Reflection for Saturday, October 3, 2020: 26nd week in Ordinary Time.

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Hamm, Dennis, S.J.
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2020-10-03
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|When we hear Luke speaking about the 72 returning after being sent to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God, we need to remember who these 72 are and how they fit into Luke's two-part story of Jesus and the church (which we have learned to call Luke-Acts). The gospel writers, each in their own way, present the inner group of Twelve  in portraits that speak not only of history and also, and especially, in a way that prompts their readers (contemporary and future, including us) to reflect on what it means to be a follower of Jesus as risen Lord in their own day. In the case of Luke, this becomes more complicated because he not only prompts such reflection by means of his own presentation of the inner 12 disciples; he (alone) also introduces another chosen group called "the 72" [or 70, but that has to do with Greek and Hebrew manuscript variants, which need not detain us here] at chapter 10. The 12 are presented as slow learners, like most of us, when it comes to following Jesus in a mature and generous way. The 12 are recreated in the Acts by the grace of Pentecost. But the (apparently parallel) function of the 72 is at first puzzling. No group by that name exists in Acts.|Since Luke gives us two groups named with a symbolic number 12 and 72, it is worthwhile to sample Luke's portrait of each and see how they relate.|Consider the following examples of the behavior of the 12 chosen ones in the gospel stage: In Luke's "plot" as he retells the tradition represented in Mark's version, Jesus' first encounter with future members of the Twelve occurs in chapter 5, with Peter, the Zebedee brothers and other partners in the fishing business. It involves the miraculous draft of fish and the prophecy that they will in the future "catch" people; even though they "leave everything and follow him" they are not yet sent on mission.|In the middle of chapter 6, after a night of prayer on a mountain top, Jesus comes down and gathers an uncounted number of disciples, and from them chooses an inner 12, whom he calls 'apostles' (literally 'sent ones,' or special messengers). But Jesus does not yet send them anywhere. Instead they continue to be part of the large group of disciples and presumably identify with the people Jesus calls "you who hear me" and they receive the radical teaching addressed to all disciples of Jesus: to love enemies and do good to those who hate them, and to imitate God the Father himself by being merciful and He is merciful, and leaving any judging of others to God.|During his early movement around Galilee, at a certain point (beginning at chapter 9), Jesus summons the Twelve and gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases and sends them to proclaim the gospel and to heal the sick, and to lodge with the people who accept them. This might seem to be the moment when Jesus is "passing the baton" to them, setting them up to carry on his mission after his death. But the larger story of the gospel of Luke, and then the Acts, teaches us differently. They have a lot to learn before they take on the challenge of a worldwide, Spirit-driven mission. When the "apostles" return and report to Jesus "what they had done," Luke then proceeds to narrate his (single!) version of a miraculous feeding of thousands who crowd around him with their needs for healing and teaching. When the disciples begin to get nervous about this huge crowd getting hungry at the end of a long day and ask Jesus to dismiss them so they can find provisions and lodging before dark, Jesus confronts them with the startling mandate, "Give them something yourselves." (After all, they had just been boasting about all they had done on their first mission.) Hearing Jesus' mandate, they realize their poverty: five loaves and two fish to feed 5000? Jesus has them divide the people up in groups of fifty, says the Jewish blessing before meals, begins to break the loaves, and hands them to the disciples to set before those hundred groups of fifty. Leftovers fill twelve baskets. They have learned (we hope) another lesson about where the power for mission really comes from.|If we have been paying attention to the slowness of these leaders-in-training, we hear another example in Peter's response upon waking up in the middle of the transfiguration: Master, it is good. Let's make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah." Pointedly, Luke the narrator remarks, "But he did not know what he was saying." A voice from the cloud says, "This is my chosen Son. Listen to him!" The training about who Jesus is and what it means to follow him intensifies. When the disciples argue about who is the greatest among them, Jesus teaches, "The one who receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest." When John reports that the disciples tried to stop an outsider from casting out demons in Jesus' name, Jesus says, "Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you." When Jesus sends messengers to a Samaritan village to prepare the way for Jesus, and they would not welcome him because his destination was Jerusalem (in other words, they saw Jesus and his group as Jews acting out their heresy, understanding Mt. Zion in Jerusalem—not Mt. Gerisim--as the place to worship God), James and John say, "Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?" Luke writes that Jesus turns and rebukes them, and they journey to another village. Thus, we learn that when Jesus is confronted with simple misunderstanding, he did not force himself on people (i.e. violently). Within a few more verses, we hear for the first time, reference to another group. At the beginning of chapter 10, Luke tells of Jesus appointing