The readings for today offer us two conflicting images. One is of abundance and rejoicing; the other is of the cross and self-denial. One might think that these two images cannot be harmonized. But if we look carefully at their messages, we can see how they really do fit together.
Isaiah’s message is a vision of the future. Jerusalem, which had been destroyed, its inhabitants scattered, will be made prosperous again and its people brought back home. The ancient Israelites certainly clung to this promise of future security and happiness, and so do we today. There are many cities over which we mourn. There are cities ravaged by war like Baghdad and Gaza, cities plagued by poverty like Calcutta and Lagos; and we all know cities that are riddled with crime.
We grieve over such cities, and we wonder whether, like Jerusalem before them, God will turn their mourning into rejoicing. This is not a vain hope, for as today’s psalm reminds us, God “changed the sea into dry land; through the river they passed on foot.” God liberated a people before; certainly God can do it again. But how?
The Gospel answers this question. The world has an immense need of laborers who will bring to life the kingdom of God. Jesus sent out a group during his own lifetime, and he sends us out to continue their work. Today we are the ones with the message, “Peace to this household.” “Peace” is a simple greeting to give, but a monumental task to accomplish. But world peace really does begin in our families and in our neighborhoods. And we can, indeed we must, establish it there.
We are the ones who, through the power of Jesus, can make “even the demons subject to us.” And there are many demons roaming around in our world. There are addictions of every kind, greed under many guises, grudges held for years on end. The transformation of our lives is encompassed in the vision of the rebirth of the city of Jerusalem. We are the new creation of which Paul speaks in today’s reading. And like Paul, we too must be willing to be crucified to some of the standards of our world, standards that stand in opposition to the reign of God. It is in this way that the cross enters our lives.
Jesus warned us that the message of peace, and the means that we employ to establish that peace, may be rejected. Our efforts at change may not always be appreciated. But God restored the people in the past, and through us, God can continue to restore the people today.