Sometimes our call as missionary disciples is truly challenging. It is, after all, a call to follow Jesus in the way of the Cross. It demands detachment and firm commitment, as we saw last Sunday. But we should not conclude from all this that discipleship is all negative. Today’s readings speak much about rejoicing, showing that this demanding missionary vocation is also a joyful one, a share in the joy that fills creation. The Psalm proclaims, “Let all the earth cry out to God with joy!” Joy is one of the marks of a follower of Jesus, as we see in today’s Gospel when the seventy-two disciples return from their mission rejoicing.
The seventy-two had been sent out in pairs to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. What Jesus told them at the beginning of their mission, he says to us today. In sending us into the world, he is giving us the privilege of sharing in his own mission, which from the very beginning was to proclaim the Gospel: “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15). This is the very message he entrusts to us. Jesus has a burning desire that everyone be saved, and he lights the same fire in our hearts. He wants us all to be “laborers,” that is, harvesters, for there is a rich harvest to be gathered in.
The Gospel is a treasure. All who are entrusted with it are spiritually rich. But while the message we bear is rich, we ourselves are to be poor, so that nothing will interfere with the spread of the Gospel. This is the reason why Jesus tells the seventy-two missionaries to bring nothing with them on the journey. As we learned last week, detachment from earthly things is necessary for full commitment to our mission. The Kingdom we are announcing is not based on earthly wealth and is not limited to earthly progress; it is the Kingdom of God!
We can imagine that the new missionaries had some apprehensions about going forward without any earthly support – no money, no bag, no sandals. They must have felt very vulnerable, “like lambs among wolves.” They soon discover, however, that they do not need all the earthly support they used to rely on. Their radical poverty does not leave them defenseless, for they have a Shepherd guarding and providing for them always. Thus they return rejoicing that their mission has been so successful and that they have such power over “the full force of the enemy.” At this point, Jesus gives us a valuable instruction. He tells us not to rejoice simply because we are successful against evil, but for a much deeper reason: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
What does this mean, that our names “are written in heaven”? It is a symbolic way of saying that we have a permanent home in the heart of God. We are safe in his arms. The prophet Isaiah describes the peace and joy of this security by comparing us to a child nursing with delight in the arms of its mother. We are more accustomed to thinking of God as our Father, but Isaiah reminds us that God’s love and tenderness are also revealed through the intermediary figure of a mother. This is a most tender image of God’s love for us. Who is more secure and contented than a nursing child? “Mother Jerusalem” is a prefiguration of Mother Church, who is most perfectly represented by the Blessed Virgin Mary, our spiritual mother. We are indeed children of a heavenly mother, in whose arms we experience the love of God. We rejoice that we are “carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap.” In the heart of the Church, “the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.” Our joy is not only in knowing the Lord’s power, but in knowing his love. We rejoice, not in what we can accomplish but in what God has accomplished already, and in the gift of his abundant life, flowing over us “like an overflowing torrent.”
We encounter another dimension of Christian rejoicing in St. Paul’s description of his “boasting in the cross” in today’s second reading. Paul is overflowing with gratitude that he has been given the privilege of partaking in the mission of Christ and sharing his cross. We learn that, in comparison to this gift, nothing else should matter to us. We all have crosses in our lives: the cross of physical or mental illness, the pain of broken relationships with those we love, the limitations of aging. We are led by grace from endurance to acceptance, from acceptance to embracing and from embracing to rejoicing in our cross. There we know by faith that we are one with him in his redeeming work. We have died with him that others might have life. No one can disturb our peace of soul if we know the love of God. As missionaries, this is the peace that we are to bring to others, just as the seventy-two bring the peace of Christ to every house they enter: “Peace to this household.” Thus Paul proclaims: “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule.”
Does my heart desire that everyone should know who Jesus is? Do I find joy in knowing Jesus? Do I know the love and tenderness of God my Father?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.