ACTA 14th Sun Luke Yr C
ACTA LECTIONARY COMMENTARY
FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
YEAR OF LUKE
Download >>> 14th Sunday of the Year C
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 66:10-14
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 66:1-7.16. 20.R/. v.1
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 6:14-18
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke
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Shalom is the most important word in the Bible. The destiny of humanity, the fulfilment of God’s creative purposes, is glory in shalom. That is the only single word that satisfactorily describes our final end. We are made to be loved into an eternity of peace. The basic meaning of shalom is “wholeness”, “harmony”, “well-being”; it expresses a completeness, a comprehensiveness, a totality of every possibility. While there is great emphasis on everyday blessings, the destination of all blessing is shalom.
There is an expectation that God’s people will be protected by God’s good care in the midst of the cares of this world:
Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be moved, but abides forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people,
from this time forth and forevermore.
For the sceptre of wickedness shall not rest
on the land allotted to the righteous,
lest the righteous stretch out
their hands to do wrong.
Do good, O LORD, to those who are good,
and to those who are upright in their hearts!
But those who turn aside to their crooked ways
the Lord will lead away with evildoers!
Peace be upon Israel.
The prayer for peace is ever on the lips of God’s people:
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbours
while evil is in their hearts.
Peacemakers work against the doers of evil. Such people are on the side of God:
Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
but those who plan peace have joy.
Even altars are inscribed with words that define (if that were possible) what God is:
Yahweh Is Peace.
Shalom is at the heart of the preaching of the prophets. A few quotations of many such emphasise that shalom is intimately bound to justice and righteousness:
For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have healed the wound of my people lightly,
saying, ‘Peace, peace,
when there is no peace.
Peacemakers are shown the way to make shalom:
These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord. Zechariah 8:16-19
Peace, shalom, will come to the people of Israel (“those who are near”) and to the nations (“those who are far away”):
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,”
says the LORD,
“and I will heal him”.
But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
for it cannot be quiet,
and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
“There is no peace,”
says my God,
“for the wicked”.
Those who create peace bring beauty to our world:
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”
Isaiah looked to another King David to be an instrument of peace in an unjust world:
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of THE LORD of hosts will do this.
The prophet Micah in the eight century B.C., around the time when the first part of the Book of Isaiah (chapters q to 39) were written, also had an eye on Bethlehem of Judah:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labour has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace
Isaiah looked to the day when there would be a miracle. Some king perhaps will come who will bring about what the world yearns for but has not yet experienced:
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
The prophet Ezekiel who knew nothing but war and defeat, and cruel exile where even God’s songs could not be sung, still managed to have a glorious vision of a shalom, a covenant of peace, that would be given to his defeated people. It is a vision, not in Ezekiel’s time, nor in our time, but in the future that, Jesus tells us, awaits broken creation:
I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the LORD God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the LORD God.
The weight of all these promises is laid on the shoulders of Jesus and on those who are in Christ. The power of God’s Holy Spirit is given so that those who take up the cross and carry it daily may become instruments of peace. They are the people who will work with God to ready the creation for glory.
Today’s readings are concerned with the greatest of all gifts. Isaiah looks to the day when the LORD God will have peace flow through humanity’s earthly home like a river in flood.
Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river.
Psalm 66 invites humanity “to come see what God has done” by way of healing all that is amiss. St Paul promises that all who stand by “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” will surely be blessed with “peace and mercy”. The seventy-two who are sent out in pairs to every town Jesus is about to visit and their first duty is to pray a blessing on every house:
Peace be to this house!
As the poet said, “Peace comes dropping slow” in human affairs. The desire for peace fills every human heart, except hearts that profit by inflicting pain and destitution on those who should be named “brothers and sisters”.
Human peace is always, to use a phrase of St Paul, borne in vessels of clay. It is forever tentative, conditional, and shakily provisional.
