domenica 3 luglio 2016

«Pax huic domui»

There is a word recurring today in all readings: “peace.” We find it in the gospel: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’” We encounter the same word in the second reading also: “Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule and to the Israel of God.” It could seem that the word “peace” is absent from the first reading, but in this case the translation is to blame. Where we read: “Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river,” in reality, in the original text there is written: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river.” Modern versions of the Scripture think to do us a favor, when they explain the meaning of a word instead of translating it literally; but they do not realize that, doing so, they impoverish the text; like in this case: the New American Bible renders the original Hebrew shalom (= peace) as “prosperity,” but this is only one of the numerous meanings of the biblical concept of shalom. In the Bible, “peace,” in addition to its ordinary meaning of absence of war, also means: health, riches, well-being, wholeness, happiness, prosperity, safety, salvation, harmony between God and man, life lived in its fullness. As you can see, it is a very rich term: practically, it summarizes all the goods one can desire. It is the gift that the Messiah will bring when he comes. In fact, when the angels appear to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus, they say: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Meaning: the Messiah has come, and has brought the gift of peace to all. “Peace” is still now the usual greeting among Jews, Christians and Muslims: “Shālôm ‘alêkhem”; “Peace be with you”; “As-salām ‘alaykum.”

Jesus is sending seventy-two disciples on mission. He had already sent the twelve apostles: he had sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Lk 9:11-6). Now he sends other disciples, seventy-two to be precise. Just as twelve is the number of the tribes of Israel, so seventy-two, according to the Bible, is the number of pagan nations. This second mission means two things: firstly, apostolate in not a privilege of the apostles, but a duty of all disciples; secondly, salvation is reserved not only for the Jews, but for all peoples. The mission of the seventy-two is a foreshadowing of the mission to pagans, which will start after Pentecost. The gospel points out that Jesus sends his disciples “ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” This detail makes us understand the real meaning of the mission: missionaries have just to precede Jesus, that is, to pave the way for him, like John the Baptist. A missionary cannot take the place of Jesus; he can just be his forerunner.

The instructions Jesus gives to his disciples are very similar to those he had given to the apostles. But there are two aspects emphasized in this case. Firstly, when they enter a house, they have to wish peace. Since they are missionaries of the Messiah, they bring with themselves the Messiah’s gift, peace. Secondly, they have to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.” Here is the good news they have to announce. It is not a simple desire or hope; it is the proclamation of an event. Even when they are rejected, they have to shake off the dust from their feet, but they have to confirm that, in any case, “the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Very nice is the account of the return of the seventy-two. They are full of joy for the success of their mission: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Their satisfaction is understandable. But Jesus reminds them that it should not be that the reason for rejoicing, but another one: “Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” We should always rejoice only for one reason: because God loves us, he has chosen us and wants us to be with him in heaven.