Some of us, when we have many tasks to do on a given day, make out a list and cross off each task as it is completed. Ah! How good it feels to see our list of ten tasks now with just seven, now three, then one and complete. To give ourselves a boost, we might prioritize our list and begin with the easiest jobs that are most quickly accomplished. Thus in the first hour or so, we might cross off four items or so and this gives us a boost for tackling the rest of our more difficult challenges. This weekend’s Gospel talks about labors – but there is no list. There is no prioritizing to begin with easy tasks. Jesus sends us out on a challenging, difficult task. This task cannot be accomplished in a single day, but requires a lifetime of faithful labor.
Jesus sends the disciples out to plant the seed of the Good News and harvest its fruit of peace and the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The “Kingdom of God is at hand” because whenever disciples are present and received, God is present and received. Despite the disciples facing “wolves” and sometimes being rejected, their labor will bear fruit for it is God’s power that works through them. It is ultimately God’s work.
Isaiah’s vision in the First Reading uses different images to describe the same reality presented in the Gospel. The fruit of the disciples’ labors (peace, healing, and God’s Kingdom at hand) are described in the Scripture passage from Isaiah as comfort, abundance, and prosperity. Both readings envision God’s power and presence now and a future when our “heart(s) shall rejoice.” In Isaiah, however, the future is not yet a reality for Israel. It is a reality for the disciples. Isaiah’s wonderful future is being fulfilled in Christ … in each one of us.
Jesus admonishes them not to keep their sights on the things they’ve accomplished, but on a future glory which still awaits them. The harvest is not what they did in accomplishing healing and casting out demons. The harvest Jesus sends His disciples out to bring in is the larger, even more abundant harvest of heaven. This labor is never our own alone. Without the Power given us by Jesus – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – we would not labor fruitfully. For this divine power and presence the disciples – and we – rejoice.
The disciples’ journey to Jerusalem includes both dying and rising. When we describe the Paschal Mystery journey and Gospel living as dying and rising, we are using a metaphor which has any number of interpretations and applications. In this weekend’s context of discipleship, we are saying that ministry brings us to a kind of dying (the pain of the disciple when others don’t accept the Gospel) as well as rising (the rejoicing that is ours because we are doing the work of God). The end of the journey in Jerusalem brings both dying and rising, too … the Cross and Jesus’ Resurrection. If the journey is undertaken alone … we will fail. We are successful, however, when the journey is faithful to Jesus’ ministry and we are open to the Power – the Holy Spirit dwelling within us – given us.
Any faithful discipleship and Gospel living calls for an openness to God’s presence to us. Part of our ministry, then, and of living the dying and rising mystery is to spend time every day in prayer being attentive to God’s presence, the gifts God give us to be successful, and the power of the Holy Spirit which washes over us. This kind of prayer helps us remember that the ministry is not ours. It is Christ’s.
May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!