Jesus sends forth 72 disciples to continue His mission. These 72 disciples represent the missionary activity of the Church and the followers of Jesus. The sending forth recounted in this passage is a “trial run” for the disciples.
After the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord their preparation will be complete and they will be readied to fulfill their role of spreading the Gospel and inviting others to faith.
Jesus sends the disciples forward to visit places that He intends to visit. The role of these missionary disciples is to prepare for Jesus’ expected coming. Jesus is asking them to prepare the peoples they meet for His arrival. He tells them that the “harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
The saying reminds the disciples, as they are beginning their mission, that it is a large undertaking. The vast multitudes of peoples who they will encounter are in need of attention and care. The disciples will be doing the work of the harvest master and there will always be the need for more assistance.
Prayer needs to be at the center of this important work. The disciples need to realize that they are on mission not for themselves nor are they empowered by themselves but they are at the service of the harvest master. Therefore they should pray to the harvest master for more workers in the vineyard. These “workers” will be like them; disciples of the Lord, for the mission is the responsibility of all disciples.
Jesus warns His disciples about the situation they are facing as they go forth. “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.” The disciples are going into a world where their message will be under attack. They will face opposition and rejection (just like the Lord). Jesus warns them so they are aware. He does not want them to be discouraged in the face of rejection or opposition.
Jesus then gives the instructions for the mission. First, he tells them to be determined and focused as they go forth. “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” They are to proceed in haste. They are not to take anything on the mission that will impede them or cause delay. They are to avoid anything that will distract them from the mission at hand.
Second, they are to proclaim and offer peace. The instruction reminds us of Jesus’ greetings after His resurrection. In numerous resurrection accounts when Jesus appears to the apostles and disciples, He greets them with “Peace.” The peace that Jesus offers is one of unity. Through His passion, death and resurrection Jesus has restored the unity of man with God. Consequently peace has been established. The disciples will offer this peace to those whom they encounter.
Third, Jesus instructs the disciples to say put. He tells them not to move around from house to house but to stay at the same place and to rely on the hospitality of the hosts for their sustenance. The disciples are not to be distracted from the mission with undue movement. They stay in the same household building up the communion that is established. They will need stability in the relationships so that the seed of faith can take root and grow.
Fourth, Jesus tells them to cure the sick and to proclaim, “The kingdom of God is at hand for you.” The cure of the sick refers both to healing and restoration. Healing of the sick will come in many forms. At first read we might think of the healing of the body from physical ailments. Yet the healing that the disciples can offer goes much deeper than the physical.
The healing of mind, soul and spirit are accomplished when one encounters the love and mercy of God. The proclamation of the kingdom is an offer, an invitation to experience the love and mercy of God offered through Jesus. The disciples are ministers of the kingdom and through them the invitation is offered.
Fifth, the disciples are given instruction for how to handle rejection. When they are rejected by a town they are to say: “The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.” Jesus has already told the 72 that they will face rejection. Yet this rejection cannot stop the mission from moving forward. The proclamation of the kingdom is an invitation to faith, not an imposition. The disciples cannot force anyone to believe, they must do so freely.
At the same time, rejection bears consequences. If they reject the Kingdom, they reject the love and mercy offered. If they reject the love and mercy offered, they choose death over life. Hence Jesus can say, “I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.” However, for the disciples part, they are not to be distracted from the mission by rejection. They are to move forward with the proclamation.
When the disciples then come back sometime later amazed at the power of Jesus’ name Jesus tells them, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Though the disciples may encounter threats to life and the forces of evil, these things will have no ultimate power over the disciples because they are the Lord’s. So Jesus says, “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
The mission of Jesus is continued in the life of the disciples. The mission is one of life and love, mercy and forgiveness. The rejoicing that accompanies the mission is one that will be experienced by many.
The joy is akin to that mentioned in the first reading from the Book of Isaiah. The abundance of life that accompanies the restoration of Jerusalem foreshadows the mission of Jesus. In this reading the restoration witnesses to the Lord’s power. In the Gospel Jesus is the witness to the Father’s power and the disciples are the witness to Jesus’ power. As they witness to His name and proclaim the Kingdom they lead others to rejoice in God’s goodness and love.
The mission of Jesus continues today. As disciples of Jesus and members of His Church we are called to share in the work of redemption. We are called to follow Jesus and to proclaim His Kingdom of love and peace. Like the 72 we too are called to go into a world where many have not yet experienced the power of Jesus’ love. We are called to go forth and to witness to this love.
Instead of going into unknown towns and villages, we go into our neighborhoods, into our work place, into our schools, into our swim clubs, into our shopping malls. Anywhere we encounter people is the place where the mission lies.
We go forward on this mission, like the 72, and witness our faith by the way we live, in what we say and do. In this proclamation of the Kingdom we invite others to experience the Lord’s peace and to be filled with great rejoicing in His love.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.