Jesus is now on the road to Jerusalem. Now we hear him sending disciples out to each town that he intends to visit. And he gives his famous instructions about them shaking the dust from their feet (Gospel).
Today we too are sent out to spread news of the kingdom, just like the disciples. Not a duty imposed by guilt or command, but by gratitude for the great goodness of God to each of us and all of us—as liturgical spirituality would say—especially in this time of world and individual troubles.
Last week Jesus was recruiting followers, in tough language (“Let the dead bury their dead!”), and now he is giving army-like instructions as to how the seventy-two disciples are to act when they go journeying to the towns (“Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals”). In light of what we saw during Holy Week, are you and I ready to be recruited to this kind of life? Jesus must have been loved a lot, since he acted with much gratitude and self-surrender on the cross. When a person is cared for, gratefulness is the obvious response.
We are to imitate him. So let us look more closely and find what he was responding to. One answer could be a theoretical one about the Trinity, about Jesus being the Christ, close to the Father. Gratitude surely is at the heart of the Trinity. But on Sunday we will have very earthy images. Take a look at the First Reading. It is a beautiful “welcome home” for people who had been exiled from Jerusalem, who had hung up their harps because their broken hearts could not sing in captivity.
The Lord tells them to
suck fully of the milk of [Jerusalem’s] comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts! … As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.
These are Godly, mothering images, immediate, compelling. It is the peace given by God’s motherhood. It is the peace that our wild and wooly lives emerge from and can journey back to!
Surely this is what gave Jesus courage on the cross. As a man, he was comforted at the breast of the Holy Spirit. And notice that he would ask that most terrible question, “why have you forsaken me”? His hope-against-hope, his memory of love gave him bravery, even enmeshed in sin and danger and death.
Such fullness is what we also receive or at least remember, one in which we are loved, one which sends us into the world even when we cannot recall the fond love that God had for our wriggling, snotty, childish selves. We can still call to mind what we knew of it in the past, and maybe in our adulthood at this very moment. Real love, once truly given and accepted, you know, cannot be erased. The comfort that fondled us as babies still nestles near the very center of our selves.
We need to look for it.
If we do have to search for it, as Jesus seemed to, then we must wait and hope and pray, and not give up. Jesus did not give up, on the cross or on the road to it.