to? or maybe we just find talking to people exhausting? or can’t find the words to do it. Surely it’s good for us to remember in this context that it could well be part of God’s plan for us to introduce that person to salvation through our word, our action in that moment, our invitation to come to Mass.
So we’ve explored briefly, “salute no one on the road.” The second bit of our Lord’s words that I want to talk about this evening concerns peace. Peace is the word to have on our lips. We see it twice in our readings this morning: the promised gift Paul mentions to the Galatians who are to be formed anew, the new creature, the gift they receive is peace. It is also the word that is to be on our lips as we go out in to the world. I find it a curious phrase when our Lord says this: “Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.” This concept of peace coming back to us if it is not received well perhaps shows some sense that peace is about a mutual relationship, and that if we offer the peace of Christ and it is not accepted, well we lose nothing because it simply comes back to us: we must not fear that offering will lead to our impoverishment because we preach not ourselves but Christ crucified.
This is the same Christ who comforts all people. Hear again the words Jesus says: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus speaks these words each day to us as He comes to us under the forms of bread and wine: lowly, hidden, nourishing, strengthening us for the day’s tasks, “Come to me.” The first reading from Isaiah 66 used the image of “a son comforted by his mother … Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you.” This is the comfort that raises us up when we fall and picks us up off the floor when we’re learning to walk. When we ask for Mary’s prayers and light candles by her statues, we are commending ourselves to she whom our Lord looked to for such comfort and for such love. May she pray for us.
The words of Isaiah continue though, “And by Jerusalem you will be comforted.” The context here is that God’s people were looking forward to the restoration of the city that had been destroyed. We might know similar longings for injustices to be resolved or even things like looking forward to the builders finishing their work in our home. “By Jerusalem you will be comforted,” promises that God’s people will be encouraged by what will happen in a restored Jerusalem, by it standing proud once more. The Church is the new Jerusalem, the vision we see coming down out of Heaven from God at the end of the Bible. And so the Church is to be a place of hope and I hope we can share our sorrows so we can also shares tales of hope and messages of trust that people might see peace breaking through into chaos.
So, my friends, a really important text for us to have before us as we go out into the world is Paul’s words to Timothy: “God desires everyone to be saved” (I Timothy 2:4). We as God’s people have to be obedient to God’s will and so similarly desire everyone to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ. Let us pray for the people in our lives we need to be doing more to move to a livelier practising of the Christian faith: whom can we invite to Mass? Be confident when we start inviting them or talking to them about our faith because this is all thought through by God already. God knows already who will be faithful to Him who will be close to Jesus here on earth. We just need to get on and do it, with peace in hearts, peace on our lips, that peace that Jesus gives us.