Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 7 July 2013
Isaiah 66:10-14c; Psalm 66:1-7, 16, 20; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
After chaos and catastrophe, a return to safety and security, to a life of peaceful abundance; that is what the prophet promises in this wonderful image of Jerusalem as a breastfeeding woman, with her inhabitants as babies nuzzling contentedly. Jerusalem and her people had been to hell and back, but now the exile is over and she is to be restored. The people of God are to be wrapped up in maternal love, fondled on her lap and carried in her arms.
I wonder whether Jesus’ disciples felt something like that. Listening to Jesus and watching him they were often confused and challenged, no doubt about it, but they must also have reveled in the experience of being known and loved, of being provided for. They must have been overflowing with hope and joyful expectation.
The psalm strikes the same note of joyful gratitude, celebrating a merciful, delivering God. The poet draws on images of the Exodus from Egypt It is all the earth, though, that is called to shout joyfully and praise God. God is at work among the children of Adam – all of humanity – and not just the children of Jacob, those who self-identify as the people of God.
This intuition is powerfully articulated in the actions of Jesus. The Gospels all tell us about Jesus sending out the Twelve to proclaim the Kingdom throughout Israel. It is only Luke, the evangelist who is particularly concerned to trace the spread of the Good News to the Gentiles, those who were ‘not God’s people’ who tells us of Jesus sending out the seventy (or seventy-two). This number was symbolic of the nations of the world, just as twelve symbolised Israel. Note how Jesus tells those he sends to eat whatever is set before them. In the continuation of the story in the Acts of the Apostles, eating that which is forbidden under Jewish food laws becomes emblematic for the embracing of the Gentiles and those who were formerly excluded from the people of God. In the words of Paul, it is no longer circumcised versus uncircumcised, but together becoming God’s new creation. Instead of simply enjoying the riches of God’s provision for them, the followers of Jesus were to look up and look around, and to see the fields ripe for harvest. They were to see the world hungry for God’s grace and to share their abundance.
It is so easy to become greedy and selfish, happily suckling on God’s gracious provisions but oblivious to the needs that surround us. Jesus didn’t let his disciples become a cosy love-in. I can’t see him letting us be that either. Look around! See the harvest! Out of your fullness, feed others, from the love that has filled you to overflowing, love them.