Practical ways to speak of the Gospel

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :- The great danger, either with referenda or ancient foreign policies, is or was that they induce people to think in terms of phantasy worlds – everything will be all right now! This of course is absolute rubbish. When 3rd Isaiah (66:10-14) wrote his ecstatic song of the joys of returning to Jerusalem of those whose ancestors had been exiled by the Babylonians, he paints a wonderful but totally unrealistic picture -“That you may be suckled, filled with her consoling breast, that you may savour with delight her glorious breasts.” – and peace will be like a stream in spate -Jerusalem would be the glory of the nations. What a load of old cobblers! In fact, Jerusalem was a shabby ruin and its temple smashed to bits and of course, the country was filled with the foreigners put there by the Babylonians. You might say that those who opted to stay back in Babylon were the real ones to savour prosperity, education and the delights of civilisation.

 

When Luke was writing his Gospel (Luke 10:1-12.17-20) Jesus sends his disciples out as missionaries with a much more realistic and pragmatic sense of the world in which they are to preach the Good News of the kingdom; and he is altogether more aware of the way they need to present themselves to their listening public.  Far from coming as powerful, wealthy and reforming visitors from distant parts, with a message to impose on others less fortunate, they are sent out like Lambs among wolves”. They are to be utterly vulnerable. Indeed, as they are told to carry no purses, no haversacks or sandals, they appear to be sent out as beggars, dependent on the generosity of the natives, rather than as having some superior knowledge or power to impart. Contrary to Isaiah’s spurious vision of wealth, power and riches (all that metaphor of breasts), it is by their very vulnerability, their own need, that the disciples will attract others to the Gospel.

 

Now it is true that Jesus attracted followers to his teaching by way of healing and miracles of feeding; but the setting surely of such events is almost always communal, situations where he meets people and responds to their needs: communities of mourners; families with sick members. Even when people are solitary, as in the case of Zacchaeus the tax man, or John’s Samaritan woman at the well, it is precisely their need for community which is actually addressed. The Kingdom is a place of sharing and giving, and Jesus, we note, wheedles himself into their homes and communities precisely by making apparent his own needs, a bed for the night or food and drink to sustain himself and his lagging followers. This is to be the pattern of future ministry too, as we see Jesus instruct his disciples to eat what they are given and, perceptively, ‘Do not move from house to house’. In other words, do not reject the simple and humble first offers when something better comes along later, remember the society in which you are staying and do not think to embarrass the poor, or be preferential to the better off.

 

What stands out is the urgency for the coming of the Kingdom of God displayed in this short Gospel passage. Twice we are told “The Kingdom of God is near.” Generations of people have chewed over what Jesus meant by this statement, along with his remark “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven”, and consider that it is all about an imminent eschaton and the end of the world, or some such phenomena. But if we stop to consider the context of all this, and where we are in Luke’s account of Jesus’ story, surely all becomes rather clearer. We have already witnessed the Transfiguration. (Lk 9:28-36) We have already had Jesus’ great predictions of his passion and the feeding of the 5000, so redolent as it is of the Eucharist with its three great consecration verbs, took, blessed and broke. We have already been told (9:53) that Jesus was resolutely heading for Jerusalem and his passion. If what we have come to believe about him subsequently – that he has redeemed us from sin and restored us to a proper relationship with the Father –  is true, then there can be no doubt that the Kingdom of God has come in his person and his sacrificial life. The sadness for Jesus lay in the fact that so many Jews, his own people, would not follow him, as seen in his crotchety rebuke of the towns of Israel and omitted from our Gospel passage today.

 

It was into this mission to the Gentiles, (Galatians 6:14-18) pagan converts to the faith, that St Paul flung himself with such magnificent and wild abandon, travelling in all some 10,000 miles, often on foot. It was to be a slow and arduous mission, as archaeologists of South/Central Turkey point out to this day, and Paul, like his Lord, suffered willingly for the gospel many beatings and other problems, including defamation of his character. There is no doubt that on rare occasions he met with wealth and real financial support on his travels, but by and large, it was his willingness to live alongside those he wished to convert to the gospel that won through in the end. Clearly those of us who refuse to identify with those we would convince will in the end be doomed to failure.

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