In the first reading, Isaiah tells us in graphic language what Jerusalem meant to the Jews. It was the center of worship, the center of their lives. He gives us comforting words about the city. He compares her to a nursing mother and says prosperity will spread over her like a river. When Isaiah is writing all this, he is looking at a city in ruins. The Babylonians had destroyed it. Isaiah had warned the people, but they did not listen to him. They rejected him; Isaiah could have said, “I told you so.” No, he does not let rejection or disaster overcome him.
He looks forward to a bright future. I do not think anyone responds to rejection very well. Be it a ten-year-old boy who gets a crush or the pretty girl who sits in front of him only to be ignored. Or the college graduate who keeps being turned down for a job? “We are looking for someone with more experience,” the personnel manager says. However, a fifty-year-old person with plenty of experience applies for a job and is turned down. “We are looking for someone younger,” he is told. Rejection, we all have faced it.
Do you remember the sting, the anger, the embarrassment not being chosen for the team? Or perhaps, feeling the temptation to quit? Just before our gospel today, Jesus had asked three people to follow him in discipleship. Just as He called Peter and the other apostles; but each rejected Him. They each had polite excuses, three out of three rejections for Jesus. Can you imagine anyone turning Jesus down? How it must have stung? How did Jesus respond? We read now in the gospel.
First, He did not give up. He redoubled His efforts to reach out to the world and He sent out seventy-two disciples. The temptation when one is rejected; is to focus on the rejection and overlook the many moments of acceptance. Jesus did not allow what He had lost to erase His view of what He still had. A married couple told me of an experience they had. After the death of their twelve-year-old daughter, they were paralyzed by the loss. Months after her death, the husband and wife were seated at the kitchen table and the husband could only stare at the empty chair at the table where his daughter used to sit. He became overwhelmed with loss.
Finally, the silence was broken by the sobbing voice of their son, “I’m still here, remember me? I’m still here.” The man said that was the moment when his grief began to turn. He has lost much, but he also still had much. From that moment on both he and his wife tried to focus on the chairs that were filled. Jesus was never naïve. He knew that all of us at some time would experience rejection. And He tells us how to deal with it; wipe the dust of rejection off your feet and brush it off. Too often we drag the accumulated residue of our rejections, loss and defeats. Like ones overstuffed suitcase; lighten up and drop the excess baggage of old losses and old failures.
Do not let the scar tissue of these wounds harden your spirit and prevent you from moving on. Jesus suffered the ultimate rejection on the cross. When He looked down from that cross, He did not see many supporters. Peter denied Him; Judas betrayed Him and all of the others-except John-took off. His response to the rejection was not a curse but “Father, forgive them.” He did not give up on them; and the very ones who rejected Him went on to conquer the world in His name. All of them died for Him and Christ did not give up on them, and He never, never gives up on us.