"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

14th SUNDAY -C- July 7, 2019

Isaiah 66: 10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6: 14-18; Luke 10: 1-12, 17-20

by Jude Siciliano, OP

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The gospel sounds like the 2020 election season; the way our candidates send out advance teams to prepare for their eventual arrival. Teams of experts go to places and cities a candidate will soon visit: to arrange meetings with potential donors; to check security measures; write candidates’ speeches for them; arrange for photo opportunities and "selfies, etc." Only hand-picked professionals are sent ahead. They are instructed what to say – "stay on message." Any mistakes may cost votes.

I take it back: that doesn’t sound like the gospel story, does it? Well, Jesus is an important person sending representatives ahead to places he intends to visit; to prepare for his arrival. But, that’s as far as it goes. Similarity ends there. Jesus is not a politician running for office. He’s not out to win votes, or popularity contests. He’s planning speaking engagements, but of a very different type.

In comparison to our presidential and congressional campaigns, what Jesus is doing is almost a "non- event." No press releases, no banquets with local elites, no barriers and parades, no enormous campaign budgets, no scripted speeches. Nor professionally trained spokespeople to go to cities and towns loaded with campaign literature. There won’t be free food and drinks to draw the crowds.

When we travel to new places, whether across town or across the country, we rely on our cell phones and GPS systems to give us directions. Our apps tell us about road conditions, rest stops, gas stations and sites along the way. Of course they didn’t have all those travel guides in Jesus’ day. But, he does ask a lot of them. He tells them the towns where he expects to visit and then it is up to them to get there. He will arrive after they prepare for his coming. And more! He doesn’t tell them what to say when they get there. They aren’t trained speakers and they haven’t been given prepared "speaking points."

Jesus’ disciples have been with him and now they are being sent to represent him. Is this beginning to sound familiar? Is it coming home to each of us? Who are they again, these personal, hand-picked ambassadors for Christ? They are ordinary, everyday folk entrusted with an important mission. "Go prepare the way for me" – wherever they go, to each and every place, he will follow…he will show up.

He does provide them with some traveling instructions. "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers to his harvest." In other words: "There is a lot for you to do out there, so pray to God for help." ("Out there" can be as close as our own supper table.)

We have done what Jesus told us to do: we have prayed for vocations. God has answered those prayers with vocations of all kinds. We see that each time we come to church. It is not just those ordained serving at the altar, but all the other ministering at our liturgical celebrations. Plus, those on the parish staff; as well as, volunteers who teach our youth, take communion to the sick, prepare and serve food for the homeless at our parish food pantry. There are musicians, artists, scripture teachers, etc. Praying for "laborers for the harvest" is a reminder that God has invested a lot in this venture, God’s only Son, and will not desert us workers in the harvest.

I know a woman who says a prayer before she visits her son and his family. "They don’t go to church," she says. "And I hope I say, or do something that moves them to return. God has given me courage and joy that have gotten me through hard times. I want them to have that same help when they need it...and someday they will."

Jesus goes on to instruct his representatives. They shouldn’t worry about even the ordinary travel needs. There will be people to welcome them and take them in. Why? Because those who represents Jesus bring peace with them. It is a peace people can feel: it will "rest on them," He says.

Is He telling them not to be polite? "Greet no one on the way." In the Middle East there is a great emphasis on hospitality. It wouldn’t just be a "good morning," or "good afternoon." It would require stopping, greeting, conversing, sharing food, and spending time. "No time" for that, Jesus is saying. "You have important work to do."

The mother who says a prayer before visiting her son and his family says, "I didn’t go to college to study religion. All I can do is say a prayer and look for a chance to share my faith." Which is exactly what Jesus wanted his disciples and us to do: say a prayer and tell people, "the Kingdom of God is at hand" – in those, or similar words.

That message was so important Jesus says it twice, "the Kingdom of God is at hand." Now what could that mean? First of all: it’s not about a faraway, other-worldly place. And it is not a place on the map, with lines, color and a label that says, "Here is the Kingdom of God." It’s not a place at all and it is not about the next life after we die, "We are hoping to go to the Kingdom." – like Dorothy and her companions trying to get to Oz against all the obstacles. As someone said: "The Kingdom of God is now, or never." Jesus called his disciples, "the light of the world." People will know by our words and actions that God is very close and doing good things: they will know that the Kingdom of God is now.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/070719.cfm