seventy-two "others" whom he sends ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intends to visit. |Now what are we readers to make of this distinct group of the 72, who seem to disappear as a distinct group in the Acts of the Apostles? Are the twelve first-chosen disciples proving so slow on the pickup that Jesus makes a fresh start, and appoints a fresh group of disciples, large enough to sustain dropouts, and then does it happen that no one in the new group perseveres long enough to be mentioned in the post-Pentecost account of the church in the Acts? That might seem to be the case, but the most satisfactory explanation from biblical scholars regarding these two groups and the meaning of their numeric names of 12 and 72 goes like this. The historical Jesus deliberately chooses 12 males to make the point that this diverse set of 12 men are meant to parallel the twelve sons of Jacob from whom stem the restored tribes of Israel, the fulfillment of Israelite expectation of a new people of God who will be sent out to lead the whole human family to a shared life of peace and justice, with another David as their leader under God. For Luke, the key backstory was Isaiah 42:1-7 and 49:5-6, especially the latter with its two-stage movement from the restoration of the tribes of Israel to becoming a "light to the nations, that my [the Lord's] salvation may reach to the ends of the earth." This background illuminates Luke's focus at the beginning of Acts on the importance of choosing someone to replace Judas and restore the full 12 witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus who would be enabled by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to evangelize the whole human family. Once we are aware of Luke's use of the Old Testament to tell the story of Jesus and the church, the meaning that other group, the 72, becomes understandable. Where in the Old Testament is the number 72 used in a significant way? In two places. First in the story of the origins of the human family in the preface to the story if Israel, Genesis 1-11, where 72 is the number of the post-flood descendants of Noah--from the standpoint of the human authors of Genesis, the whole human family! (A second place is the 70 delegates chosen by Moses to assist him in the governance of Israel in their passage through the desert [Numbers 11:16-17, 25], but here we'll concentrate on the Genesis account.) Applied to the Gospel of Luke and Acts, the Genesis 1-11 backstory suggests that Luke introduces the choosing and sending of 72 (in Luke 10) as a type (let's call it a "forecast") of the development and commissioning of the church as the restored people of God on mission sketched in the Acts of the Apostles, specifically through the networks of delegates led by Peter and Paul. Having introduced the "short story" of the mission of the 72 in the Gospel narrative, Luke, focusing on the worldwide mission in Acts, will lean more heavily on the prophecies in Isaiah, especially chapters 42, and 49 ("light for the nations").|Just as Luke draws on the traditions of Israel to help his readers (and listeners) understand their own place in the life and mission of the church, so does Pope Francis draw on the whole of biblical tradition (especially Luke-Acts, but also the whole experience [failures and well as successes] of the church ever since). Here are some highlights of his own reflections and discernments.|All Christians are called to engage in mission (i.e. implementing Vatican II's universal call to holiness). Following Christ requires personal conversion (in Luke's version of Jesus' program, the Sermon on the Plain, only some of those who come to him 'listen to his words' [6:27], and only some of those 'act on them' [6:49]). Mission entails more than growth of the church; it calls as well for service of the world, all people of good will; in our own day especially, service of the world calls for solidarity with the systematically excluded. Today, being fully "pro-life" (what Pope Francis calls "integral ecology" entails acting as if all networks of human life, from conception to natural death, are interconnected with other networks of life, including cultures). Integral development of life involves hearing the voice of the earth as well as the voice of the poor. Service of the common good requires a new kind of listening (since collaborating with stakeholders with different interests requires practical compromises on all sides. And that kind of dialogue calls for compassionate and sacrificial listening).|Compassionate and self-giving Lord, Jesus, we can identify with Luke's Gospel portrait of the slow-learning twelve. In this time when the pandemic brings us to a virtual stand-still, and forces us to cope with the basic human needs of our own kin and like-minded groups but also the needs of others beyond those of "our own people," please open our eyes, ears, minds, and hearts to hear what your words call us to today and to be inspired by your example and truly act on your call. Send your Holy Spirit afresh to recrate us as your people. Thank you for giving us Francis in this time of history. We appreciate that his teaching and preaching builds on that of his predecessors in the role of Peter, but also the earthy wisdom of the faith of Israel, the urgency of the Prophets, and your own incarnate expression and example. Help us share in your humanity and trust in your divinity. We take hope in your power to convert us to become fit to join you in your mission. Save and enliven us and our posterity in the service of one another and in the care of the special gift of our planet. We understand that eternal life with you has been inaugurated in this world with your love of the 12 and the 72. Lord, in your mercy save us.
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University Ministry, Creighton University.
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