Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Donald Dilger

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Response: Psalm 66:13, 4-5, 6-7, 16, 20; Second Reading: Galatians 6:14-18; Gospel: Luke 10:1-12, 17-20

The first reading is from a part of the Book of Isaiah called Third- or Trito-Isaiah. This unknown prophet, whose oracles were added to the Isaiahan collection, came upon the scene in Jerusalem about 515 B.C. His oracles are found in Isaiah 56-66. God sent him as a cheerleader for a community of former Jewish exiles now back home in Jerusalem. His joyful poem rapped within a distressed community was not unlike our custom of singing Alleluias at a funeral. Though this custom seems awkward, at such “joyful” funerals we of course envision a resurrection. That is exactly what Trito-Isaiah envisioned, not a resurrection of a human corpse, but a resurrection of a corporate body teetering on the edge of collapse. Therefore the expressions of joy, to turn the sadness of desperation to the hope of restoration, “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her, all you who love her. Behold, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, the wealth of nations flowing (into her) like a gushing stream.” (One may see this oracle fulfilled in the multitude of tourists gushing into Jerusalem today, but that was not the prophet’s vision.)

There are remarkable expressions of tenderness in this reading, expressions the prophet attributes directly to the Lord God. Jerusalem becomes a mother offering the milk of her abundant breasts to those who love her children. The prophet’s thoughts come close to a PG-13 rating, “that you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort. As nurslings you shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap.” Then the prophet turns even the Lord God into a tender maternal being, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” The prophet ends the oracle with another Ode to Joy, “When you see this, your heart will rejoice.” Even the sick and the elderly are not neglected, “And your bodies will flourish like the grass.” Thank you!

The Responsorial Psalm, 66, is a corporate song of thanksgiving to God. Quite appropriately too, since Trito-Isaiah was speaking to a corporate body, the
people of Jerusalem. The Psalmist invites people to join him shouting acclamations of praise, to do music, to check out and be impressed because of the wondrous works of the Lord wrought for the Israelites (and for us). The people respond with their own joyful praise, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy.”

The second reading continues a series of readings from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. Galatia as a province of the Roman Empire was located in central Asia Minor, which today would be central Turkey. Paul dictated this letter, then added in his own handwriting the part which forms our second reading. This is Paul’s angriest letter. His anger was directed not only at the “Truth Squad” who stalked him and followed him from place to place, but also at the Galatian Christians who ignored his teaching and adopted that of his enemies. The problem was one that Paul had to deal with throughout his missions — whether male Gentile (pagan) converts must be circumcised to become Christians. Paul’s teaching, “Absolutely not!” He angrily rejects the Truth Squad’s invasion of his Galatian Christians. Here he is more subdued than the curse he levelled at them in 5:12. Unlike his critics, he does not glory in any bodily scars except those of being crucified to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Besides these spiritual scars, he has other bodily scars from the beatings, scourging and stoning he endured. His ending is priceless, “I want no more trouble about this.” Unlike his enemies who boast about the scars of circumcision, he boasts about the scars he acquired from persecution, “for they are the (true) marks (scars) of Jesus.”

The gospel of this Sunday is a story that occurs only in Luke. In Mark, Matthew, and Luke, Jesus sends out the Twelve on their first mission. In addition to that mission, Luke adds a mission in which
Jesus sends out seventy (or seventy-two) disciples, even though Luke placed the sending of the Twelve in the immediately preceding chapter (9). It seems that the various churches (parishes) founded by this time had sets of instructions as guidelines for the missionaries they sent out to proclaim the Word. In Mark, Matthew, and in Luke twice these instructions are basically the same, but they differ due to different circumstances in different localities and the changes that crept into them through oral tradition. Since a gospel is a catechism, Luke must have some catechetical reason for adding a mission of seventy (or seventy-two). The difference in the number of disciples as reported in Luke’s gospel is due not to Luke but to the different numbers in disagreeing ancient manuscripts. The Old Testament text behind the number is Genesis 10:231, a section on the populating of the earth by the descendants of Noah through his three sons. The Hebrew Old Testament lists 70. The Greek Old Testament lists 72.

What might be the author’s catechetical reason for this second mission? Luke is always interested in the Church as universal, no restrictions to any chosen nation or people. He is well-versed in the Scriptures (Old Testament). Therefore he uses this mission of 70 (72) to correspond to the universal populating of the earth through 70 (72) individual forebears. Clever! That is how catechism was taught through the lens of the Old Testament Scriptures while the authors formed the New Testament Scriptures. The ending of the missionary instructions in all the gospels are not a pretty picture — an audiovisual curse. “Whatever town does not receive you, go out into the street and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we shake off as a witness against you.’” This reminds Luke of curses attributed to Jesus against towns that refused his mission. They are mercifully omitted from today’s gospel reading. One must wonder about their being attributed to the same Jesus who says in Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who persecute you. Pray for those who abuse you.” Luke sorely needed a skilled editor!