The Gospel for July 3rd, 2016: “The Mission of the Seventy-two” and “Return of the Seventy-two”
Reflection: For His Glory Only
Today’s gospel raises questions that, while interesting, may not be necessary to understanding the larger purpose of the reading. For example, the whole mystery around who these seventy-disciples were and how they were chosen is intriguing. So many of the gospel stories have Jesus speaking either intimately with the twelve apostles or publicly with large crowds, the choice of this intermediate and specific number of seventy-two suggests it is significant, yet I cannot see why. Likewise His advice to them about how to respond to those who do not receive their message seems surprisingly harsh. Is Jesus being snarky when he has them go out into the streets of unrepentant towns and say, “The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you” (11)?
Regardless, I don’t think the answers to those questions are as important as what Jesus says to them after they return from their missions, amazed and rejoicing that “even the demons are subject to us because of your name” (17). He cautions them, “Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon servants and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your name is written in heaven” (19-20). This speaks to the ever-present danger of developing pride for gifts we have been given. In the case of these preachers, Jesus gifted them the ability to cast off spirits as part their mission. This is an intoxicating supernatural power that could easily be abused. If they use or revel in those gifts for personal glory instead of for that of God, then they compromise their effect in terms of salvation. This slide to self-regard happens to me sometimes even in just writing this blog. I have written some that turn out much better than I thought possible when I began. Occasionally in those moments, my surprise has been followed with a sense of self-congratulations that is clearly marked by pride and vanity. Instead of thanking God for guiding me and granting me the gift to share His word through writing, I think only of myself with a false sense of personal glory. The proper position of worship is to see the truth that the gift comes from God and is for His glory. Even though He does not need my praise, a position of gratitude and humility is what makes possible participation in God’s glory and salvation of His people, including me His humble servant.
It has become quite popular to cite the Spider-Man reference, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Still, it is quite true. In the case of today’s gospel, the responsibility lies with every Christian to receive and use God’s gifts with humility for His glory. Otherwise, we are only hurting ourselves. It is for this reason that Mary is such an important part of our faith. In Mary, we see the humility and devotion to charity that is not tainted by pride. The rosary allows us to contemplate the nature of God’s gifts as Mary did. So I end with the closing lines from the oremus prayer to the Lord to complete the rosary sequence, “Grant, we beseech Thee, that by meditating on the mysteries of the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen.” Amen, indeed. May we imitate Mary’s humility and devotion in the hope of joining her in heaven.