An elderly couple, having been married almost 60 years, died in a car crash. They had been in good health throughout their marriage, mainly due to the wife’s insistence that they eat a healthy diet.
When they reached the pearly gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion, which was filled with luxurious furnishings. The husband was overwhelmed by the opulence of his new home. He asked St. Peter how much all this was going to cost. “It’s free,” St. Peter replied. “Remember, this is Heaven.”
Next, they went out back to see the championship golf course adjacent to their new home. They would have golfing privileges every day, and each week the course changed to a new one representing the great golf courses on Earth. The old man asked, “What are the greens fees?” “This is heaven,” St. Peter replied. “You play for free.”
Next, they went to the clubhouse and saw the lavish buffet lunch with the cuisines of the world laid out. “How much does it cost to eat here?” asked the old man. “Don’t you understand yet?” St. Peter asked. “This is heaven. It’s free!”
“Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods?” the old man asked timidly. “That’s the best part,” said St. Peter, “you can eat as much as you like of whatever you like, and you never get fat, and you never get sick. This is Heaven.”
The old man looked at his wife and said, “If it weren’t for you and your bran muffins, I could have been here ten years ago!”
This version of heaven is familiar to us because it is a product of the consumer culture in which we live; it isn’t, however, an expression of the Christian faith. Heaven is described in the joke in purely materialistic terms. Catholicism has a word for the experience described in this joke as heaven; the word is concupiscence, that is, compulsive desire or covetousness. Heaven is mentioned prominently in today’s Gospel reading, as well. Not surprisingly, “heaven” in the Gospel refers to something quite different from heaven in the joke.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus sent seventy-two of his disciples on a missionary journey to prepare a large number of towns and villages for his arrival. Having completed their mission experience, they returned to Jesus and described the extent of their successes. Jesus cautioned them not to rejoice over their accomplishments but to “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Lk 10:20) The narrative of the disciples’ missionary journey describes what Jesus had in mind when he used the word heaven.
The seventy-two disciples brought a message of peace to everyone they encountered, and they announced the proximity of God’s reign. Those who accepted this message of a peaceful life through pursuit of God’s will experienced physical and spiritual healing. In the message preached by the disciples, “the kingdom of God” was that peaceable reign that is the consequence of God’s People choosing to follow God’s will. The “heaven” where the disciples’ names were written is equivalent to “the kingdom,” that is, the life that results from being reconciled with God and neighbor.
The point of the preaching of the seventy-two was not that God promises to fulfill all our consumer desires. Rather, their message was that God promises to fulfill what we initiate in this life. The seventy-two preached a message of peace with God and with neighbor; as a result, they encountered in other people the peace they preached. God promises us the same sense of fulfillment experienced by Jesus’ first disciples. Perhaps, a few examples would be helpful.
Try to remember the most recent time you found yourself in an argument with someone. Do you know why that argument started? It started because you wanted an argument. You could have chosen peace as your goal (like the seventy-two disciples did), but you chose an argument.
Have you ever been so disappointed in someone or something that you lost your temper completely? Do you know why you lost your temper? It was because you had placed too much trust in something finite; only God deserves our ultimate trust because only God is capable of not failing to be trustworthy.
God promises that when we seek his will in this life, we find it and its peaceful consequences.
When he sent the seventy-two on their mission, Jesus said, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Lk 10:2) The laborers he mentioned were the seventy-two to whom he was speaking. We are their inheritors. Today, we are charged with carrying out Jesus’ mission of peace and reconciliation. Like the seventy-two, we will find what we proclaim.
Today, we are sent to proclaim God’s peaceable reign. Therefore, the next time you enter someone’s home (even if it’s your own), proclaim peace and look for peace. The next time you enter someone’s place of business, look for a peaceful person. If you want to live in a world that is a reflection, albeit a faint one, of the peace wrought by God’s will, then you must bring that peace with you and announce it to all whom you encounter.