The Bible mentions words of peace 384 times. In the New Testament words of peace occur 99 times. The gospel of God spelled out in the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian New Testament is a gospel of peace. God’s greeting is Shalom alekem, Peace be with you!
Peace in Paul
To begin with, a brief excursion through what our fathers and mothers in the little house-churches believed God-through-Jesus brought them in the joy of peace. It is the pervasiveness of peace in our earliest witnesses to the faith the first Christians.
The greetings at the beginning of each letter and the well-wishing at the end illustrate how much peace was in the minds of what God had given to those who believed in our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice how Paul opened and concluded his letters:
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace. I Thessalonians 1:1
And at the end of his letter:
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Thessalonians 5:23
Paul has a very fulsome opening to his Letter to Roman Christians. He had friends in Rome but had not visited that city. So he is careful to point out the faith that had been given them by God in the person of God’s Son. His greeting is to the point:
To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Before Paul chastises his heart-scalding yet enthusiastic Christians in the little house-churches around Corinth, in his opening greeting he reminds them who they are and what they have become by the grace of God. Whatever their faults—and they were many—Paul knows that he is writing to those made holy by God and called to be saints. He prays for them that God’s graciousness (that is, God’s love) and God’s peace be theirs:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I Corinthians 1:3
The same greeting of grace and peace opens 2 Corinthians. Even the acerbic Letter to those “foolish Galatians” opens with a prayerful greeting of grace and peace:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen
To his beloved community in Philippi Paul is his usual prayerful self:
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the
overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:1-2
Even the little note he wrote to Philemon and his wife Apphia begins with a prayer that love and peace be with everyone in their little house-church:
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon: verses 1-3
What is so impressive is Paul’s conviction that the little churches he greets are gifted with peace and are those made holy (“sanctified”) in readiness of the coming of our Lord Jesus at the end of time. Paul is convinced that the gift of peace is not personal gift for the individual heart and soul. Those who are “in Christ”, to use a phrase that is everywhere in his letter, must be a community of peace, a sign to the world that to know God is to know peace.
… brothers and sisters, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14
His words to his friends in Rome read like a glorious vision of what we are meant to be, a recipe for peaceful living “on earth as it is in heaven”:
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
The Church, a community of peace.
While statistics are not everything, it is worth noting that the Greek word Εἰρήνη, peace, occurs 98 times in the New Testament. It turns up in every book except the First Letter of John. There are 26 occurrences in the authentic letters of St Paul. These invariably emphasise the centre place that peace has in what God set out to accomplish in the sending of his Son. In Luke’s Gospel, our Gospel of the year, the word occurs 13 times.
The Letter to Christians in the city of Colossae warns against people who are bent on introducing novel ideas that dilute the gospel God taught by Paul. The writer insists that the Jesus who died is the Head of the Church and the one whose death opened heaven for all who commit themselves to faith in what God has done and does. In Jesus we meet “the fullness of God” and he alone guides us on the way of peace:
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
The opening greeting insists that “the saints” are “the faithful brothers and sisters” and that they are those who receive love and peace from God our Father.
To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
The Letter to Ephesian Christians, heavily dependent on the letter to the brothers and sisters in Colossae, likewise emphasises the source of our peace. Its final blessing is an excellent summary of all that is created by God in the sending of the Lord Jesus Christ, beginning with peace:
Peace be to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Ephesians 6:23
The letter ends as it began:
To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians1:2
The ending of another letter written by a disciple of Paul points to the immediate source of our peace:
Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.
2 Thessalonians 3:16
It is worth paying attention to that very Jewish letter in our New Testament, the letter to Hebrew (Jewish) Christians:
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen
The earliest writings of our New Testament place peace, God’s peace, at the very heart of Christian existence. The local churches and the universal Church are not only intended to be havens of peace. They must be creators of peace and proclaimers of peace. Christians must insist on speaking to every power and authority that disrupt peace or seek to lead people in a way other than peace. Our sacred writings insist that the destiny of humanity is to be at peace with God. On earth we must live convinced that peace, perfect peace, is the only way to ready ourselves for the glory to come.
