Homily for 14th Sunday Ordinary Time
Dr. Brant Pitre is a professor of Sacred Scripture at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the bestselling author of Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile and Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist. In a video, he comments on the biblical foundations of the numbers mentioned in today’s Gospel.
The number 70 (or 72) plays a key part in today’s Gospel. It is a number that has special significance in the Old Testament. In Exodus 24 Moses appointed 70 priestly elders. They were to offer sacrifice and act as intermediaries between God and the 12 tribes of Israel. Later, in Numbers 11, on the advice of his father-in-law, Moses appoints then to help him govern those same 12 tribes. Following the appointment, the 70 receive the “Spirit” to do the task that has been assigned to them. Earlier, in Genesis 11, the Bible presents a long genealogy of Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, Japheth, etc.. This is known as the “Table of the Nations. It represents all peoples in the world.
The number of people chosen was not coincidental.
- 1 is the person at the top. It was Moses in the Old Testament; it is Jesus in the New Testament.
- As the #1 High Priest, Moses is the “first among equals” in the community of worship. Aaron, Nadab and Abihu are the three who appointed Moses in his High Priest role. In the New Testament, Jesus has the role of “High Priest.” Peter, James and John are the important supporting roles of offering sacrifice for the people.
- The 12 Apostles are the New Testament “12 Tribes of the “new” Israel.”
- The 70/72 represent the gentile nations to whom the Good News will be proclaimed.
The Sanhedrin contained 70 members with 1 High Priest. It was no coincidence that Jesus chose 70 disciples to go out on behalf of his ministry. Jesus is making a claim of authority. He is establishing a new priestly hierarchy in order to spread the Gospel to all the nations. This would not have been lost on the Jewish leaders. They would have found this a tremendous threat to their power and religious authority.
These hierarchies of numbers represent community. They also indicate that the community was arranged according to a hierarchy. Different people in the community were placed at different levels. They had different roles, responsibilities and authority depending on those roles.
This has special significance for the church today. Michael Gormley (aka “Gomer”) and his friend Luke were students at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. They host the podcast “Catching Foxes.” They talk about the significance of the Christian community on their podcast starting at about 52 minutes. They comment that a person cannot understand who they are outside of the community. They also make the claim that the current status of a Catholic parish in decidedly not “community.” Catholic community has to be more than, “I know and like a bunch of people I go to Church with.”
Gomer tells the story about a friend of his who tried to live in an intentional “Mustard Seed-like” community. He quit after a few weeks saying, “I couldn’t stand living with one particular person. There was no way I couldn’t see me living hours and hours with that person for weeks on end.” Another friend of Mike’s, who happened to be a monk, was nearby and heard this comment. He said, “That’s absurd. I can’t stand half of the men I live with in my community. That’s What community is all about, why you intentionally make a decision.”
This “sticking to it” idea was strongly emphasized by Bishop Barron in his new book Letter To A Suffering Church. It is discussed in another podcast by Bishop Barron and University of Toronto Professor of Psychology and clinical psychologist, Jordan Peterson. They say that the idea of leaving the Church because of the scandal, the bishops, the problems is not only cowardly, it’s absurd and dangerous. What’s next? Your marriage? Your country? You are never going to know unless you stay in the community and fight for the community.
Gomer and Luke counter the knee-jerk counter argument by people who want to leave or have already left. They point to all of the horrible things that have happened in the Church in recent decades. Luke lays out two poignant questions:
- Is there something there that needs to be addressed?
- Are people addressing it in a just, loving, Holy, healthy way?
Those two are being approached as mutually exclusive in today’s society and by today’s Catholics. It is a fight between “justice vs. mercy” and “perfect victims vs. perfect transgressors.” The problem is that there is no “exit strategy’ proposed. If you leave the community, where is the transformation? Where is the transcendence? Where are reconciliation and redemption?
People are being called to stay and fight. They are being called to determine where on the hierarchy they have been placed by God. What is their authority at that level? What is their task at that place? Scripture scholar Eleanore Stump writes that,
The moral of the story is that there isn’t room for hanging back when the Lord calls you. If you hesitate, if you think of an excuse to postpone answering the call, you aren’t really hearing the Lord calling; and so you aren’t really going to follow him either, not now, not later. That is why in the Gospel Reading Jesus says that no one who sets his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of Heaven.
You are definitely being called to, not only someTHING but also a somePLACE associated with a someONE.