We all know the light of the sun in the daytime, and of the moon in the night. We know the useful light of a torch, the revealing light of a spotlight. We know the lights blazing down on the football field and the comforting lights in the dark street as we walk home at night.
But do we know the light of truth, the most splendid light of all? This is the light we should all be walking in because this light illuminates the path to heaven, the path to God. Without this light we are lost even more completely than the football players are lost when the lights unexpectedly go off in the middle of the game.
The light of truth is God’s light. It reveals to us who we are as humans; it tells us how to act, how to worship God, the meaning of our lives. God’s light is not a torch or a burning flame, it is a man – Jesus Christ. Yes, Jesus is the light of truth – the light that guides us to the kingdom of God. As he himself said (Jn 8:12): I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; he will have the light of life.
We do not light a lamp to put it under a tub and neither does the Father. He puts it (Jesus) on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. (c.f. Mt 5:15) And where is that lamp stand? It is the Church. You are the light of the world. (Mt 5:14)
Of course, we do not all shine as brightly as we should – and from time to time in the world’s history – the light of truth in the world will grow perilously dim; man turns away from God and follows other paths. This, I believe, is very much the case today in the poor, affluent Western World. We are confused and scattered and tangled up in desires and ambitions which lead only to estrangement from God and disaster for ourselves.
In his untiring mercy, however, the good God sends holy men and prophets into the world to draw us back to adherence to the truth. If mankind refuses to listen to these it runs the risk that God will withdraw and simply leave it to experience the painful and destructive consequences of its own stubborn conceit. We remember how last week the Gospel told us that because the people of his home town rejected him: he could work no miracle there. Deprived of God’s help we are on our own.
Now let us go to today’s Gospel.
Jesus summoned the Twelve… .
Jesus stands conveniently at the head of this sentence as subject, which is precisely how he should stand in our lives like a lamp, the light of the world. As a priest I often say to myself, and occasionally to others, ‘How I wish more people would make more room in their lives for God and the things of God.’ So many of us just seem to ‘fit him in’ somewhere convenient, so that he doesn’t take up too much of the time we like to devote to our favorite preoccupations.
We note that Jesus summoned the Twelve. There is more than a hint of kingly authority in this word summoned. It basically means he brought them into his presence, he made them stand before him. Jesus summons us, too, in many ways. Most simply put he calls us to listen to, to believe, and then to live his word, to shine. If we do this we will find ourselves not only with him but in him (cf. Jn 14:17).
Jesus summoned the Twelve. These are the men he chose to draw close to him and become his special collaborators. They are not yet apostles. This will happen to them in the next few words when he begins to send them out. The word apostle, in fact, means those who are sent forth. But for now they are merely the Twelve and we do well to remember that because Jesus generally operates in exactly the same way in our lives. He summons us so that he might make us apostles.
… and began to send them out in pairs…
The word began gives us the sense of the ongoing work of Jesus and of the training of his Twelve. He began to send them out. As far as his own ministry on earth was concerned Jesus had now reached that moment when he was able to involve others in his saving work. He was making progress. As for the Twelve, they had now reached the point where Jesus could begin to send them out because they were making progress.
The Lord is standing with the Twelve kneeling before him. The subject standing before the object. The light of the world illuminates them and says to them: I … send … you.
It is very easy to overlook the significance of this simple transaction. I recall the priest who disobeyed the instructions of the Church in various liturgical matters ‘out of loyalty to my people,’ as he put it. This priest, and there are many like him, had simply forgotten who it was who sent him, who it was to whom he owed his loyalty. He had not been sent by the people. It was to Christ in the Church to whom he owed his loyalty and his obedience.
And this reflects on every member of the Church involved in the Apostolate. We serve in the name of the Church and not in the name of the small group of people we serve. We don’t create our own light, we share and give Christ’s. Any disobedience to the Church can never be justified out of ‘loyalty’ to the people.
Jesus sent them out in pairs… . The wisdom of this practice has been proven over the centuries. It gives courage to the apostles and in all sorts of ways tends to short circuit ministerial problems as well as promote ministerial growth.
As he sends them Jesus gives them a special gift which will ensure success in the mission. He gives them: authority over the unclean spirits, over the powers of darkness.
What a world of horrible meaning are contained in these two words. Every conceivable evil, every human weakness and failure, and crime – all woundedness and sin – and the spirits who foment it.
Many times over the last twenty five years have I experienced this authority. It always leaves me a little speechless and greatly humbled. And you, too, every adult Catholic Christian is authorized to confront evil and to set people free in Christ’s light of Truth.