It would seem as if the Sacred Scriptures proclaimed today were specific not just to this week in the liturgical year, but perhaps intended for the celebration of a national holiday. Though the latter is purely accidental, this might be a good time to reflect on the Gospel mandate for us who have been gratefully celebrating the blessings of life in a democracy these last few days.
Though God's promise in the passage from Isaiah is made to the chosen people and often appropriated by the Christian community, it can surely, by extension, be adopted by any of God’s people regardless of their national or religious allegiance. Further, just as Jerusalem embraces her people as a mother nurses her children, so too does God. This deeply intimate, feminine image of God is one of the most powerful in Scripture and inspires both gratitude and pride.
Whenever we celebrate a national holiday that focuses on our unique blessings, we should not hesitate to embrace that image and our common bond under God with all the peoples of the world. We are all God’s children and as God’s family we all share in God’s blessings. It should be our prayer that all nations would be able to see themselves loved by God as a loving mother cares for her children. As the Psalm proclaims,
“Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!”
St. Paul seems to echo that sentiment as he professes his response to God’s love shown to him through the death and resurrection of the Christ. His joy and gratitude in being so favored make him totally disinterested in anything but professing himself “a new creation,” which he claims demands a response of “peace and mercy.” That can and should be our response to the blessings God has bestowed on us. As people who know the source of those blessings, our gratitude should be expressed more in acts of peace and mercy than picnics and fireworks. Nothing wrong with the latter, if they represent the deeper sense of gratitude witnessed by St. Paul.
It is today’s Gospel, however, that should most inspire us whenever we celebrate God's blessings. Our response, our mission, especially as followers of Christ, should be that of the seventy-two. We, too, are charged to be missionaries of peace. We cannot force that peace. We must offer it, as Jesus demands, with deep sincerity, with simplicity, with humility, bringing a healing, comforting presence into our world, and in that way proclaim the reign of God is at hand.
The same power conferred on those disciples is within our grasp if we live out the message and mission of Jesus in our day. We are asked to be the healing presence of Christ in the world. You and I are sent from the table of communion to bring that peace to the world. We do that by healing the sick, the broken, the lonely, the alienated, as did the seventy-two in today’s Gospel. Jesus promises:
Behold, I have given you the power to 'tread upon
serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of
the enemy and nothing will harm you.
People who contend that issues like health care, climate change, capital punishment and immigration are too complex or too controversial or political may well be the kind of people Jesus referred to as "serpents and scorpions." When it comes to being a healing presence to the sick, the lonely, the alienated, the broken, our greatest blessing is the power of our discipleship.
The Scriptures this Sunday could easily be seen as inviting our patriotism to find expression through our discipleship. By the same token, perhaps we should also challenge our image of that discipleship in the way Isaiah challenged his people to understand the blessings God had bestowed on them—with the image of a nourishing and nurturing mother. If our God blesses us with a mother’s love, perhaps our response should mirror that blessing in our patriotism.