For the readings, please see this link: 14th Sunday Ordinary Time Year C Readings PDF
The story from the Gospel of Mark is one of commission. Jesus tells the 72 apostles (the Greek word means “one who is sent”) to go out among the communities and preach the good news. They are not to dilute their spiritual powers with the material goods that so easily encumber our lives. Even an extra pair of shoes they should not stock.
Their mission trips are successful, and Jesus rejoices with them but tells them of their real success: they are heading for Heaven.
We have been sent into the world, perhaps not so dramatically but no less really. We have been sent to share the Good News, like the 72 apostles. One of the challenges in preaching the Gospel is that the rewards come after we die and while we live others make choices that are oriented towards “winning” in this life rather than the next. This is the guidance Jesus gives his children:
Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.
As sharers of the Good News, we are called to share it with those who accept it and those who reject it. Either way, they are to hear that the Kingdom of God is very near. As missionaries of Jesus, we are obliged to respect others’ free will. And there can be no judgmentalism. We can draw the clear distinction between the path they are choosing and the Way we are following, but our only comment of rebuke is to kick the dust of their town from our sandals.
We live in such a time and place as Jesus did. The world is not with us, the powers that be are not supportive of our way of faith. It seems to those who are older that the world once was with us, and we can slip into nostalgia. Jesus would have us not look back but look forward. We know that freedom necessarily includes freedom of religion, but we see the part of the world once known as Christendom putting the final touches on an official rejection of that heritage. The European Union rejected the Pope’s recommendation that it “express recognition of the legacy of Christianity inscribed in the history and cultural identity of Europe.” That happened in 2003, not last month. Europe is not alone in rejecting old customs. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the idea that marriage is defined as being only between a man and a woman, and that ruling was within the last month. Also in the U.S., the government is denying freedom of choice to religious organizations that provide health benefits if those organizations do not want to support abortion services and artificial birth control treatments. We are truly pilgrims.
How do we as Christians in the modern world shake the dust off our sandals and preach the good news to the next town? Many are tempted to withdraw into the wilderness or some kind of Christian ghetto and somehow wait out the storm. This was the path taken by John the Baptist and the Essenes, but Jesus took the path to Jerusalem instead. Many are tempted to find a Christian soldier who can take over the apparatus of government and restore Christendom. This is something like the path Judas Iscariot was seeking in following Jesus, and it has distant echoes in actions of Muslims following their jihad. Jesus refuses to force the Good News on anyone. Nor will he make false promises like the prosperity preachers on TV who imply that Jesus Christ is the way to a good life full of goods. No, you cannot even count on an extra pair of sandals.
But we can count on Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will enjoy the heavenly banquet and the Beatific Vision. The way we get there will be varied. Some will endure mild persecution, some will see serious persecution, and some will die for the faith. (Most of us are hoping for a fourth option of no persecution, but that is not the way of the Cross.) St. Paul tells the Galatians how to get from here to there:
The only thing I can boast about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. It does not matter if a person is circumcised or not; what matters is for him to become an altogether new creature. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, who form the Israel of God.
We must be crucified to the world. We must walk in the world unspotted by the world. By the power of God’s grace, we can wear a white garment in the muddy streets of our age and remain untouched. John the Baptist put on a white garment and walked among the people preaching the need for salvation, and he sacrificed his life to the glory of God. Judas Iscariot put on the white garment as armor against the mud of the world, but that did not work. The white garment is not armor against the world but an invitation to a new life beyond the world. Jesus put on the white garment and gave it up when the soldiers cast lots for it as he gave up his life on the Cross for our redemption. He remained untouched, obedient unto death, even death on a cross.
We do not have to be supermen to follow Jesus. We are extremely unlikely to be killed by crucifixion. But we must die – be crucified – to the priorities of this age so we can live the truths of eternity. We must put ourselves out there. We cannot hunker in the bunker. We must respect the rights of others to make their own choices, even if those choices are stupid and wicked. We must, unlike Judas Iscariot, trust God even when the secular officials are persecuting the faith. We must speak the truth to officialdom and suffer the consequences, as John the Baptist did. We must take up the Good News of the Cross and go out among the towns to offer it. Some will accept it and some will not.
So, sandal up! Let’s get going.