14th Sunday C 2013
The prophet Isaiah describes Israelreturning from exile to her homeland. Jerusalemis described as a mother, caring for, healing and comforting her children. Could there possibly be a greater image to evoke feelings of hope, love, and security? It is a beautiful “welcome home” to the exiled people who were leaving the foreign land where they had hung up their harps in captivity because they couldn’t sing anymore. God tells them to suck fully of the milk of Jerusalem’s comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her consoling breast! … As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap.
But the prophet goes even further. Notice how the prophet shifts from his vision of Jerusalemcaring for her children to that of God mothering and comforting the people. Not only will the people find comfort in Jerusalem, they will find the same motherly love and comfort from Almighty God!People will feel God’s love so deeply there that it will be as if they were children enjoying the warmth and safety of their own homes.
The first Pope John Paul, that smiling priest whose papacy lasted only a few weeks, reminded us that God is not only a father, but a mother as well. Was he influenced by the words of Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”?
Most of the imagery in the Bible depicts God as a strong Father or a mighty warrior or a jealous lover seeking out his unfaithful bride. But even Jesus talked about his longing to gather his people as a mother hen gathers her chicks.
We are not used to thinking about God as a nurturing mother. The image suggests a privileged intimacy, a wondrous dependency, even a child’s first delight. Like a nursing babe, arms outstretched and lost in speechless joy? Is that what Isaiah was getting at? Is that how God is to us?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers clear and concise directives to those who are to be his disciples in the world. First among these directives is the commission to go forth to bring the good news to the people and places Jesus would visit. All three synoptic Gospels record a mission of the Twelve. The mission of the Seventy is peculiar to Luke. There can be little doubt that the number seventy is symbolic. The mission of the Twelve represents the Church’s mission to Israel(twelve tribes); and the mission of the Seventy, its mission to the nations of the world .
Paul’s simplicity, and that of the other early disciples, calls each of us to reflect on our own lifestyle and our discipleship.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, is said to embody simplicity and to be dedicated to evangelization and social justice, as was his namesake, Francis of Assisi.
Instead of packing for each and every eventuality, the seventy were to travel lightly and to rely on the hospitality of those they went out to serve. The directive to stay in the same house and eat and drink whatever is offered was meant to encourage the disciples to maintain a simple lifestyle, as well as to indicate that they were no longer bound by restrictions about what and with whom they might eat.
This mission of Christ to proclaim the “Kingdom of God has come near to you”; to proclaim “Peace” ; to accept hospitality from those we share the gospel are important directives in the church’s missionary work.
In a book, “All About God”, Samir Selmanovic, a Catholic convert from Islam speaks about the negative impact and divisions that are created through strident orthodoxies: “We are right. We have the truth. You are misguided!” My sister sent it to me at Christmas and finally last week on holiday, I was able to read it.
He has stated that “To say that God has decided to visit all humanity through only one particular religion is a deeply unsatisfying assertion about God.” We must learn to recognize that God is not absent beyond our faith or church. He asks the question: “What if God is on the outside too? Does God have to be absent out there in order to be present here?”
He has come to understand perhaps clearer than most of us, because of his life as a Moslem convert to Christianity the deep divisions that have separated peoples who claim to be saved by a loving God who invites us to love one another. He was rejected by his Moslem family because he accepted the Christian faith. He married a Catholic. As life moved on he began to realize that he had no friends other than Catholics. He knew the life and the love of his family and relatives yet somehow because of being right and the other wrong, even family members were unable to set their eyes beyond just peaceful co-existence to learn to thrive interdependently. He says that “The way religions contradict or collide with one another is not nearly as important to them as the way they complement and illuminate one another.”
The word for God in many religions is “Compassion” and getting back to feminine images of God, he states, “They say that God is “like a womb”. As a woman feels compassion for the child who comes from her womb, so God has great compassion for us. As a child feels compassion for a sibling because they both come from the same womb, so every human being should have compassion for every other human being.”
In the city mosque, a man knowing his situation opened the Quran and read to him: “There shall be no coercion in the matter of faith.””
“If those of us who are Christians do not find a way to acknowledge that God is everywhere, we might lose the basis for seeing God anywhere.”
“People want God, but not one who is captive of a religion.”
“Most people are accustomed to thinking of religion as a journey to answers.” The evangelist dishes out the answers to the rest of us who were hungry for certainty.”
“In words, we attempt to hold God. In silence, God holds us. God is a mystery we cannot speak of.” “Hindus insist we must put “neti, neti” (meaning “not this, not that”) before we say anything about the Divine.” “Mystics held that the desire for God is sweeter than any knowledge of God. They would say that we are “nourished by our hunger” for God.” Even Atheism can have a role to play in keeping religion honest! “Atheism”, he says, “is therefore a heat-inducing friction that prevents our liquid images of the divine from cooling and solidifying into an idolatrous form.” Idolatry is “We have God. Others do not have God.”
“Neither Christianity nor God’s acceptance nor eternity is the pearl. The pearl is the Kingdomof God, an invitation to learn to love well.”
The kingdomof Godis near!