We must not think that when the authors of our New Testament insist on God as the creator of peace and Jesus as the one establishing “peace on earth” that there is nothing more is to be said. The demands of peace are personal and are equally a defining characteristic of every community of Christians.
Every single Christian has a vocation. Every single Christian must be an instrument of peace:
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God … So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:17-19
Every Christian must be a keeper of the peace, a creator of peace, and a proclaimer of peace:
Be at peace among yourselves.
1 Thessalonians 5:13
St Paul does not claim that peace is easy; only that it is necessary:
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18
When there are difficulties in marriage, the fundamental imperative is that peace prevails:
God has called you to peace.
Not the easiest commandment but perhaps the wisest. There is, however, a guiding and strengthening hand:
… the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Gospels of peace
All our Gospels were written later than most of the letters in our New Testament. When we turn to them we discover that peace is at the very heart of all that Jesus has to say, all that Jesus does, and all that he insists must be in the hearts and minds of those who would follow in his way.
Peace is not at the centre of Mark’s Gospel. That Gospel was written in a time of persecution and at its heart is the necessity of faith. What concerns Mark is survival of trust in God and faith in God’s Son even in the darkest days.
Yet Mark’s few words are highly instructive. The first occurrence is in the multi-layered story of the Storm at Sea (Mark 4:35-41). Jesus is awoken by his terrified disciples in the boat (terrified? experienced fishermen? on their own fishing grounds? Calling on a carpenter for help?). Amazed at their total lack of faith in his protective care, Jesus calms the storm with a word of command -
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39
In the mythology behind this story, the demons of the deep stir the seas into destructive storms. Jesus rebukes the wind and sea, frustrating the evil intent of the demons and changing their terrorising of the disciples into that kind of fear that everywhere in the Bible is awe and reverence in the presence of God.
The unfortunate woman with a perpetual haemorrhage is healed and readers and hearers of Mark will have wondered at what the mere touching of his cloak does for her. Notice that Jesus does not merely cure her. He heals her. This unclean outcast is embraced by Jesus as “Daughter”, a true daughter of Abraham, not one to be cast aside from the community of prayer in the synagogue, not one to be banned from sitting at the well, not one to be banished from the streets and lanes of her village. Above all, she is not one for whom the ears of God are closed. Jesus takes her out of exclusion and gives her that peace that is God’s greatest gift.
Mathew’s Sermon on the Mount is deliberately staged to parallel that of Moses on Mount Sinai (Horeb) receiving the Torah of God and with it the command to bind it upon the people of Israel forever. What Jesus teaches on Matthew’s mountain (the mountain, not the hill ) is an indelible portrait of a people of peace. The people of Israel addressed by Jesus, as were the people of old, are given a detailed blueprint of the future. What is laid down on this mountain must be proclaimed to the nations. The faith of Israel is called to be the faith of all nations. Those who hear the words of Jesus on this mountain, the people who go with him to Jerusalem, and meet the Risen Lord “on the mountain” are people who are sent on a mission that must embrace the whole of humanity:
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20
Or to put it another way, the Sermon on the Mount is a detailed account of what the Church, the daughter of Israel, is for.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is named “son”, “the Son of God” and “Son of Man” over sixty times. In the definitive beatitudes Jesus proclaims this:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God. Matthew 5:9
Note “makers”. Not merely wishing for peace. Not talking about peace. Not only praying for peace. But makers of peace, a people active in the creation of peace. When coupled, as it must be, with that most difficult of commands—Love your enemies (5:44)—the force of what Jesus demands is clear. It is not that we in the Church are bidden to be at peace with one another (though that would be a good start). We are commanded to walk the world making peace. We must be peacemakers, says Jesus,
… so that that you may be sons and daughters of your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:45
Most scholars are convinced that the final two beatitudes, those concerning persecution and false accusation, come from the pen of Matthew and not from the mouth of Jesus. Matthew adds these to meet the reality of persecutions that enveloped the churches of his time and place. He places great emphasis throughout on courageous faith, constancy, and perseverance. He underlines that our Lord Jesus is God-with-Us, our Emmanuel, and therefore in every circumstance Thy will be done must characterise our every day.
