By Father Donald Dilger
First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Respond: Psalm 66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Second Reading: Galatians 6:14-18; Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
The first reading is from the third section of the Book of Isaiah, called Trito-Isaiah. It consists of chapters 56-66. First Isaiah was situated in Jerusalem. His oracles are dated from 742-701 B.C., though he may have lived on until 682 B.C. The second part of the Book of Isaiah is called Deutero-Isaiah. The prophet is with the Israelite exiles in Babylon. The approximate dates:550-540 B.C. With Trito-Isaiah we are back in Jerusalem after the exile. Approximate dates: 530-516 B.C.
That all three prophets’ oracles are found within one Book of Isaiah is a result of ancient editorial arrangement. Trito-Isaiah, like Deutero-Isaiah, is God’s cheerleader to a depressed community. The prophet’s message in today’s reading is expressed with great tenderness — the kind of language one might use to a bereaved corporate family on the verge of collapse. He looks only to the future.
True to form, a prophet speaks not on his own, but for the Lord. He begins, “Thus says the Lord.” What does the Lord say? “Rejoice with Jerusalem. Be glad because of her. Exult with her, you who were mourning over her.” The prophet sees Jerusalem as a mother to those who love her. “Oh, that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts.” The sensitive language he uses here would hardly fit into current homilies or current papal documents. He predicts future prosperity, which will flow over Jerusalem like a river. “And the wealth of the nations (will overflow the city) like a gushing stream.” It is unlikely that the prophet envisioned the hordes of tourists of our time bringing “the wealth of the nations” to Israel. He returns to maternal language. “As nursing babies, you shall be carried on her (Jerusalem’s) hips and fondled upon her knees.” What the Lord says next is even more remarkable. The Lord, whom we Christians know as God the Father, has maternal instincts! “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” The Lord’s prophet began with “Rejoice,” and closes with that theme. One is reminded of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy in the choral part of his ninth symphony.
The theme of joy continues in Psalm 66. “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.” It is one of many psalms of thanksgiving to God. The psalmist invites others to join him in shouts of praise to God for his wondrous deeds. Two of those deeds are mentioned — the drying up of the Sea of Reeds and the drying up of the Jordan, both permitting passage through the river bed. The Psalmist adds a personal note, “Blessed be God who did not refuse my prayer and extended to me his kindness.”
The second reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Galatia was a province of the Roman Empire in what we know today as central Turkey. The letter is addressed to “the churches of Galatia.” Paul had passed through this area during one or more of his missionary journeys. He is angry in this letter. He first defends himself as a genuine apostle. It seems he was followed on his journeys by a kind of “truth squad,” or “reality check” people, who criticized not only his authenticity but one of his basic teachings — that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to undergo the Jewish initiation rite of male circumcision. As we saw in last Sunday’s second reading, Paul wrote, “For freedom Christ has set us free” (of that burden). He makes a daring statement in today’s reading, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything.” Unlike his critics, he does not boast about any bodily scars of his own except those he acquired during his missionary activities through beatings, scourging, and attempts at stoning him to death. These scars he compares to being crucified to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Interesting conclusion: “I don’t want any more trouble about this, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.”
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus sends out the12 on their first mission. In addition to that mission, Luke narrates a second mission of 70 (or 72) disciples. All three gospels have a set of missionary instructions for the 12. Luke adds basically the same instructions for the 70. There are minor differences found when comparing the four instructions. The differences can be accounted for through adaptation to different circumstances in a given mission field, or to the changes introduced through oral tradition. All of the gospels are basically catechisms for the communities for which they were originally composed. So, we can attempt to find the catechetical reason for Luke to add a second mission of a different group than the 12. We do not have original manuscripts of any documents of Old or New Testaments; but we do have copies of copies of copies, etc., all copied by hand and into different languages. The Old Testament text behind the difference in numbers, 70 or 72, is Genesis 10:2-31, the table of the nations of the world. It describes the populating of the earth. The Hebrews text lists 70 nations, while the major Greek text lists 72. This led to differences in ancient manuscripts of the Gospel of Luke, 70 or 72.
As to the catechetical reason for the second mission in Luke — he is always interested in presenting the Christian proclamation as a universal mission. He uses the numbers of the table of nations in Genesis to express that universality. Just one small example of how catechetics were originally taught through use of the Old Testament feeding into the New. Sadly, Luke’s missionary instructions end with an audio-visual curse against towns that reject Christian missionaries, “The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.” If Acts 13:51 and 18:6 are historical, then Paul had the same practice. One must wonder about such sentiments being attributed to Jesus, who is quoted as saying in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you.” Luke could have benefitted from a good editor. The Holy Spirit did inspire Luke, but left the smoothing out of differences to human editors. Luke adds an outcome — the return of the joyful and successful disciples. Their biggest thrill was to do exorcisms. Jesus reminds them that this was not as important as rejoicing “because your names are written in heaven.”