Why does Jerusalem appear to be a woman with breasts in the 1st Reading today? (Isaiah 66:10-14) And what has that got to do with being a Christian? Well let me explain! The writer was trying to encourage his people to join together as one people and to find inspiration and support (as a mother feeds her baby) from their great city Jerusalem. He wants to remind them that she (the city) is like a mother to them, because this is the place, more than any other place, where God is and will be present for them in a special way. For them this is the Temple in the heart of the city.
In our 2nd Reading (Galatians 6:14-18) St Paul tells us that we, the Church, the people of God, we are the new “Israel of God”. The link then becomes clearer. For Jerusalem is, of course, the capital city of Israel. For us Christians then, for the Church which is what we are, our Jerusalem, the place that feeds and inspires us like a mother, is any place where we gather and celebrate Mass and receive or are present and close to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Here, at Holy Mass, we are to think of ourselves as tiny babies, absolutely dependant on God, who need God to be as close to us as a mother feeding her baby, because it is only through God’s power and grace that we can go out from Mass and do God’s work.
St Paul lives, as we do, amongst people who are constantly trying to show that they are as good, if not even better, than those around them ; and we can be like that too. Sometimes we can be like people out there, who mention the job they do, or the holidays they have been on, or the people they know, or the success of their children or grandchildren, or something else, merely to show how important or successful they are. That’s why St Paul says that the only thing he can boast about is “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”, because it is God through the sacrificial love of Jesus who is the only source of anything and everything in our life that might be described as a success.
Our job is going well – thanks be to God. We were able to afford a good holiday – thanks be to God. Our children, or grandchildren, took their first steps – did well in their exams etc. – thanks be to God. Always and everywhere we Christians know, and share with others, that without God as our source and strength, like a mother feeding us through the Holy Mass, we cannot succeed at anything at all.
This then is the message that we have to share with the world, and that Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim in our Gospel today (Luke 10:1-12,17-20) He tells them, and us, to proclaim, whether people like to hear it or not, that “the kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some of you may have heard me tell the story before of the really good Staff Nurse in Newbury Hospital where I was Chaplain. She was an atheist, and once we had become good friends, she asked me, pointing to her sick patients and her ward, “So where is this God you believe in?” I paused for a moment, and then said “In this place, I find God most of all, in you!” Another way of saying, you see, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.”
Notice, by the way, that there are ways of saying this that affirm, rather than attack, other people. Yes, the Gospel, challenges people (and us of course) to think about life, every aspect of life, in a God-centred way, but this is Gospel – and the word Gospel means “good news” – the kingdom of God is very near to you.
Notice too that Jesus has to warn the disciples not to boast about any success they may have had when they have shared the Gospel with others. We can, of course, be too modest, too shy about our faith. Sometimes people would love to be asked –“Would you like to come to see what a Catholic Mass is like?” Sometimes lapsed Catholics would love to be asked “Would you like to come and see what my Church is like?” Put like that you see, it isn’t threatening or demanding. It just offers an opportunity that they can accept or decline without causing offence. But if they do come, if you, or we, are successful in attracting new people to this wonderful event where God is present to us in a special way , like a mother feeding her young, then we are warned never to boast about it.
Every success, whatever it may be, is just something to thank God for. Or as Jesus says, to “rejoice that our names are written in heaven.”