If the last two beatitudes were added by Matthew, then the final conclusive and summary beatitude of Jesus is,
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called
sons and daughters of God.
At the end of the day, that is what Christians are for.
A reading from the prophet Isaiah 66:10-14
Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy,
all you who mourn over her;
that you may nurse and be satisfied
from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
from her glorious abundance.
For thus says the LORD:
“Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river,
and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse, you shall be carried upon her hip,
and bounced upon her knees.
As one whom his mother comforts,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bones shall flourish like the grass;
and the hand of the Lord shall be known to his servants,
and he shall show his indignation against his enemies.
The word of the LORD.
Of all the books in the Hebrew Bible, the one most quoted in the New Testament is the Book of Isaiah. We have to remember that the earliest Christians did not have their own Christian Bible. The Bible of those who wrote what we call the New Testament was the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Not only that, they did not quote from the Hebrew Bible. They used a Greek translation of the ancient Hebrew text for they wrote for Greek speaking Christians, whether those Christians were Jews or Gentiles. Why do you think Paul wrote his letter to Roman Christians in Greek and not in Latin? The answer is that most ordinary people in Rome spoke Greek, not Latin. For most of the first three hundred of the Christian story in Rome, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated in Greek, not Latin.
In our Sunday Lectionary there are 72 readings from Isaiah and it is, therefore, helpful to know some relevant facts about Isaiah and about the Book of Isaiah. What we call the Book of the Prophet Isaiah is at least three books rolled into one and the historical circumstances to which each is a response are very different.
Isaiah the Prophet
Isaiah lived toward the end of the eight-century B.C. It was at the time when, as Lord Byron wrote, “The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold”. Isaiah the prophet is first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible in 2 Kings 19:2 as an adviser to Hezekiah, King of Judah. He reigned as king of Judah from 727 to 698 B.C. The Second Book of Kings praises his faith in God:
He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses. And the LORD was with him …
2 Kings 18:5-7
This man of God prayed but in fact he remained a vassal of the Assyrians until he led a revolt against his foreign masters encouraged by Isaiah who counselled that the LORD “will defend this city and save it” (2 Kings 19:34). The king remained a vassal of the foreign power (as his father Ahaz was) but they did not destroy the city and the words of the prophet seemed to be vindicated. But not for long.
Isaiah lived through these dark days, a Jerusalem prophet who worked out his vocation in the reigns of four kings trying to counsel caution with wisdom and a high degree of political savvy. But defeat was inevitable and when the Babylonians overcame their Assyrian neighbours, they swept southwards and gobbled up the little kingdoms. Jerusalem was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were deported to the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates. The last words spoken to Hezekiah are these:
Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: Behold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD.
Chapters 1-39 of the Book of Isaiah come from the sad days of the end of the eight century B.C. Not all these chapters were written by Isaiah. But his presence is palpable throughout mourning for a people facing exile from the Presence in their temple and from the holy land they received from God’s hands:
Your country lies desolate;
your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presence
foreigners devour your land;
it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
Neglect of God and of the Presence of God in their midst is the cause of the woes that befall them:
For Jerusalem has stumbled,
and Judah has fallen,
because their speech and their deeds are against the Lord,
defying his glorious Presence.
It is God who conscripts the nations with their sharp arrows and bent bows, above all, those terrifying chariots:
He [God] will raise a signal for nations far away,
and whistle for them from the ends of the earth;
and behold, quickly, speedily they come.
