Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12,17-20
Generally, when someone is applying for a job, he/she presents the best credentials to the employers. Sometimes, people pay experts to “design” a curriculum vitae for them in a manner that would catch the attention and admiration of the employer. They list their best performances at school and they even present known and well-placed people as their references so that employers may be impressed. In short, they present themselves as if they were best of all the best. On the other hand, employers of certain companies who want to attract particular, well-qualified candidates seeking to be hired, also make good salary proposals to them. Sometimes they promise fabulous salaries, and other benefits, trying prove that they are the best company. Jesus has a completely different approach. In today’s gospel, Jesus is asking and hiring workers, also. He has some tough instruction to give to those whom he is hiring.
1. THE WORKING CONDITIONS OF THE MISSIONARIES
Jesus is hiring people to become His disciples and prospective missionaries of His word to the whole world. The expression “missionary” comes in here because of the fact that those hired by Jesus are being “SENT”. The Latin for sending is “missio”. A person being sent for a specific task, is generally termed to be “ON MISSION”. Thus, a person “on mission” is termed missionary. In the religious sense, a missionary is a person sent on a religious mission, especially one sent to promote Christianity in a foreign country. This is what Jesus does to the seventy-two in today’s Gospel.
Unlike like corporate employers, Jesus does not flatter these missionaries with a promise for a ‘golden future”. Instead, he tells them: “Come and follow me knowing that you will be persecuted; you will be tried in court; you will live simply and frugal lives, and walk humbly; you will have a difficult life. You will work for me not only 8 hours a day but 24 hours a day. If you are very lucky, you will be killed for my sake.” Therefore, if one is applying for a job to Jesus Christ, he/she should not say: “I am the best, so hire me,” but rather we say: “I am not good enough. Please, make something good out of me.” No doubt very few people apply for a job with Christ as missionaries of His word because they are sure to experience not PLEASURE but PRESSURE.
Jesus goes further to detail the disposition we should bring to the work of evangelization: a spirit of meekness and vulnerability, a spirit of politeness and adaptability to the changing and challenging local situations in which we find ourselves in the course of mission work.
2. WHY THE NUMBER “SEVENTY-TWO”?
St. Luke’s Gospel has two stories of Jesus sending out his followers to go and spread the Good News. In chapter 9 Jesus sends the Twelve apostles and in chapter 10 he sends seventy disciples. Matthew’s Gospel has only one: the sending of the Twelve. Scholars believe that Luke’s story of the sending out of the Seventy is his way of emphasizing the universal scope of the message of Christ. The mission of the Twelve, according to Matthew, was limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). The mission of the Seventy has no such limitation. Remember, in the book of Acts, the same Luke tells us that Jesus sent his followers to “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). According to Jewish tradition the number seventy was symbolic:
a) First, it was the number of the elders who were chosen to help Moses with the task of leading and directing the people in the wilderness (Num 11:16-17, 24, 25).
b) Second, it was the number of the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of the Jews. If we relate the seventy to either of these bodies they will be the helpers of Jews.
c) Third, it was held to be the number of nations of in the world. Luke was the man with the universalist view and it may well be that he was thinking of the day when every nation in the world would know and love his Lord.
3. THE MISSION OF THE SEVENTY-TWO
The missionaries were to prepare the way to every town and place where Jesus Himself is to go. Jesus gives some instructions to these seventy men:
a) First, the missionary is not to be cluttered up with material things. He is to travel light. It is easy to get entangled in the things of this life.
b) Second, the missionary is to concentrate on his task. He is to greet no man on the way. It is not an instruction to discourtesy but it means that the missionaries of God must not turn aside or linger on the lesser things while the great things call him/her.
(May be this is one of the reasons why priests, like me, has to remain celibate throughout his life. It is because his time will be divided if he has a family to take care of and at the same time a pastoral work for the people.)
c) Third, the missionary must not be in the work for what he can get out of it. He is to eat what is put before him and must not move from one house to the other seeking better and more comfortable quarters. A missionary cannot be a seeker of luxury.
4. LAY INVOLVEMENT IN THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH
We are used to talking about the spread of the word of God from the perspective of those receiving the message. Today’s gospel brings us to those bringing the message. Talks from the perspective of missionaries, of those being sent out. Christian tradition identifies the Twelve apostles with ordained ministry in the church. When at the Last Supper Jesus commissioned his followers to “do this in memory of me”, he was addressing the Twelve, the clergy. If this is so, then the Seventy who are sent out on mission in today gospel must be understood as lay people, an extension of the smaller group of twelve. Today’s gospel, therefore, is the commissioning of lay ministry. This way, as mentioned above, we clearly read the two missions in the Gospel of Luke: the mission of the Twelve (Lk 9) and the mission of the Seventy (Lk 10) – the mission of the clergy and the mission of the laity. By including the two accounts Luke, unlike Matthew, is saying, therefore, that mission is not only for the clergy, mission is not only for the “ordained and consecrated religious.” Mission is for us all, ordained and non-ordained followers of Christ.
