Frances writes on the readings for next Sunday :- One of the most difficult things about being a Christian is not “believing in God” but seeing that God makes any difference to our earthly lives. Most things we invest heavily in be it finances, studies or even keeping fit do or are expected to show some earthly reward – we hope our shares will continue to go up and fully expect to be rewarded by better health for all our dietary efforts and exercise. Our Christian faith by contrast is an altogether more risky and hidden thing. Sure, the believer does find his communion with God rewarding and it certainly helps us when we pray under duress and there are occasions when we definitely ‘know’ that our prayers have been answered, but we still live in this fallen world in which things do not work out as anticipated – our tenants trash our houses, our friends turn out to be fair weather friends when we had relied upon their support in real stress, our jobs suddenly become precarious and subject to economic forces which pay no heed to our reliability as workers. Just how does our faith in Jesus fit into all this, indeed, how are we to bring up our children in the faith when we are subject to such fluctuations in daily life? How do we live and convince them that it is of surpassing significance and commitment above all other things?
Surely today’s readings (Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18 and Luke 10:1-12. 17-20) give some important pointers, for they all suggest that at an objective and deeper level of our existence we are already one with God. The subjective reality we experience every day may be full of variations and difficulties, but the Christian is already someone in a radically new relationship with Christ. This is aptly illustrated by our reading from 3rd Isaiah, who speaks to those returning or already returned from Babylonian exile under the more benevolent rule of the Persians. Now towards her (Israel) I send flowing peace, like a river, like a stream in spate, the glory of the nations. At her breast will her nurslings be carried and fondled in her lap. It is a wonderful picture of security and promise, Israel redeemed, God’s own come into its own. And yet this was written to returnees who knew the actual situation in Jerusalem and the country to be much more problematical and dangerous. Foreign settlers had been placed in their farms on Babylon occupied the land, the temple of Solomon was destroyed and their religious system in ruins. Returnees looked askance at the inhabitants and their debased Judaism and getting things ‘back to normal’; quite apart from Israel being ‘the glory of the nations’ would be no mean feet. Yet that is precisely what the restored Israel already is, given by divine fiat.
St Paul clearly believed this so too when he insists that his only boasting can be in the cross of Christ. Every believer he assures them is already ‘a new creation’ or as our translation has it a ‘new creature’ by virtue of what Christ has done in him through his death and resurrection. His ontological being has already undergone a profound change; he is now Christ’s man, just as every baptised Christian is, whether circumcised Jew or uncircumcised gentile. This change in our status and being is achieve solely in, by Christ and is not fundamentally about what we are materially now, slave, free or anything else. Obviously, as Paul recognised this new order of creation was not and was never to be abused in a libertarian kind of way, we behave well simply because Christ Jesus has already won us for himself and it is the only appropriate way to live our lives.
However, as our gospel points out, this is no panacea against illness, death and disaster. The Christian, as St Augustine pointed out, no doubt following our gospel, is called to be more vulnerable and less protected, after the image of the suffering redeemer. Christianity will not shield us from the dangers and duplicities of others. So Jesus sends out the 72 with instructions to be like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. The Christian missionary is then intensely vulnerable, likely to be attacked and beaten up, often hungry and without provisions and should he be lucky enough to find a welcome and hospitality he must put up with what he is given and not seek enviously for a better billet. Decoded, this surely means that like you and me he will be a prey to the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of this world. Yet, he will continue in faithfulness knowing that he is already Christ’s and knowing that Satan has already been defeated.
So, do we just hang on in there in hope, and in the knowledge we have no where else to go, or what? How do we get over to our young children, both as parents and missioners for the faith the certainty that we are on the winning side and that despite appearances our faith is solidly based, true and the most important thing in our lives? In two talks given over the last week Pope Benedict spoke, first at the ordination of 14 new priests for Rome and at the Convention for the people of Rome of the significance and power of the Eucharist, our meeting and union with Christ and the means by which we conduct ourselves in the world, carrying His life into our everyday experiences. The Eucharist is the one, sure and great link between the supernatural, the life of eternity – which this weeks readings speak about so eloquently and the present day. Only as we incarnate our beliefs in the risen, glorified Christ who takes us to him self and the Father through the Eucharist can we expect to grow in relationship in and through the Trinity. It is the food of eternity whose power sanctifies us and all our earthly life and draws us ever more deeply into the life of God. As we live it out in our lives and allow the saving presence of Christ to envelop us we will find the relevance nay, the absolute necessity of our faith and our commitment to it will grow.