An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Luke 10:1-12.17-20, July 7, 2013.
EVEN IF ONE just limits his reading to newspaper headlines this month, it will not take him more than a minute to conclude that this is not a peaceful world. The provocative acts of China against small Asian countries, the firefight between the Abu Sayyaf and the military in Mindanao, the tribal bloody conflict in Darfur, the tension between North Korea and South Korea, the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the drug crimes in Mexico and the unrest in Thailand—these stories may not prove Marx correct in his theory that ours is a history of struggle between the rich and the poor, but they do indicate that our history continues to be characterized by confrontation, conflict and hostilities. But despite these endless happenings of violence and war, people—especially those who experience war and those who are victims of human rights violations, of disinformation and blackmail—know the need and long for peace.
In today’s 1st Reading (Isa 66:10-14c), Isaiah speaks of peace that God will bestow on his people who suffered strife, defeat and humiliation. But what is peace? For the prophet, peace is not merely the absence of war. One does not create a desert and call it peace. Using the image of the New Jerusalem as a mother who consoles the returning exiles at her breast and dandles them at her lap, the prophet describes peace in terms of the mournful experiencing comfort, prosperity spreading over the land, and all inhabitants being joyful in mind and heart. Isaiah’s imagery expresses in another way the Old Testament idea of peace as an experience of wholeness and integrity in the life of the people and community—the right relationship among the members of the community and nation and the right relationship between the people and God.
But will we ever experience it? In the theology of the New Testament, such peace—it is experienced—is often elusive. This is because, viewed according to the Jewish symbolic universe, evil forces are at work. An example of this explanation is given in a scroll found at Qumran caves: “All dominion over the sons of perversity is in the hand of the Angel of darkness; they walk in the ways of darkness. And because of the Angel of darkness all the sons of righteousness go astray; and all their sin and iniquities and faults, and all the rebellion of their deeds, are because of his dominion… And all the blows that smite them, all the times of their distress, are because of the dominion of his malevolence. And all the spirits of his lot cause the sons of light to stumble; but the God of Israel and His Angel of truth succour all the sons of light” (1QS 3:20-25a).
The influence of Satan’s power is vast and difficult to eradicate. This is evidenced in, among others, personal rifts and social and political conflicts where, it is assumed, he dominates. According to this symbolic universe, illness and physical handicaps are results of the activity of Satan’s power. Also, if there is no harmony and prosperity in the land, it is because his demonic power controls not only the life of the individual but also the relationship within the nation and among nations. In the light of this view of reality, one can claim that the power of Satan lies behind the proliferation of prohibited drugs, the uncontrolled jueteng, the kidnappings for ransom, and other evils that plague our present society.
With Jesus, however, came new and full power (cf Matt 28:18). Through his cross and resurrection, he vanquished the powers of this world: “thus did God disarm the principalities and powers. He made a public show of them and, leading them off captive, triumphed in the person of Christ” (Col 2:15). Because he defeated the forces of evil, peace is now possible. Of course, during his public ministry, he already anticipated this victory over evil and triumph for peace through his healings and exorcisms. “For with what authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out” (Luke 4:36). By undoing Satan’s work, Jesus challenged the demonic power and its influence.
That is why, in today’s Gospel (Luke 10:1-12.17-20), the seventy-two disciples, who were given power by Jesus, could exclaim in triumph: “Master, even the demons are subject to us in your name” (Luke 10:17). They penetrated into the territory of Satan who, unseen by men, exercises influence over people and events in the world. Thus, even in his public ministry, the power of Satan to sow evil was already being broken. As Jesus himself said, “I watched Satan fall from the sky like lighting” (Luke 10:18). Though the eschatological battle between the forces of good and evil has begun, now the ultimate victory over Satan is being won, with the rising of Jesus to new life. In the words of the Johannine Jesus, “Now has judgment come upon this world, now will this world’s prince be driven out, and I—once am lifted up from earth—will draw all men to myself” (John 12:31-32). And as Paul puts it, “then the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20).
But what does the Gospel wish to teach us about peace? We all long for peace, for wholeness, integrity and well-being--which is meant by the Hebrew word shalom, but in order to establish this peace not only in our individual lives, but also in our community, in the nation and in the world, Jesus needs men to spread it. It cannot be privatized as if it were an individual possession, with the bearer unmoved by the events, vicissitudes and concerns in this life. Peace always involves relationships within communities and between peoples; it is always about their unity and harmony. If Jesus gave his peace to his disciples (cf John 14:27), his disciples must bring it to men. This is why in today’s Gospel, Jesus sent his disciples for the mission to spread peace: “On entering any house, first say, ‘Peace to this house’. If there is a peaceable man there, your peace will rest on him” (Luke 10:5-6). What Jesus meant here is not a simple greeting that one gives to people he meets on the way, but an announcement of the peace that the salvation of Jesus brings.
We, Christians, must be peace-bearers. We are to be vehicles of peace—for it is only through the communities of disciples will real peace come upon earth. We have to be involved in the peace-process. In our time, that process would include not only maintaining the balance of power, but even more important, safeguarding of the goods of persons, free communication among men, respect for the dignity of persons and peoples, and assiduous practice of charity (CCC 2304). And it may be stressed that to spread peace is not a work of mercy—it is rather demanded by our status as disciples of Jesus. “Peacemaking is not an optional commitment. It is a requirement of our faith. We are called to be peacemakers, not by some movement of the moment, but by our Lord Jesus” (NCCB, The Challenge of Peace, 333).