We are in the fourteenth week of Ordinary Time. The readings remind us of the need and the importance of preaching the Good News, which is the responsibility of everyone, not just a few. By Baptism we are all missionary people. And, as missionary people, we are called to bear witness to Jesus, and to preach the Gospel. One of the powerful ways of preaching the Good News is through the way in which we lead our lives, by living the Gospel values. Saint Francis of Assisi once beautifully said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” Paul, recognizing his responsibility and commitment to preaching the Gospel said, “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah encourages the Jews, who are returning to Israel from Babylonian exile, to see their beloved city of God, Jerusalem, still surviving amongst the ruins. On their way back they mourned when they saw their city devastated. But God comforted them and urged them to rejoice in the midst of their sorrow in that moment because of what God would do for them in the future. God offered them one of the most comforting and reassuring of images: a mother nursing her child. The prophet told the returned exiles that they would have the experience of a child being nurtured by its loving mother. The reading is a call to rejoice and to put one’s trust in God because Jerusalem would be greater, more peaceful and even more prosperous than before. It was also a call to a new beginning.
The second reading gives us the concluding words of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Shortly after Paul left Galatia, some ultra-conservative Judeo-Christians arrived from Jerusalem. They taught that, because Jesus was Jewish, and therefore circumcised and observant to the Torah, His disciples also had to be circumcised as Jews and had to observe the teachings of the Torah. In response, Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians who were disturbed and confused by these new teachings. Paul was angry with the Galatians for accepting the false arguments of the Judaizers. Paul clearly argued that God does not require new Christians to follow such teachings and told the people to boast about “the Crucified Christ.”
The Gospel describes Jesus’ commissioning of 72 disciples to preach the Gospel in towns and villages in preparation for His visit, the fulfillment of the prophetic promise made by Isaiah. The joy of those who returned to the nurturing arms of Jerusalem in today’s first reading becomes the joy of those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ to the nations. This joy is the fruit of a job well done. While sending them out on their first missionary journey, Jesus gives them “travel tips” as to how they should go about doing God’s business. Jesus instructed these new disciples that they must be walking witnesses of God’s providence by relying on the hospitality of others, living very simple lives, preaching the Good News and healing the sick. In other words, they, and every missionary after them, must be like Jesus, the first Missionary sent by God.
Like the 72 missionaries, we all have a mission to fulfill. How do we preach the Gospel and help people encounter Jesus? In a study conducted by Pew Research, people were asked, “Why do adults join the Catholic Church in spite of the scandals?” Seventy-five percent of the new converts said that they were attracted by a personal invitation from a Catholic who had their own personal relationship with Christ and His Church. As faithful Catholics, it is our responsibility to invite people to Christ and to share the joy of the Gospel with them. In order to be an effective missionary like Paul, we need to experience and encounter Jesus and the joy of knowing Him, and to share that experience with others.
Some might think of evangelization solely in terms of Jesus and our relationship with Him. While this is true, at the same time our relationship with Jesus is found in our relationship with the community of Jesus—the Church. The way to Christ is through the community in which He lives. Jesus says, “I am with you always” and “Whatever you did for one of these least of brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Did not the Jesus who met Paul on the road to Damascus say that He lived in His persecuted followers, the Church? Jesus is present in and among His disciples, the people of God. Therefore, the Good News must be preached in word and deed by seeing and serving the Risen Lord present in our community.