Sent As Labourers In God’s Harvest
In the first reading we see how the Feast of Tabernacles, originally a harvest feast for wheat and vintage, was spiritualized into a feast remembering the exodus and the renewal of the covenant. The Word of God was read to the people. The word came as a source of great joy and stirred their hearts. Thus it helped greatly to build up the community.
Few people are impressed by the fact that a bishop lives a life of poverty in a big palace or that priests or sisters are sober and restrained in their personal living when they use rich and powerful means and institutions to bring God to people. Missionaries, however dedicated and serving they may be, are not very convincing and have a hard time to build community if they import powerful means from outside. But how do we today live the evangelical vow of poverty? When Jesus sends out his missionaries to evangelize the poor, he wants them to be, like him, poor among the poor. True, evangelical poverty is an ideal not easy to attain. But does it still move us?
1 Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12
The whole people gathered as one in the open space before the Water Gate, and they called upon Ezra the scribe to bring forth the book of the law of Moses which the LORD prescribed for Israel. On the first day of the seventh month, therefore, Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly, which consisted of men, women, and those children old enough to understand. Standing at one end of the open place that was before the Water Gate, he read out of the book from daybreak until midday, in the presence of the men, the women, and those children old enough to understand; and all the people listened attentively to the book of the law. Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that had been made for the occasion. He opened the scroll so that all the people might see it (for he was standing higher up than any of the people); and, as he opened it, all the people rose. Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Then they bowed down and prostrated themselves before the LORD, their faces to the ground. As the people remained in their places, Ezra read plainly from the book of the law of God, interpreting it so that all could understand what was read. Then Nehemiah, that is, His Excellency, and Ezra the priest-scribe and the Levites who were instructing the people said to all the people: “Today is holy to the LORD your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep”–for all the people were weeping as they heard the words of the law. He said further: “Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” And the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Hush, for today is holy, and you must not be saddened.” Then all the people went to eat and drink, to distribute portions, and to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
R. (9ab) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple. R.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye. R.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just. R.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb. R.
Alleluia: Mark 1:15
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The Kingdom of God is at hand;
repent and believe in the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Luke 10:1-12
Jesus appointed seventy-two other disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the labourers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out labourers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the labourer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand. I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.”
As the book of the law of Moses was read aloud in the presence of all the people, at the time of Jerusalem’s reconstruction when Nehemiah was the governor and Ezra the high priest, a turning point in the history of the Jews was reached. After centuries of destruction and deportation, they were once again at home. If they were to remain faithful, God’s protection was assured. The occasion was celebrated with choicest foods and wines, with food generously shared with those who were unprepared. It was a day holy to the Lord. We can only imagine the great joy that was present to this war-weary people.
The mission of the seventy-two disciples was also celebratory in character. They were announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom. They were to travel light, not encumbered by needless possessions. They were to remain in the house that gave them initial hospitality as they proclaimed their message of hope. If any town rejected them, it was rejecting God himself. The disciples were to have no further dealings with it, symbolically indicated by shaking the village’s dust off their feet.
Eating and drinking has always been seen as part of religious feasting in the Judeo-Christian tradition. To share food is to promote the life of another and therefore has a sacred character. Unfortunately in our time eating is largely functional. Meals are taken on the run, determined by scheduled events and hardly open to the life-sharing implications long associated with eating. We do well to recapture some of this significance by reclaiming time at the table where a true spirit of family can be enjoyed. We need to move from the sharing of the Word, to the sharing at the table.
A community lives by the word of God. It is its heart and soul. The word calls them together, it inspires them, it sends them out to share it with others. May you always listen attentively and eagerly to the word of God, and may God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!