Mar. 30, 2017

FOURTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.

THE HARVEST IS RICH BUT LABORERS ARE FEW 

In today's gospel, Christ sends out seventy-two disciples to preach the gospel. He warns them of the discomforts of discipleship when he says, "Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road". These point to the seriousness of the gospel. Christ predicts the challenges which his disciples will face in being evangelizers. These challenges come from the various oppositions mounted against the gospel by wolves of the society. The discomforts come not because the disciple relies on the world but on God who is the Lord of the harvest. The disciple is advised to carry no purse, no haversack. It means he has to detach himself from material possessions. Christ also recognizes the challenge of rejection. He warns, "But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into the streets and say, "we wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you". 

Often times, we make the mistake of thinking that the rejection of the gospel is rejection of us. In such cases, we take reactions against the message personal. Christ sends us out as disciples in the midst of wolves. He expects us to suffer rejection because the gospel message contradicts the way of the world. Jesus was rejected himself. Saint Paul reminds the followers that it is about the cross of Christ through whom we have been crucified to the world. The only marks in our body should be the marks of Jesus, and the marks of Jesus are the marks of the cross. Ordinarily, the word CROSS stands for Cursed, Ruined, Oppressed, Scorned and Sold. Christ was treated as one cursed, one ruined. He was oppressed, scorned and sold by the same people he came to save. But he transformed the cross to become an instrument for salvation. The disciples of Jesus should not expect anything less in their mission. Authentic discipleship involves rejection because the disciple bears the message of the cross. 

On the other hand, the comforts of discipleship are the peace which the gospel conveys. Christ says, "Whatever house you enter, let your first words be, "Peace to this house". Peace is an essential element of the gospel and a special gift from God. It is an important component of mission. After his resurrection, Christ visits his apostles with the message, "Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so am I sending you" (Jn.20:21). Again he says to them, "Peace I bequeath you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you" (Jn.14:27). The comforts of discipleship come from the peace of the Lord. Pope Francis calls it, "The joy of the gospel". It comes against the satisfaction of worldly pleasures. 

In his missionary mandate, Christ tells his disciples, "Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they offer you, for the laborer deserves his wages". He points to the satisfaction which comes from working for the gospel. Here we see the need to build a community of believers. The community shares their faith and eschatological interests. They support one another and support the disciple. Saint Paul says, "Do you not realize that the ministers of the Temple get their food from the Temple, ...those who preach the gospel should get their living from the gospel" (1Cor.9:13-14). When Christ demands that the disciples carry no purse or haversack, he doesn't mean to deny them sustenance, rather he focuses them on the riches of the gospel. God has surplus for those who follow him. 

Meanwhile, "The harvest is rich but the laborers are few". God's harvest is rich with with food. The word of God is available. The kingdom of God is near. Souls are available and waiting to be fed with God's word, but laborers are few. The Lord recognizes that. In our own circumstance, we feel the scarcity of vocations to the priesthood. Priests are scarce. Young men are scared of going into the seminary. Young ladies are scared of going into religious life. Nuns are scarce. We feel the absence of priests to satisfy our spiritual hunger. We need priests to lead us in the Eucharistic celebration. We need priests to administer the sacraments of penance, anoint the sick, officiate in marriages, conduct christian burials. We need priests and religious to volunteer to work in the vineyard of the Lord, to inspire people to salvation. 

The question is, Why is the harvest rich and laborers scarce to find? It is because of the pressures from the world- relativism which is a form of heightened individualism, crisis of identity and convictions as well as what the pope calls "a cooling of fervor". Material satisfaction, political comforts, economic pursuits seem to snatch the joy of missionary discipleship away from the the church. Society can't imagine the idea of carrying no haversack or purse. They do not understand the importance of giving up worldly pleasures for the gospel. They want to be comfortable the way they have to, not the way the gospel demands. Pope Francis says that media culture has made many pastoral workers to develop a sort of inferiority complex which leads to concealment of Christian identity and convictions. The joy of mission is stifled by obsession to be like everyone else and to possess what everyone possesses. Evangelization seems abandoned and forced. Spiritual interests wane and only few devote energy to the Lord's harvest (Cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 79). 

Today, Christ runs a missionary commercial for discipleship. He asks for laborers in his vineyard. Christ wants laborers. He wants priests. He wants nuns. He wants evangelizers for the gospel. He wants us to commit to the peace that comes from preaching the message. He tells us today, "Ask the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest" (Lk.10:2-3). Evangelization is the task of the church, so we have to pray for it. We must pray for laborers, for vocations. We must pray against being deceived by the comforts of the world. The more laborers in God's vineyard, the more powerful the message of salvation. Christ says, "rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven". It is the work of evangelizers to teach the way to heaven. That's what priests do for us. They bring us the peace of Christ. They bring us the gospel of salvation. They bring us the unction of the Holy Spirit. They bring us nourishment in the Eucharist. They bring us God's forgiveness in the confessions. They reconcile us with God. They preach the word of truth, justice and peace. 

The message of today is to understand that discipleship has both comforts and discomforts. The discomforts are the suffering, rejection and opposition which comes from the world. The comforts supersede the discomforts. They come from the peace of Christ, the joy of salvation. As members of Christ's vineyard, we all need to pray for vocations. We need to support priests emotionally, materially and spiritually. We need to encourage those who work for the gospel. "If they make you welcome, remain there", Christ says. Priests need to feel welcome in the community they work. Always welcome your priests and evangelizers. Speak words of encouragement to them and not discouragement. That way they are most effective in their pastoral work. That way, the work of evangelization becomes very effective. That way, souls are saved. That way our names are written in the book of heaven. 

May God help us send more laborers into his harvest. Amen.