God’s Laborers

by Edmond Lo

Isaiah is one of those Old Testament books that always give me chills. You don’t even have to read it closely. A few passages or even verses here and there will be sufficient to knock you off your feet! A few examples below just to prove my point:

· How about Isaiah 7:14 on the “virgin” conceiving and bearing a child to whom she shall give the name Emmanuel? The reference to Our Lord and Our Lady in this text, either literally or typologically, is unmistakable.

· The Prophet foresees the birth of “a child” who shall be named “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:5). Who can possibly fail to see Jesus in this child? No wonder St. Paul refers to Jesus as “our peace” and the One who “broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh” (Eph 2:14).

· For a nation whose priesthood was confined to the tribe of Levi, Isaiah’s prediction of “foreigners” offering sacrifices in Jerusalem must have been incredulous, if not downright outrageous (Is 56:6-7). Now we know he’s referring to the Catholic priesthood instituted by Christ at the Last Supper (note 1)!

Isaiah’s “chills” are at work again in this Sunday’s first reading. Jerusalem, a type used throughout the Bible to prefigure the Church, comes alive in Isaiah’s prophetic writing. The holy city is personified and beautifully portrayed as a motherly figure from whom “you may suck fully of the milk of her comfort, that you may nurse with delight at her abundant breasts” (Is 66:11). Delightful indeed is the spiritual nourishment of the holy Mother Church whose sacred mission is to feed the Lord’s sheep using not only the teachings handed down to us from the Apostles and the Church Fathers, but also the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that Christ personally instituted (cf. John 21:15-17, 6:32-58).

Assured of prosperity “like a river and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent”, Jerusalem shall carry her children “in her arms” and fondle them “in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort” (Is 66:12-13). Replace the word “Jerusalem” with “the Church”, and we will realize that Isaiah’s prophetic vision has already been fulfilled temporally in the history of the Church Militant, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church. It will be fulfilled perfectly and completely in the Church Triumphant, the Heavenly Jerusalem where God’s heavenly sanctuary is.

In the gospel reading, Luke tells us Jesus also sent out seventy(-two) elders on a mission. They anticipate the presbyters in Acts who assisted the apostles; they are the priests, the ministers of the New Covenant, the co-workers with their bishops. What we see here is the beginning of a church structure that anticipates the more established Church structure around the turn of the first century, with a bishop leading a college of presbyters or priests and assisted by deacons (note 2).

"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest”, says Jesus (Lk 10:2). To this date, the Church has never stopped praying for more laborers for God’s harvest. At this crucial time when God’s people are ready to be gathered into His kingdom, what we need is more laborers who are ready for the sacred mission. While Jesus’ exhortation is directly addressed to the seventy(-two) elders or presbyters or priests, it is also indirectly addressed to us, the Church faithful, challenging us to exercise our lay apostolate and common priesthood to become God’s “laborers” in many different ways, each according to the gifts and special graces that God has given us. Are we ready to accept the Lord’s invitation?

Note 1 – See Fr. Thomas Lane, The Catholic Priesthood, p.21.

Note 2 – Ibid, pp. 200-201.