Sunday, July 7, 2013
Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
This past week we prepared for a wonderful annual celebration—our Nation’s Independence. Events: reunions, parades, fireworks. A remembrance of those who preceded us—their sacrifices for future generations: for liberties, for freedoms, for self-determination—all in accord with the self-evident truths about the human person noted by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. Also, for many of us, we observed the second Fortnight for Freedom, which reminds us of our first liberty: the free exercise of our faith. We celebrate these and other issues—AND we reflect on the tribulations and triumphs that have made us and our country. Our nation’s story is a story of suffering and success; coincidentally, this is the story that Isaiah relates. The end of Isaiah’s prophecy proclaims that God’s People are once again in right relation with him and one another—hence prosperity abounds. God has blessed them abundantly. But that was not so, for many of the people had removed themselves from God.
This is the context surrounding the conclusion of Isaiah’s prophecy. Even though God’s people had, on their own accord, drifted from God—even apostatizing—God forgives and welcomes back home to Jerusalem the leadership of His people who had been abducted to a distant and foreign land.
Think of the ancient Hebrew slaves and the domination of Egypt over them. This is an important theme upon which Isaiah dwells—Jerusalem was ransacked and its leadership abducted. BUT, peace and prosperity were restored; God’s people and their leadership were restored to live and to prosper once they recognized and repented their turning against God and what He asked of His people.
Some other important points need to be considered regarding their story. When they remained in right relation with God, and one another, God blessed them in this independence. They exercised their freedom wisely. But, when they sought to do their own thing—cut themselves off from God and from one another, they did not prosper. They faced disaster in the kind of independence—from God—that made them focus only on what they wanted for themselves. They did not see the plight of others. They did not see God nor did they understand their vital relation with him!
So, what is independence; what is self-determination for us? How do we best understand it in the terms of who we are, people of a great Nation, and people of God? It is God who helps us understand better what our authentic human nature is, and what it means to be independent.
Saint Luke’s Gospel provides another forum for considering this.
Here are the seventy-two who are being sent off to evangelize after receiving their commission. They are told that there is much work and so few to engage in it—the harvest is bountiful, but the laborers are few. Through our baptism, we follow these seventy-two. We have also been charged with the duties associated with proclaiming the good news in a variety of ways. We encounter people and a culture that is not always receptive to God’s ways—something that often gets prominence whenever certain elements of society pursue a wrong course of action.
By way of example: the full page advertisement of Freedom from Religion Foundation in the July 4th issue of the NYT. These folks celebrated the “Godless Constitution”—and relied on the slogan “in reason we trust.” This is misguided; this is wrong. Washington, Adams, and Madison, on whom they rely in the advertisement were men of faith. Even Jefferson, who is also quoted, insisted that religion be taught at the University of Virginia, which he founded. Another element to consider is this: the American Constitution Society of (the ACS for short) a few years ago published a booklet containing three founding documents of our nation: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address (150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg was commemorated this past week).
For Lincoln’s address the ACS left out the phrase “under God.” Why? It took people like Professor Robbie George of Princeton University to notice that something important to Lincoln was missing from the ACS publication of the Gettysburg Address. Perhaps the ACS, like the Freedom from Religion Foundation, also think and assert that the nation and its fundamental law are Godless. For starters, they ought to reread Jefferson’s Declaration very carefully wherein he, Jefferson, refers to our Creator who gave us inalienable rights which are components of the self-evident truths also mentioned by Jefferson.
In this context, the new encyclical, Lumen Fidei has something quite relevant to the theme of today’s scripture readings. In N. 26, Pope Francis (with assistance from Pope Benedict XVI) asks an important question: “Can Christian faith provide a service to the common good with regard to the right way of understanding Truth?” Of course, ours is a faith of reason—a reason that is objective, unlike that of the American Constitution Society or the Freedom From Religion Foundation. So what is there to do, if anything, by us, God’s present day laborers? Fidelity in God’s truth—that is what there is to do, and, as in the time of Jesus, more laborers are needed. But we might be a good starting group!
Nevertheless, we must be mindful that there has been and will continue to be opposition to the truth of God. Those who remained faithful to God’s ways in the past experienced PRESSURE. How about our time? Will those of today, who also remain faithful, experience the same pressure? It seems that we are constantly reminded by the skeptical that religion might be tolerated, but only if religion remains a private matter and out of the public square. But this is not what God’s people are called to do: i.e., to be faithful only in private but not in public. Be assured, my friends, that God doesn’t abandon us in our times of need when we strive to remain faithful and serve him in our daily lives; so, let us be bold by seeking, proclaiming, and living the truth of God in the light of our faith even though there is pressure to do otherwise. That is a part of what Francis has asked of us because that is what God has asked and continues to ask of those who freely respond to be his laborers in the present age.
These thoughts give us an opportunity to reflect on how we can take up our call with the seventy-two. Sometimes in great ways, but most of the time in small ways, God, through the Son, asks us to go out amongst the wolves of our time. We are asked to encounter a culture, a people who have gone astray, BUT to remind them that the kingdom of God is at hand—the kingdom in which every person reflects the greatness of God through the joyful gift of life that can only be bestowed by God.
But how do we do this? How do we know what it is that God asks of you or me? Jesus—filled with God’s wisdom— shows us God’s ways of greatness that lead us to that authentic human destiny that makes us FREE from and INDEPENDENT of the Shackles of the Slavery of our misdirected ways—ways that make us want things that remove us from the nobleness of God that can also be a part of our human nature.
Jesus—wants to place a yoke on us. Not a yoke of slavery, but a way of life that binds us to one another and to God. This yoke is not heavy, the burdens it generates are bearable—they are easily maintained because, as Matthew indicates, Jesus is there to help us support whatever burden may be produced. YES, we are independent in many ways, ways that make us the agents of the gift of free will given to us by our Creator. But in the exercise of this great gift, we must also see how we ARE INTER-DEPENDT on one another and with God—for this too is part of our authentic human nature and our part of our heritage as patriotic Americans. But when temptations lure us away from this nature, prayer is needed.
May our prayer for one another and for ourselves be that we are open to God’s revelation that the meek and humble—not the superficially powerful—see and adopt in their lives. For, filled with the Peace of Christ and the Wisdom of God, we are truly independent because we rely on our interdependence with HIM who saves and whose divine image we bear.
With this as our guide, let us join the seventy-two in their, and our, search for God’s peace to those places where God’s harvest is abundant but where He needs more workers—more disciples! God has given us the benefit of discipleship in our baptism; may we not respond to one who is so generous to us?
And with this as our proper attitude, we can see that the few in number will continue to grow, and with this it will be possible to ensure that God’s harvest will be all the greater. My dear sisters and brothers, are we free for this commission? Our presence here at the Eucharist suggests that we are, so may we continue to be mindful that there is no greater independence than to follow the Lord!