The ancient biblical world contained, it was believed, 70 or 72 nations. So in Luke’s gospel, Jesus sent out the disciples to the whole world, not just to the Israelite communities. The disciples were to take up the strenuous work of evangelization. How they are to be is peaceful, gentle and loving in the midst of intense resistance. They are dependent on the hospitality of the people that they meet. They were to cure the sick and proclaim that ‘the reign of God is at hand’.
What does ‘at hand’ mean? My understanding is that wood crafters lay their tools out in order so that they are ‘at hand’, right here, in the same space when they are required for a particular task. The reign or the kin-dom of God is right here, at hand, among us, and within us. So the disciples were to make ready the towns and villages to receive Jesus, to alert that the reign of God was right here with them. Jesus warned the disciples that the mission would not always go well and so they were then, to move on to another place.
They came back from their mission jubilant at their success and all that they had accomplished. There have been those moments for us as well, when we focus on the visible result and take false pride in what we think we have accomplished by our own efforts! Yet Jesus may have thrown a wet blanket on the disciples high spirits and our spirit when he said to them, rather be glad that your names are written in heaven. Be glad that you have made a difference in someone’s life, something beyond yourself, something bigger than your own self interests.
That is the Christian formula for success. Make a moral difference. Be a part of something larger than yourself. This is not the teaching of the world’s criteria for success which is: lots of money, power, prestige and consuming a lot.
One evening the news reported the flood that was imminent from the rising river in river town. It was the same town that had devastating floods a couple of years earlier and people had just recovered. The young people were there filling and stacking hundreds of sandbags to protect their town. A reporter interviewed several of the young workers. It was backbreaking labor they reflected, yet they had become numb to the pain in their backs and arms because they were part of something that made a difference. Each one was talking about being a part of something larger than them self. They felt really good contributing to the saving of their town in an effort that really brought people together. United in this common cause they worked to lessen the devastation facing them. They were unified for the common good, a very new experience, it seemed, for some of them.
My oldest sister Charlotte and Dorothy were good friends in high school. As happens at graduation each went their different ways. Dorothy entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, taught school and then was missioned to Brazil.
Dorothy worked on behalf of the peasant farmers there who were sustaining threats from the loggers, ranchers and their hired gunman. It was the farmer’s land they were after. Some urged her to leave or crank down her outcry against the devastation of the Brazilian rain forest. Sr. Dorothy would not leave the poor farmers whose livelihood and land were in peril. She traveled to their villages over almost impassable mud roads to read scripture and pray together, to uplift their spirits and sustain their courage. They had each other and they could continue to live in harmony with themselves, the rainforest and their God.
On her way through the forest to a gathering of farmers, Dorothy Stang was stopped, questioned, and gunned down by two men in February, 2005. An older woman standing with, praying with, and being with poor peasant farmers is viewed as a subversive activity against the powerful. That simple activity cost her life. How you are to be is peaceful, gentle and loving in the midst of intense resistance. You will be sent as sheep among wolves, Jesus promises us.
Our mission and challenge today is here, bringing the word of the Holy One’s loving maternal presence with us and being attentive to the common good that is desperately being called for in our neighborhoods, city, nation and world. That is what we are called to discern and act upon.
Jim Wallis of Sojourners has just published a new book: On God’s Side: What religion forgets and politics hasn’t learned about serving the common good. I would like to end with the quote from John Chrysostom that Jim begins his book with:
“This is the rule of most perfect Christianity; its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good… for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for [ones] neighbor.”
Nancy Meyer, RWCP