We in the United States, celebrate today an historical event of separation
and independence from, what was known as, “Mother England.”
There are still parades, speeches and the evening skies are filled with
fireworks. We love our independence.
We celebrate as Catholics, an historical event of inclusion and dependence.
We refer to the Church as “Holy Mother” and every time we gather to celebrate
the Eucharist, there are proclamations of the Word, processions towards
and away from the altar, and our days are thereby filled with the “graceworks”
We center our prayer in preparation for the Eucharist about our being included
and a spirit of rejoicing, because God has taken up a divine presence among
us. We can pray with our personal histories of distancing ourselves from
God, because God keeps seeking and finding us. In Jesus, God has extended
the Holy of Holies from bricks into hearts. We all have played games of independence
from God and sometimes we think we have won. God does not play games, but
plays to win and that victory is our joy.
To understand our First Reading more fully, we have to reflect upon the
centrality and importance of the Temple in Jerusalem. That building was the
dwelling place of God and the reminder of the covenant of God’s fidelity.
It was the foundational presence of Israel as God’s Chosen People. They were
what the Temple said they were. It became the celebration place for their
identity, their history and their future.
We are listening to verses from the final chapter of the prophet Isaiah.
This book is a complicated and lengthy series of poems, oracles, threats,
and history and songs of consolation. What we hear today is such an oracle
calling out hope and rebirth to the nation Israel.
The Temple has been rebuilt and so the identity of the nation is reborn.
The verse immediately preceding our reading, pictures God in a conception/birth
posture which leads to the maternal rejoicing of our reading.
The Temple itself is in a maternal posture giving birth and consoling nourishment.
The presence of God is again a blessing for all, who like young children,
sit in Her lap and are comforted with her motherly gestures of faithful
love. Those who find life and strength from such sustenance will live their
lives as faithful children in service to their God.
We hear a rather extended “pep talk” by Jesus in today’s Gospel. As Moses
selected seventy elders to guide and govern his people, so Luke positions
Jesus as a Moses sending out seventy-two advance men to make known his coming.
The basic thrust of his instruction is that they are to depend on nothing
nor anybody, but on the Spirit with which Jesus sends them. We hear of their
joyous return and excited report of all they had done and seen.
Jesus receives their report and reminds them that what they had experienced
was that they belong dependently for their identity on God. Jesus is the
“kingdom of God” which is close at hand. The ones sent are how that “kingdom”
will be handed on. They will see and do great things, but even greater are
the works that will be done through them without their knowing it.
Whenever there has been or is a rebellion for independence, whether that
be a nation or a teenager, there follows a necessary search for identity.
When the first thirteen rebellious colonies in the “New World” broke from
England they then had to spend years figuring out and fighting among themselves
about who they then would be. We can spend our lives making personal declarations
of independence and thereby we think we are free. I remember a radio commercial
about a brand of bread. The little lad told his mother he was running away
from home. She asked him if he would like her to make a sandwich or two
for the trip. He softly said that would be okay. Then he asked his mother
humbly, “Mom, would you please drive me?”
As much as we love and fight for freedom personally and nationally, spiritually
we have to fight to retain our sense of relational dependence upon God.
While everything around us invites or urges us to shake off anything that
hinders our freedom, that kind of rebellion leaves us alone with just what
we wanted, our selves. Self reliance sounds psychologically healthy, religiously
and spiritually it is a phrase of foolishness. We can celebrate “self-made”
persons for their independent works, but they really were not self made
We are given life, nourished by the loving motherly sandwiches of life.
We breathe the sustaining air, receive the nurturing sun and rain and then
rebelliously stamp our foots and shout, “I am who I choose I am!” In
the very midst of our declarations, Jesus sends elders, apostles, advancers
to tap God’s foot towards us, around us and announces that the “kingdom of
God is at hand.”
The Temple was a monumental structure representing God’s presence. Jesus
and all who are with him and in him form a “mem-umental” structure, reminding
all people of the motherly-nourishing grace of God. Our parade towards the
Eucharistic table continues as we parade out of a building to build the
“kingdom of God.” We are each parts of God’s sandwich which is sent
and meant to nourish this world’s hunger for true life. God even gives us
a ride if we don’t take too many things with us for the journey and for
“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Ps. 34