The familiar story in today’s Gospel [Luke 10:1-12, 17-20] in which Jesus sent the 72 disciples on a kind of practice run for what they would later be doing full-time after his ascension reminds us that announcing God’s kingdom is what we are all about, that announcing God’s kingdom constitutes the Church’s essential mission – in every age and in every society.
Jesus, we are told, sent the 72 in pairs – not as solitary individuals, but in pairs. Jesus sent his disciples out on mission in pairs, not just because a group effort would be more effective but because of the greater witness value of non-competitive, collaborative life and work. In the Middle Ages, Saint Dominic discerned the special witness value of such an apostolic manner of life to renew and revive the Church in his time and place. In the 20th century, the Second Vatican Council likewise highlighted how such an evangelical life witnesses to God’s kingdom at work in the world through the Church.
In today’s climate of predatory individualism, a dead-end into which our consumerist culture seems increasingly capable of absorbing even religion itself as well as so much of the Church’s life, the renewed witness of personal conversion and authentic community cannot be underestimated. Our American culture is tragically one which places a lot of emphasis on our private, individual lives and private, individual freedoms. But, on this Independence Day Eve, the Gospel reminds us today that we are never isolated, solitary selves, but a community of faithful people, formed by the Holy Spirit into one Church, the body of the Risen Christ, to continue his mission in every town and place.
Jesus commanded his disciples to make a difference in their world. So, if we really mean what we say we believe, then what we do in our many relationships and multiple commitments – in our families and among friends, at work or at school, in civil society, and in the wider world – must make a difference and be recognizable as such. Jesus expects us to be on the same side with him – on the side of God’s kingdom. Being on God’s side, having our names written in heaven (as Jesus says), frees us to join Jesus in making a real, recognizable difference in an always challenging, sometimes somewhat welcoming, but also sometimes sadly inhospitable world. It frees us to tell – and retell – the story of Jesus, to speak his word to any and all, so we too can say to the country and the world we love: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.”
Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Saint Paul the Apostle Church, NY, July 3, 2022.