We celebrate this 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time on the Fourth of July weekend. Hopefully for everyone there will be time to relax, burn a hot dog or two and be with family and friends.
But maybe deep down inside this is really no “ordinary time” at all for us and our beloved country. There is a strident presidential campaign going on and a lot of concern about the robustness of our economy and the social and ethnic and religious divisions among us — which some exploit for political gain.
Perhaps this restless season might prompt us to listen to the Scriptures this Sunday in a different mode. The opening reading from the prophet Isaiah praises Jerusalem, just as many of us might be tempted to praise our country, blessed with so many resources and good people. Isaiah was a Jerusalem-based prophet and he speaks with great tenderness about this sacred city so central to the history and hopes of Israel. Jerusalem is compared to a nursing mother who feeds her children with milk and carries and comforts her people like a mother does her child.
The Gospel passage put in tandem with this lovely passage from Isaiah is taken from the mission instructions Jesus gives his disciples in the Gospel of Luke. There are notes of sobriety here. Jesus sends his disciples out like “lambs among wolves.” They are to travel light — “no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” Like someone who has been given an urgent message to deliver, they are not to stop for idle chatter but must carry out their mission with utter seriousness.
Why this mood? For Jesus, the mission entrusted to the disciples is a matter of life and death: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” They are bringing a message of life to those in need. They are empowered to cure the sick and to bring peace to the homes and villages they visit.
The same Gospel passage describes the disciples reporting back to Jesus after their first mission experience. They are ecstatic — “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” And Jesus himself is stirred by their joy — he has seen “Satan fall like lightning from the sky!”
What are we to make of this Gospel message in our world today? Most of us are not used to using the vocabulary of “Satan” and “demons” but we are aware of the kinds of aggressive evil that can overwhelm us. The daily news reports flood over us: almost daily shootings in some of our neighborhoods; scenes of desperate refugees losing their lives attempting to cross the sea to freedom; coarse words of contempt hurled at each other among candidates aspiring to the highest office in our country — anyone can add to this woeful list.
But the Gospel message entrusted to us, as Pope Francis keeps reminding us, is not meant to be a constant scold but a message of hope and reconciliation. It is a message reminding us of our dignity as human beings and children of God; a message calling us to build bridges and to respect other human beings; a message that prompts us at every opportunity to feed and nourish others — to “heal” them as Jesus urges his disciples in our Gospel for today.
We hope that the deep values of the Gospel also coincide and inform the deepest aspirations of our country at its best. Few of us have any control over the airwaves or can give speeches in the public square. But we can resolve at this critical moment in our country’s history to rededicate ourselves to the mission of peace and to the Gospel of the kingdom of God entrusted to us as Christians. And we can use every opportunity given to us — no matter how ordinary or inconsequential it might seem — to speak up for our Christian values and the spirit of peace and reconciliation that lies at the heart of the Gospel message Jesus proclaimed.
Senior is president emeritus, chancellor and professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union, 5401 S. Cornell Ave. He has been amember of the Pontifical Biblical Commission since 2001.