Sunday, 3 July 2016

Week 14 Sunday (Year C)

Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 65/66; Galatians 6:14-18; Matthew 10:1-12, 17-20

'Salute no one on the road' seems like strange advice. Are we to be rude as we go about the task of preaching the gospel? It might even seem unChristian, if we take Christianity to mean a certain kind of middle class morality. And it certainly seems like a bad strategy if public relations is our task, a bad move politically.

But perhaps public relations is not our task. Instead the disciples are to be single-minded and focused, intent on the mission on which they have been sent. Do not let yourselves be distracted along the way, even by good things: this seems to be the message.

It can seem odd, to ignore people along the road. A friend of one of our communities asked some of us one evening whether Father X was odd. 'Some days he says hello to me', she said, 'and other days he ignores me.' And then she added (charitably), 'I suppose he does be thinking'.

Ezekiel was certainly odd and many of the prophets were ill-fitting to the contexts in which they preached. There was a single-minded urgency about them, an intense preoccupation with the communication of the Word to the people. This oddness continues in the apostles who are the prophets of the New Covenant. The love of Christ compels us, Paul says, and the world is crucified to me as I am to the world.

But the message is truly good news: 'the kingdom of God is very near to you'. Jesus elsewhere tells a lawyer that he is 'not far' from the kingdom of heaven. Very near and not far, but not exactly the same. The world is ablaze with the glory of God but it is not to be simply identified with God, nor God with the world. God has visited his people and continues to abide with them, but he is not to be identified with anything in this creation nor anything in this creation with God.

Very near and not far, but still something other, new, different. There is no perfect fit between the world and the kingdom. There will always be discord between the Church, the sacrament of the Kingdom already come, and the world, whose unity and salvation is symbolised in the Church. We might make efforts to collapse one into the other, to overcome the very near and the not far, to turn the Church into the world or the world into the Church. But there is always an impossibility, a gap that cannot be overcome. Even within the Church wheat and tares grow together until the harvest.

Rejoice, Jesus says to his disciples, not because the powers of this world have, for a time, become subject to your power. Rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven. That your true citizenship is in heaven. That your identity, your life, your preoccupation, is there rather than here, and that even as long as you are here it is towards there.

Jesus's teaching will seem impractical to this world. He does not ask the Father to take the disciples out of the world but to remain with them there, to keep their hearts and minds fixed on his word and his commandment. The way of living to which Jesus invites us belongs not to this world ('my kingdom is not of this world') but to a new world where his way of living is not only practicable but inevitable, necessary, normal.

Here the message of Jesus will always be 'very near', 'not far', odd and not quite fitting with the needs and values of the world. But it will still always call to human hearts, awakening them to the harvest yet to be reaped, to paths yet to be trod, to dreams yet to be fulfilled. The preachers of the gospel are to sing of a love already known which calls us on to the new Jerusalem which is coming towards us, the place where our names are already written.

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