There is hope that the child of the young woman, the one to be named Immanuel, may be a sign of hope (Isaiah 7:14-15). But the LORD is bringing up “the king of Assyria and all his glory” and “the house of Jacob” “will be thrust into thick darkness” (see Isaiah 8:11-22).
There is hope that a new day will dawn and faith will return so that this people “will make known the Lord’s name among the nations:
You will say in that day:
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
that you might comfort me.
“Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.
The final words of the first part of the Book of Isaiah, that is, chapters 1 to 39 end with King Hezekiah hoping that God’s promises of restoration, spoken by Isaiah, will come to pass:
Then Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days. Isaiah 39:8
There was much suffering to be endured—over 300 years of it—before light would appear at the end of the long tunnel of exile and slavery.
A new creation
When we come to the second part of the Book of Isaiah the doom and gloom have been replaced by hope. The Persians have been undone by the Babylonians. The exiles have returned. Slowly the city of Jerusalem and Temple were being rebuilt by a disillusioned and demoralised people.
The second part of this the longest book among the prophets embraces chapters 40 to 55. These are addressed to the exiles in Babylon (though written later). The Babylonians who conquered and replaced the Assyrians have been themselves defeated by the Persians. We are now somewhere around 450 B.C. and there is hope of a return.
The key to these fifteen chapters is set out in chapter 40 and 41. The “good news”, the “gospel” must be proclaimed in Jerusalem,
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.
Chapter 41 announces who it is that is coming to seek and to save, to deliver, and to help:
I, the Lord, the first,
and with the last:
This I AM reveals who it is who is coming back to those who have endured exile:
I AM with you.
Do not be dismayed!
For I AM your God.
I will strengthen you,
I will help you.
I will uphold you
with my righteous right hand …
It is I who say to you:
“Do not be afraid!
I AM the one who helps you!”
“I AM the one who helps you”,
declares the Lord;
your redeemer is
the HOLY ONE
Isaiah 41:10-14 passim
Of particular interest in these chapters is the underlying theme of creation that deliberately echoes the story of creation in Genesis. This redeeming God reminds the returning exiles that,
the God, the Holy One,
the creator of Israel,
A new creation is made out of the returned exiles; this second exodus back to home in the Promised Land, like the first, is crowned with the restoration of the city of God, a symbol of God’s concern, of God’s favour.
The final chapters (chapters 56-66) seem to come from the time of reconstruction when the people who returned struggled to rebuild their city and their Temple. They emphasise the place of God’s Torah and the need for a change of heart, and above all a call to rejoice. For God is depicted as a midwife so skilled that there are no birth pains. God’s people are reborn. The new Jerusalem becomes a mother, and what flows from her glorious breasts is peace, peace like a river and there will be a new heaven and a new earth (66:22), and,
“all flesh shall come to worship before me”,
says the LORD.
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 66:1-7.16. 20.R/. v.1
R/. Shout for joy to God, all the earth.
Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! R/.
All the earth worships you
and sings praises to you;
they sing praises to your name.
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds
toward the children of man. R/.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
who rules by his might forever. R/.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me.
R/. Shout for joy to God, all the earth.
Psalm 66 is a command issued to the whole of creation to sing “the glory of God’s name”. That is to say, the whole of choir of creation is called to shout for joy. Creation’s choir is called to sing, to shout, to give glory, and to proclaim praise for the awesome wonder of what God is doing in the world that has come from God’s hands.
Praise is to be lavished, not on all the gods of man’s imagination, but on the God of Israel. In verse 8 (not in our responsorial) all peoples are called “to bless our God” and “to let the sound of his praise” be heard among the nations.
What is amazing is that Psalm 66 turns to the miracle at the Sea of Reeds where God turned the sea into dry land and God’s people passed through dry-footed. The glorious act of salvation, this miracle of freedom, is offered to the world as a defining act of the God of Israel.
God’s act of deliverance reached into the very soul of the one who sings the song. It is an outpouring steadfast love and that is given to all who join in the choir.
