“I am convinced that there is a great need for the whole Church to rediscover the joy of evangelization, to become a community inspired with missionary zeal to make Jesus better known and loved.” – Pope Benedict XVI
Luke 10:1-12: After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road. Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, Peace to this house! And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, The kingdom of God is very near to you. But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
Christ the Lord Appointing seventy-two disciples to be collaborators in his mission is an action with deep biblical significance. When Moses was leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God had him bring seventy elders to the door of the Tabernacle (the tent where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, and where Moses used to meet with God), so that they could receive the spirit of Moses and become his assistants. Later the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of post-exilic Israel, was made up of seventy-one elders. By following this pattern, Christ once again shows that he is bringing the Old Covenant to its fulfillment. The number seventy-two may even have yet another level of meaning. The Book of Genesis described the division of the non-Jewish world into seventy nations. So Jesus’ choice of seventy-two disciples includes those seventy Gentile nations, the nation of Israel, and, perhaps, his Church, the new People of God. In any case, the allusion is clear. Christ is the new Moses; he is bringing a New Covenant and extending it to a new Israel, the Church.
We also see in this passage Jesus’ insistence on his methodology of mediation. He had chosen his twelve closest companions, the apostles, the forerunners of the bishops. He had already sent them out on their first missionary journey. Now that their training has advanced, he gathers another group of assistants and sends them out on a similar mission. The structure of the New People of God is already taking shape, and it is even now hierarchical. Jesus is at the top of the pyramid, his Twelve Apostles come next, and beneath them there is another rung of ministers. Each of these in turn would reach out to others and engage them in building the Kingdom. The Lord came not only to announce the Good News, but to set up the ecclesial structure that would insure its ongoing announcement to the ends of the earth until the end of time, setting a pattern for apostleship that brings the principles of effectiveness and multiplication onto center stage.
Christ the Teacher Among the many lessons Jesus teaches in this lecture on how to be a Christian apostle, the last one is too often overlooked. He tells his disciples how to react when they are rejected, when their efforts appear to bear no fruit, when they run into opposition, and when they seem to fail in their attempts to win people over to Christ. When that happens, they are simply to shake the dust from their feet and move on.
Everyone remains free to accept or reject God’s grace. If Christ himself suffered seeming failures in the apostolate (the Pharisees weren’t exactly pushovers), should we expect anything more? The greatest danger for an apostle is discouragement. But discouragement comes from unfulfilled expectations. To avoid discouragement, therefore, Jesus points out what our expectations need to be. If we seek only to please the Lord, the Lord will indeed be pleased, even if no one else is.
Christ the Friend “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.” Imagine the emotion behind those words. They express a sense of urgency, a burning desire to reach out to all the men and women who so desperately need direction, meaning, and true love in their lives, and to lead them into the Kingdom. So many needs, so many souls ripe for the Good News! And yet, so few of Christ’s followers are willing to go out and gather them in. The true friends of Christ, the ones he can really count on, will let his yearning love echo in their hearts, and reverberate in their actions.
Priests share this mission in a special way, and Christ therefore allows them to share his yearning love more closely. They are the extension in time and space of Christ himself, who in his wisdom has chosen to work through them to infuse sacramental grace into the Church. Friendship with Christ, then, includes a supernatural appreciation for his priests, an attitude of respect and cooperation, and an eagerness to help those whom Christ is calling hear and heed him.
Christ in My Life You want your saving message to reach every human heart and society. But you also desire to spread that message through the words and actions of your disciples. I am a bit puzzled by your confidence in us, but even so, Lord, I renew my willingness to go wherever you want me to go and do whatever you want me to do to build your Kingdom. Teach me to do your will…
I tend to measure my Christian life in non-Christian terms, as if I could earn more of your love by showing more results in my efforts to build your Kingdom. I know you want the contrary: you want me to work for your Kingdom out of love for you, not in order to earn your love. But my heart is infected with the upside-down insecurity of this fallen world. Heal me with your love…
Your heart is burning with love. Why else would you have left heaven in order to come and suffer and die on earth? You eagerly desire the friendship of people just like me. Jesus, I can do nothing greater for my neighbors – the ones I know well and the ones I barely know at all – than to bring them deeper into your friendship. With the zeal of your heart, inflame my heart…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Detail of Fresco in Bishop’s chapel located in Cortona [Italy] depicting the mission of the apostles,, 31 December 1944, CC (public place), Wikimedia Commons.