What is the reason for lay involvement in the spreading of the gospel? Because “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” (Luke 10:2). This is as true today as it was in the days of Jesus. What role are the laity supposed to play in fulfilling the mission of Christ? The role of the laity is twofold:
“Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest” (v 2), i.e. prayer,
“Go on your way. See, I am sending you” (v 3), i.e. active involvement.
It is not a question of doing either the one or the other. Every Christian is called to participate in the spreading of the message of Christ through a commitment of prayer and a commitment of action. Pray as if everything depended on God, work at it as if everything depended on your contribution.
5. IT IS BY JESUS’ STRENGTH NOT OURS
Those on mission are also called to constantly put their focus on the sufficiency and strength of God rather than dwelling on the greatness of the task before them. They are to trust in the consoling and strengthening company of God, as we read from the First Reading of today: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Is 66:13). Missionaries are to rely on Jesus, not only on their own resources. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.” (Lk 10:4-7) Jesus never gives us a distorted picture of what he wants us to do. He does not pretend that the task would be easy. We are like lambs going out into a world of wolves. It all sounds like a suicide mission. In the face of all these Jesus does not tell us to “think like wolves”. He tells us to trust Him. Rather than trust in some memorized technique, we are to trust the Holy Spirit to open doors for us, to provide what we need, and to give us the words to say. That does not mean we should not prepare for the mission. In fact, we should. Jesus does not mean we cannot learn new and modern ways of evangelization. He simply means that we should not rely only on our methods or our abilities. We should rely on Him.
6. “THE HARVEST IS PLENTIFUL”
We may ask ourselves what this “enormous harvest” constitutes. A simple look around our families, communities, country, reveals to us that there are many people are looking for meaning in their life. They are looking for stability. There is much work to be done!
There are people in our world who feel unloved.
There are very many young people whose only source of knowledge is their android phone and electronic gadgets. They are crying out for a human touch in their lives.
There are people who have troubled marriages
There are those who (surprisingly) have never heard the message of salvation. We live at a time when many are hostile to a message they have never heard.
There are good people who think they are “good enough” to earn God’s favour. These people believe they do not need to trust Christ for their salvation. Such people keep wallowing in their ignorance.
There are some who believe they are Christians. They go to church regularly. They like Jesus but they are not really followers of Christ. They say they trust Christ but the way they live their lives says otherwise.
There are people so wrapped up in their daily tasks to the extent that they have never considered “ultimate issues” such as: “where is my life headed?” “What happens after I die?” “Will there be a judgment before a Holy God?”
Because there is much work to be done, Jesus urges us to pray for more workers (not simply more people to attend church). We need to pray for people, lay missionaries, who are willing to boldly follow Christ, who view their faith as not simply a badge they wear or a club to which they hold membership. We must pray for those who will serve the Lord. However, we are not only to pray. The Lord needs people who will get off the sidelines and actually get involved in the work of the Kingdom. (You may cite the Hymn: HARK THE VOICE OF JESUS…)
7. CURE THE SICK!
Jesus places special emphasis on the work of curing the sick. This is not an optional task in the work of spreading the gospel. This is a dimension of evangelization which is often overlooked by many. Someone may ask: Is health of body necessary for salvation? Is holiness of soul not enough? We tend to forget that holiness is another word for wholeness. It has to do with the whole person, body and soul. The Good News is good not only for the soul but for the body as well. The seventy disciples went on their way trying to implement what Jesus charged them to do. They were surprised to see that, acting in Jesus’ name, not only physical sicknesses but “even the demons” submit to them (v. 17). A similar happy surprise awaits all followers of Christ, ordained or non-ordained, who dare to embrace the work of spreading the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ just as he has directed us.
8. THE REWARD IS GREAT
The potentials and the rewards are really great. Lk 10:17-20. “The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
When the disciples/missionaries returned from their trip they told great stories of the miracles they witnessed. Bodies were healed, tormented people were set free. They saw God work in amazing ways. They were riding high at what the Lord was able to do through them when they dared to do what He said.
Jesus told them that this was really just the beginning. The Holy Spirit could do much more through them. Jesus was, in no way, recommending that the disciples should be reckless and start playing with snakes and scorpions (Catching these dangerous creatures for sport and for fun). In fact, this was not something they were to do all the time; it was something that God would do through them whenever the need arose. Jesus is not telling us to seek spectacular signs (like village magicians). He promised that great things would happen as we faithfully present the message of the gospel.
Jesus points out that the real issue is not about the miracles they perform. It is about the message they proclaim and the very real effect that message made in their own lives. The greatest miracle is that our names can be written in Heaven.
God calls a wide variety of people to his service. Luke does not give the names of those who made up the seventy-two. But God knows them all. One person may be labouring faithfully in the shadows. Another may feel his/her contribution is worth nothing. Paul tells us that God uses each one of us as the various parts of the body function for the common good. God uses us in the way He needs us to be used. The most valuable employee is not necessarily the one who sits at the desk in an office. It may be the one lifts the heavy burdens and makes things happen. The most valuable people in the church may not be the member of the Parish Pastoral Council, but the person who is on his/her knees at the back bench or at home praying for the Church. We may have different jobs on Jesus’ missionary team, but we are all important.