14th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Traveling Light

God's kingdom is often compared to a "harvest" in the Scriptures.  It is an image that perhaps meant more to other cultures, in other ages than our own.  Traditionally, today's Gospel is used to preach for an increase in the response to the vocation to the priesthood and religious life. And while that idea is very much valid, there is a much more important message for all of us in the narrative.  We can substitute the word "church" for "harvest" and we can hear the Lord reminding us that it is by God's favor that we belong to this chosen community. 

The seventy-two are Jesus' forerunners. Luke tells us that they are being sent "to every town and place he intended to visit." They are his ambassadors. The first words they are to speak are words of peace: "Peace to this household." Their presence and their words immediately reflect the One who sent them, whom Luke reminds us from the beginning of his Gospel, is the One who brings us peace with God and all men and women.

A harvest just doesn't happen - it requires work.  "Church" doesn't just happen...  it doesn't just pop up out of ground.  All of the different components which make up our Church require work, support, planning, tender care, patience - and yes, honest dialog.

The Gospel today tells us that the seventy-two returned "rejoicing" - that their mission was successful.  It says nothing about them being rejected or chased out of the towns to which they were sent.  It could very well be that they were... but Luke chooses to focus on the success of the mission and on the fact that the Gospel is proclaimed by the very ones who desperately need it.
 
This year, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary time falls on July 4th weekend.  As we in the United States celebrate the birth of our nation, we not only recall the courage and heroism of ordinary citizens as they struggled to build a new nation, but we also recognize, very deeply, that the violence that marked our American Revolution has not gone away.
 
We live in a world of violence - violence which touches every corner of the planet.  Sadly, we have become accustomed to terms such as "organized terror attack," "suicide-bombing", "home-grown, lone-wolf attacker"...  We see hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees searching for a home, and watch in abject horror as hate crimes unfold into the loss of innocent lives.
 
But violence can also take shape in how we use our words.  This is true not only in the politics of the world around us, but also within our church.  We love to label one another: "conservative, liberal, traditionalist, progressive."  We talk "at" one another, not "with." 

If we are to be the modern-day "seventy-two," we must do better than that.
 
The world needs a voice in the great human-wide quest to discover the truth and the meaning of life; a voice which doesn't claim to have the absolute answers to ultimate questions, but one which discovers those answers together with others: where did we come from; where are we going; what is the ultimate meaning of our existence; and how do we create a moral and civilized country and world? 
 
A "smaller, purer Church" cannot speak with that voice... a closed-minded, exclusive Church cannot... a polarized, divided Church cannot...
 
God has made humanity as a patch-work quilt, and Jesus has shown us the way of servant leadership. There is a reason that Jesus sent the seventy-two out in pairs. No one of us has all of the answers; no one of us is the "model disciple."  No one of us can proclaim the Good News alone. 
 
This being so, why not look into the eyes of others, not so much as to see the reflection of ourselves in their eyes — but to understand that behind these eyes there is someone to be understood, someone to be valued, and a higher purpose to be achieved by doing so.

The church of Jesus Christ must be a community of responsible leadership and commitments - shared leadership between clergy and laity, and shared commitment to the work of the harvest. If we to witness to the Good News of Christ, we must do so because together we are the Church. We need to cooperate and to respond - and we must not be afraid to speak out whenever anyone gives evidence of attitudes that do not reflect the spirit of Jesus. That doesn't mean grumbling and complaining in private, but rather to speak sincerely and constructively. It means taking ownership of the Gospel. It means remembering that as baptized and sacramental people we are empowered to be alive in the Holy Spirit and to transform the world.
 
Traveling light means speaking the word of peace - not of violence; it means leaving behind all the excess baggage of our own petty prejudices and preferences; it means living out the words we speak with sincerity and brutal honesty. It is not enough for us, as human beings, just to live. We also must give words to what we are living. 

But just speaking words of peace in not enough... talking about "love" or "praying for peace" is not enough.  We must transform those words into action.

And when we do that we become healthy laborers in the harvest.

Henri Nouwen reminds us of something very significant about the use of words:
 
“Words are important. Without them our actions lose meaning. And without meaning we cannot live. Words can offer perspective, insight, understanding, and vision. Words can bring consolation, comfort, encouragement and hope. Words can take away fear, isolation, shame, and guilt. Words can reconcile, unite, forgive, and heal. Words can bring peace and joy, inner freedom and deep gratitude. Words, in short, can carry love on their wings. A word of love can be the greatest act of love. That is because when our words become flesh in our own lives and the lives of others, we can change the world.  Jesus is the word made flesh. In him speaking and acting were one.”