Thursday, October 1, 2009
The Harvest Is Plentiful, But The Workers Are Few
Today’s First Reading is taken from Nehemiah 8:1-12.
The work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem had been completed in the 6th month of the year. The people had worked hard for nearly two months. But Nehemiah’s mission was not yet completed. He had to form the people into a proper nation of God’s people once again. They needed to be taught God’s law again, so they could understand and obey his precepts.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest was asked to read God’s law to them. They even built a high wooden platform for Ezra in the public square near the Water Gate. He stood on the platform while he read the law to all the men and women. The children who were old enough to understand were also present. He read from daybreak to midday and all the people listened.
When Ezra began to read the law, the people all stood up. Then Ezra praise the LORD, the great God, and all the people lifted their hands in the air and answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they bowed and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground.
While the people remained in their places, Ezra continued to read from the Book of the Law, and explained it, so that everyone could understand what was being read. Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites who were instructing the people told them, “Today is holy to the LORD your God; do not be sad, and do not weep.” He told them to go home and to enjoy good food and sweet drinks. He asked them to share food with those who did not have any, and to celebrate joyfully, since they understood the teaching which had been explained to them.
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Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke 10:1-12.
Jesus appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take as money bag, or a sack, or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
"When you enter a house, first say, Peace to this house.If a peaceful person is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
"When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick that are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is at hand for you.' But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town."
“What difference would it make whether they had shoes on their feet or not?”asked Cyril of Alexandria. “Christ wanted them to learn, as they tried to practice, that they had to depend entirely on him.” Their poverty, then, was not a mark of contempt for the world; but when your bare feet touch the ground, you are a bit closer to the world than if you had shoes on. It is a sign of defencelessness, and therefore, of trust in God.
“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Jesus himself was like a lamb among wolves. The gospel proclaims that the deepest wisdom is hidden in suffering, not in self-defense, even less in victory. This does not mean to seek suffering for its own sake, but rather, to understand what Paul means when he says, “Power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
This is quite paradoxical, as any profound teaching is full of paradox. The English word “suffer” once meant “allow”, as in “Suffer the little children to come to me.” Today, suffering means allowing the pain of life to touch me. It is natural for us to try and avoid pain, but when pain comes my way, I ought to let it reach me. Otherwise, I will develop a hard shell of insensitivity. When we see people who have done this, we are apt to say: suffering has made them hard and bitter. But that is not the case! It is their rejection of suffering that produces that effect. Life doesn’t harden people; it is the denial of life that makes them hard.
Consider the oyster or the lobster: hard shelled on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside. Often, people who look hard on the outside are filled with self-indulgence or self-pity on the inside. One of the lessons we learn as we grow older is the difference between self-inflicted emotional pain, and genuine suffering. “By their fruits you shall know them”, Jesus says. Even by their appearance – by the skin of their fruit – you shall know them.
What are we to make of that strange verse, "When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a peaceful person is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you.” The Hebrew notion was that a blessing that could not find a resting place in the other person had to return to the sender. That is not an easy thought to deal with in our day, but Augustine found a way to use it. “Since we do not know who is a child of peace, it is our part to leave no one out, to set no one aside, but to desire that all to whom we preach this peace be saved. We are not to fear that we lose our peace if the one to whom we preach it is not a child of peace.... Our peace will return to us. That means our preaching will profit us, not him. If the peace we preach rests upon him, it will profit both him and us.”
Donagh O’Shea, O.P.