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 6:14-18
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen
The word of the LORD.
St Paul’s letter to Christian house-churches in Galatia (now just east of central Turkey) begins in deep anger and ends with a final warning to his brothers and sisters. The anger was due to those, like St Peter, who seem to demand that a pagan wishing to come to Christ Jesus must first be circumcised and agree to Jewish food regulations and such like. What Paul does is to demand that Christ has but one demand to make of us:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
The clue is in the phrase “in Christ Jesus”. For to be “in Christ” is “to belong to the very being of Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:24) and to live as he lived. We are, says Paul, ”called to freedom”:
Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. For freedom
But it is not freedom to do as we like. It is freedom to do as Jesus did and does: You shall love your neighbour as yourself (Galatians 5:14). Circumcision and the like is not a cause to boast. For those who have come to God through our Lord Jesus Christ are those who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:17). To walk by the Holy Spirit is to live the life of the Spirit, to bear the fruit that the Spirit sows in our hearts:
…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self- control…
All of these words in the Greek language that Paul wrote are feminine nouns. Now what does that tell us?
To “walk by this rule”, to live the nine words, is to live in peace and in the mercy of God all our days and beyond.
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 10:1-12. 17-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy- two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you. ’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near. ’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
The seventy- two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
The Gospel of the LORD.
Peace be to this house!
The word “peace” occurs 13 times in Luke’s Gospel and 6 times in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. It is a holy and wholesome exercise to attend to each occurrence in order to be sure that in our churches and in our Church we may live the blessings of God’s peace. Living in peace is itself a proclamation of peace.
The Birth of Peace
Two children are born. The first, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, is to be a prophet of the Most High. His father was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied what their child would be called to do. The prophetic ministry that awaits this child is revealed to his father and proclaimed to readers and hearers of Luke’s Gospel:
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.
John will “go before the Lord to prepare his ways”. Check what must be revealed:
knowledge of salvation
forgiveness of sins
the tender mercy of our God
the sunrise visit from on high
light to those in darkness
… and all of this for one purpose:
to guide our feet in the way of peace.
John must ready the people for when the “sunrise” visits us from on high his ultimate purpose is “to guide our feet in the way of peace”.
When the other child is born and laid in a manger, the emperor Caesar Augustus and the governor Quirinius were busy running the world. But it was not at their doings but around the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths that “a multitude of the heavenly host” assembled and broke into a song of praise to God:
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth
among those with whom he is pleased.
The angel of the LORD and the choir break into songs of praise because God’s peace has come to earth and is lying there for shepherds to see.
Then there is the business in the Temple. The object of such a visit to the Temple ought to concern Mary only—not “their purification. But the spotlight is not on the mother but on the child. Two elderly people with deep spiritual insight, Simeon and Anna, recognise the child. Simeon is content that having seen the child he can die in peace. For in the Spirit he has seen into God’s intent:
… my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.
What has been revealed to the old man is enough. Now he can rest in peace.
An old woman named Elizabeth, a young girl named Mary, a widow-woman and a prophetess named Anna, another widow woman with a dead son, and a woman with “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” - all of these women and more are part of Luke’s story of Jesus. The story of the woman of the city is one of the longest in Luke’s account of the public ministry of Jesus. Its ending is where God wishes every story to end: Go in peace (7:50).
Yet another woman in distress comes to Jesus or rather just to touch his cloak in hope. She is transformed from an unclean outcast into a daughter and given the God’s gift of peace (Luke 8:40-48).
In today’s Gospel we learn that peace is not given to the few who are in dire need. Shalom, peace, is the very essence of salvation. The objective of God’s saving endeavours given to the world in the Lord Jesus is to give peace now in this life as a foretaste of that eternal shalom that is humanity’s eternal home.
The greeting of apprentice proclaimers of the gospel of God in todays reading is,
Peace be to this house!
God’s greeting of shalom, peace, is for the house of the world. That is a foretaste of eternal peace.