I have been teaching bible studies for 33 years now. I have learned some things, forgotten some things, but I have come to appreciate the life-long project that slowly builds up a deeper appreciation of what God desires for us, God’s love for us, and the symphony of God’s efforts to lead us to salvation for the great homecoming of homecomings.
And so, what I know and love, I want to share. And hence 33 years of teaching Bible studies. But I have to say there is also the imp in me, that mischievous, unconverted part that is not above throwing the occasional wrench in the works just to mix things up. For example, I can ask people to open their Bibles to the Old Testament book of the prophet “Jebediah.” Some folks will turn to the index and quickly scan for the page number. Some folks will think to themselves, “Not familiar with that one. Must be one of the minor prophets and will narrow their initial search. Others, having hung around in studies with me, will play the odds and assume I am pulling their leg. And in case you were wondering, there is no Book of the Prophet Jebediah.
Part of the life-long study of Sacred Scripture is to begin to know the books, and then the big-picture stories in the book, where one particular books fits into the even bigger picture, particular passages and episodes with a particular book – and in time it all begin to come together. Today’s readings are ones for which the particular and big picture frame of reference make a difference.
I suspect many folks heard the first reading from Isaiah and were thinking… “What????” All this talk about nursing, sucking at abundant breasts… what’s up with that? Well, it is metaphorical language when the Prophet Isaiah is telling the people of Jerusalem and Judah, who are in captivity in Babylon – “Today is not the day, but be assured there is a great and joyous homecoming when the Lord returns us to mother Jerusalem where we will find comfort and joy and release from the exile. You will finally fulfill what was always your role and destiny – to be a light to the nations so that in “In days to come, the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it” (Isa 2:2). You will call all people and nations to cross the bridges that divide us and come home.
And God so loved the world he sent his Only Son to be our Lord and Redeemer. And as Jesus told us the Gospel of John, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (John 20:21) – and so we see in this days’ Gospel, Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to announce the Kingdom, “to bring glad tidings to the poor… to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19) Because the Kingdom of God is at hand (cf. Lk 10:9). No longer willing to just let the people of God sit on the high mountain of Jerusalem, but sending them out to hit the highways and byways to bring the light to the other side of the bridge that divides us, to bring home God’s other children.
And St. Paul understands that mission. He traveled, traveled and traveled because he understood “neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.” All that divided the Jews and Gentiles was to be put aside in order to be that new creation in Christ – to go into the world bearing the marks of Jesus on our bodies (Gal 6:17) Each of us here became that new creation in Christ when, at our baptism, that sign of crucifixion, the sign of the cross was traced on our foreheads and these words spoken: “I claim thee for Christ.” Since that day we each have borne the indelible marks of Jesus on our bodies. And so, we are sent. Sent into our lives, into the world to be a light to the world. To cross the bridges into other’s lives and be the good news for them. And when the time is right, to invite them on the journey. The journey Isaiah describes as a return to Jerusalem, a return to the warm embrace of a mother. What Jesus describes as the Kingdom. What we can simply call home as we rest in Christ.
It is a journey. Everyone is on it. Everyone is called. Everyone is on one side of the bridge. So imagine if you meet someone on the journey, which is more attractive – the meeting when the other calls out and tells you that you first have to get everything right in your life, then you can cross the bridge, we can go from there. Or, the meeting when the other calls out and asks can he cross over to you. Cross over to hear your story, to share the good news, and invite you to take one step, a next step on the journey. As you are, imperfect and yet made in the image of God. Loved by God.
“The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.” And we are sent into the world, across the bridges, to help the other on their journey. So that together we can cross back over. And there we might just hear someone else call out to us across the next bridge on our journey, “Can I come over to your side?”
It is all one story – from Isaiah, to St Paul and the Galatians, to Luke and his gospel. Crossing bridges, setting captives free, journey together, growing in holiness, ever growing closer to home. For the kingdom of God is indeed at hand.
You bear the marks of Christ. You are sent. Be the good news for others as others have been the good news for you. Cross the bridges and bring them home.