The 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time
03 July 2019
Luke’s Gospel begins and ends in Jerusalem. Within that frame, Luke situates much of Jesus’ teaching in his “Journey to Jerusalem” (9:51-19:27), where we find this Sunday’s passage. We recall that “Israel (Jerusalem) occupies in the plans of Divine Providence a place resembling … that of all mankind; … a microcosm similar … to the macrocosm” (NJBC, p. 17).
This focus on Jerusalem led liturgists to choose the Isaiah passage as a companion piece for today’s Gospel. Here we find a gentle image of Jerusalem as a young, nursing mother, the prophet affirms God’s promise: “as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you … in Jerusalem.” The repetition of “Jerusalem” holds the assurance that “the hand of the Lord is with his servants” in God’s compassionate fidelity, following the brutal siege of Jerusalem and the decades of exile.
This is a creative fidelity, finding ever new expressions. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul opposes the Judaizers within the Christian community, who insist on observance of circumcision and other Jewish legal obligations as prerequisites for entry into the Church. Paul, who of course was circumcised, now proclaims “the cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ” and the “marks of Jesus branded on my body” as the signs of the “new creation,” the “Israel of God,” the Church, which is open to believers with or without circumcision. This is the only time in his writings that Paul qualifies “Israel” with “of God,” an expression not found in the Hebrew Bible. (cf. JANT, p. 344).
Luke alone has the story of the sending of the seventy. Karris suggests that there is no “indisputable decision of whether 70 or 72 is the original text; trustworthy ancient manuscripts support both readings” (NJBC, p. 701). However, Brown (INT, p. 244, note 43) remarks that 72 (6 x 12) is an unusual number in the Bible, and has probably been simplified to the more usual 70 under the influence of Ex. 24:1 (cf. also Gen, 46:27, Ex. 1:5, or Gen. 10:2-31 – the table of the nations of the world). Karris points out that Luke roots this universal mission of the Church in the ministry of Jesus (NJBC, p. 701). This account may anticipate the development of the mission in the Acts of the Apostles, where “the Twelve function prominently at the beginning … but then the initiative passes to others like Paul, Barnabas and Silas” (Brown, p. 244). The Christian mission is to establish a particular quality of life; the disciples are sent “like lambs into the midst of wolves,” anticipating the eschatological era of peace and reconciliation symbolized by the lamb lying down with the wolf. Whether they are welcomed or not, in fulfilling their mission the disciples will know that “the kingdom of God has come near.” Indeed, upon returning, the seventy report that, in their ministry as in that of Jesus, the powers of evil are overcome.
Three images convey particular qualities of the faith community — Jerusalem, Israel, or the Church — through which “your names are written in heaven”: this is a nurturing community (the nursing mother), a suffering community (the cross), and an eschatological community (the lamb lying down with the wolf). “God, how awesome are your deeds” (Ps. 66:3)!
Reflection and Discussion:  What might be a contemporary image of the faith community and what qualities does it symbolize?  What challenges / threatens that conception of the faith community today?
Bibliography: Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford University Press, New York, 2011) [JANT]; Raymond E. Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, Roland Murphy, The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (Prentice Hall, New Jersey, 1990) [NJBC]; Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997) [INT].
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