We are continuing, in this period called Ordinary Time, to hear from St. Luke’s Gospel. One of the themes we find throughout that gospel is what we could call “reversal of fortune.”
Over and over again, St. Luke shows us how those who are small, insignificant and unimportant in the eyes of this world are often the very people who are great, magnificent and beautiful in the eyes of God.
In the second chapter of his gospel, St. Luke sets the historical scene by mentioning the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. At the time, Caesar was the king of the world as they knew it. But the Emperor quickly fades into the background as St. Luke moves on to announce the newborn baby king in Bethlehem. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is the true king of the world and master of the universe, not Caesar Augustus!
We find the same “reversal of fortune” in the person of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She discovers that she will be the Mother of God. She, the lowly handmaid of the Lord, will be the one to bear Christ in her body and bring Him into this world. St. Luke describes her reaction to that remarkable news as he gives us Mary’s song of praise, her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56):
The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name…He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly…He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty…
God has turned the tables! With the coming of Jesus Christ everything has changed. And one of the greatest reversals of all is the Kingdom of God itself: that we here on this earth can attain to the very heights of heaven.
In our gospel today, Christ sends out the 72 disciples to announce that message. It is a message of hope for those who were in despair and truly the Good News that they longed for. Finally those disciples return to Christ with great rejoicing:
Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.
—Luke 10: 17
Jesus quickly responds:
I have observed Satan fall like lighting from the sky
Yes, the time of the Devil and his minions is at an end. But Christ goes on to say:
Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
In the upper level of the Basilica of St. Francis in the City of Assisi there is a painting by Giotto of a vision one of the friars had while St. Francis was still alive. In that vision the friar saw numerous thrones set up in heaven. Some were larger and more ornate than others, but one of them stood out among them all. A voice then said to that friar:
“This throne belonged to one of the angels cast out of paradise; now it is reserved for the humble Francis.”
That story is the very image of the great “reversal of fortune” that the gospel brings to our fallen world. God loves us just as we are…but far too much to leave us there!
Today we can ask ourselves: of all the thrones that appeared in that friar’s vision of heaven, which one belongs to us? Which throne is God calling us to occupy when our earthly life is complete? How is God calling us to walk in the footsteps of the humble St. Francis of Assisi and to follow the example of those 72 disciples whose “names are written in heaven” in our Gospel today? We are all called to do the work of the Gospel. We are all called to be saints.
One of the more traditional titles for the Catholic priest is that of alter Christus: another Christ. Because he uses the words of Christ and acts in the person of Christ when celebrating the Eucharist and absolving sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and because he is called upon to image Christ throughout his life and ministry, the priest must surrender himself continually so that he may truly be an alter Christus.
Yet the first person to be called an alter Christus was not a Catholic priest. The first person who was given that title was St. Francis of Assisi himself. He so lived out the gospel call to holiness and proclaimed God’s saving message in word and deed that when people looked to him they saw another Christ. Is that what they see when they look at us?
We are all called to be Altri Christi: other Christs. The 72 disciples sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God are representative of all disciples; they could be any one of us. How is God challenging us to walk in their footsteps this week, to announce the Kingdom of God in our own towns, workplaces, and families?
This week might we rejoice in that work of the Gospel that God has called each one of us to…and one day may we also rejoice not only because of what God is doing here on this earth, but also because our names—please, God— will be written in heaven.