14th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
Isaiah 66:10-14c Galatians 6:14-18 Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Paul was an imaginative and insightful realist. His boast “only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” was an exhortation to embrace reality with both mind and heart while embracing the Gospel message at the same time. Our Gospel principle, Culture incarnates Gospel while Gospel critiques Culture requires the cross, i.e., a life of true, thoughtful engagement with reality, to be the focus of our very existence. Paul’s cross was not an appeal to the miraculous. No, his was the active, nitty-gritty engagement with real life. Preaching and teaching, praying and works of charity, and responsible integrity and grown-up fellowship – in these he defined Gospel life. He literally rejected much of his own religious culture (when it avoided or denied reality) even when that rejection brought about negative and sometimes violent reactions against him. In today’s second lesson, he flatly asserted that circumcision (as a sign of religious membership) meant nothing, neither did being uncircumcised (a sign of being a religious outsider), ever since the proclamation of the Gospel of the Risen Jesus Christ at Pentecost. This was Paul’s way of pointing out that while culture is indeed important in life, it must always subjected to Gospel critique. All healthy culture must change with time and circumstance. Paul did away with cultural exclusivity, with an out-of-date, self-righteous sense of chosen-ness. Cultures, including religious cultures, can easily become out-of-date in some of their practices and customs, even those of long-standing. We, too, must occasionally critique our own multiple cultures: individual culture (my personal preferences and practices), domestic culture (how my family or household has long done things), ethnic culture (how my tribal or national or language group perceives things), religious culture (how our church has done things or asserted beliefs), societal culture (how our extended neighborhood expects us to behave) and political culture (the governmental power group with which I associate). We live today (A.D. 2010) in a time when the religious and political cultures are particularly troubling. There seems in these cultures’ leaders an overwhelming, reality-denying desire to restore a poorly imagined past Camelot-like era, to return to a time and place which actually never existed. They seem to dislike the complexities of real life and to be completely intimidated by natural change and evolution. Such tendencies are particularly subversive to the Gospel and to healthy life. Sometimes each of these cultures embodies and espouses virtuous and constructive behaviors and values. At other times, though, each also espouses and advocates what can only be considered anti-Gospel ideals and values. When a church’s leadership becomes detached from real life and ceases creative theological engagement with modern reality, becomes morally ideological, institutionally super-loyal or super-controlling of membership or fails to be prophetic, or when a political party’s leaders advocate impeding the legitimate work of legitimate government or when they twist facts in order to frighten or deceive the public, or when an ethnic group is bigoted and hateful towards (an)other ethnic group(s) – then it is time for Gospel critique. These are each anti-Gospel stances and they are destructive of church fellowship, i.e., the love commandment.
Today’s Gospel text and first reading from Trito-Isaiah today are celebratory exhortations. They use imagery foretelling the joy that comes from genuinely engaging reality by faithful attentiveness to and embrace of God’s Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Isaian text refers to the Jewish restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem, the Temple and the Land of Israel and Judah (late in the 500s BC). The prophetic author instilled a hope that this restoration of God’s Chosen People might lead to a new fidelity to the covenant of Moses. In fact, if one goes on to read Ezra and Nehemiah, we see from our modern perspective that the leaders of that restoration actually over-reacted and became what many today would observe to be excessively strict and too religious, even extreme. Excessive religious practice, religious extremism, over-simplification of religious faith – none of these are healthy. All are excluded by genuine Gospel responsible freedom. When the disciples-in-training returned to Jesus, Luke’s Gospel states that they were amazed at the results produced by their ministry in the name of Jesus. They probably ministered in very ordinary ways, appropriate for their time and place. Their universe was rather small and limited, and they were accustomed to describing that universe in apocalyptic tones and terms. We no longer live in or believe in an apocalyptic frame of reference. But, parallel to them, our ministries must be appropriate for our times and places. We must appreciate that our universe is about 14 billions of years old and at least that many light-years in radius! So, our images of the Divine Mystery (aka God) must be appropriate to the scale of our universe as perceived in our day. To appreciate such appropriateness, we must practice seeing, hearing, thinking, behaving, and giving-witness with the eyes, ears, minds and tongues of genuine disciples who live in and engage in life, knowledge and wisdom of the 21st Christian Century. Responsible Gospel freedom is our beginning. To “have life, and have it abundantly” in our lives here and now (John 10:10) and to have eternal life in God’s real presence in the future, are our Gospel goals.
Here’s to reality! Here’s to the present! Here’s to Responsible Gospel Freedom!