Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
[Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6: 14-18; Luke 10:1-9, 17-20]
We receive our scriptural texts today in the context of the Canada Day weekend. To explore their message, I would like to focus upon something that occupies our attention whenever we celebrate the birth of our nation. What I refer to is citizenship. We are grateful to God because we are citizens of a country we love. We belong here; Canada is our home.
To approach the biblical message, let’s keep in mind that, as Christians, we have dual citizenship. While we sojourn on earth as citizens of a particular country, our true homeland is heaven. There we are really at home, because there we rest, are at peace, in the bosom of God. Notice that Jesus himself tells his disciples that their true joy will arise not so much from anything accomplished with the help of God’s grace, as wonderful as that is, but from the fact that their “names are written in heaven”. We are grateful to be Canadians, but our deepest joy springs from the citizenship in heaven God has granted us.
Now, each of us carries proof of our citizenship. We know we are Canadian, but at times we need to show proof of that to people who do not know us. This could be a birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport. While our citizenship is permanent, proof of it is not. Forms of identification expire and need to be renewed. We were granted citizenship in heaven at the moment of our Baptism. That is when we began to follow Jesus Christ on the pilgrim way to our homeland. An essential dimension of being a follower of Jesus Christ is that we show proof of our Christian identity. Here I am not referring to a baptismal certificate but to the way we live our lives. Proof of identity is proffered by the witness we give to Jesus Christ in both word and deed. And if we are not careful, we can allow that to expire. Our Christian identity is permanent because God never revokes his call or promises. But we can allow our proof of identity to expire if we cease giving witness to him, if we allow the practice of an authentic Christian way of life to wane.
What is at stake here is more than the inconveniences that arise if I do not renew my driver’s licence or passport. At issue is the urgent need to proclaim the Gospel. Notice what the text from Saint Luke tells us about the role Jesus assigns to his disciples, to us: “The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” Our mission – clergy, consecrated persons, lay faithful – is to prepare people to receive Jesus Christ into their lives, since he alone is the world’s Saviour, the only answer to the mystery of life. We prepare that way by showing our proof of citizenship, by giving witness in speech and action to him in whom we ourselves have found the reason for our hope. We cannot allow that to expire; in so doing we risk depriving of others of the opportunity to know and love Jesus Christ.
Notice, too, how Jesus himself underscores the urgency of the mission. “The harvest is plentiful,” he says, “but the labourers are few.” Farmers understand well that there is only limited opportunity to gather a harvest that is ripened. The matter is urgent, and sufficient workers need to be secured. Jesus looks out upon the world and sees the vast number of souls needing to receive the love and mercy of God that he has come to reveal and actualize. He calls disciples to be his co-workers in this harvest by directing people to him. This call is not reserved to the ordained or consecrated women and men. It comes to all the baptized. There is nothing more urgent than announcing Jesus and his Gospel, so we all must be very attentive not to let our witness cease.
How might that happen? How might we allow to expire our proof of Christian citizenship, our witness to Christ? The scripture readings point out two ways this can happen: either by despair or pride.
Regarding the first, it can be very tempting to lose hope and thus let our identity card expire, given the fact that our Christian witness is not always received with unalloyed joy. Let’s keep in mind it was ever thus. Jesus said from the outset that he sends his disciples out “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” Much of our world remains allergic to the Gospel and has a very negative reaction to its proclamation. This is often taken out on those who give witness to it. This can tempt us to despair, if we forget that what was also ever thus is the pledge of God to be with his servants, as he promised through Isaiah. Despair yields to hope as we remember that the victory has already been won by Christ, who remains ultimately victorious over all that is evil. When Jesus says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning,” he means that whatever is of the evil one cannot ultimately withstand the forward movement of God’s love, victorious in him. Don’t despair. Maintain hope and thus keep your identity card active.
Pride brings about not only the expiry of our proof of identity but also its complete defacement. This is because pride places self above God; it boasts in personal achievement and in self-aggrandizement. But what truly proves our Christian identity is our boasting, not in ourselves but in the Cross of Jesus Christ, as Saint Paul says. Our proof of identity is recognized as valid when we deflect all attention away from ourselves and onto the merciful and victorious love of Christ.
Our identity in Christ is renewed and deepened in every celebration of the Eucharist. May the grace of this sacrament re-validate our proof of identity by strengthening us anew to give faithful witness to Jesus Christ.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
St. Joseph’s Basilica
July 3rd, 2022