A group was formed in England a number of years ago called the “Fisherman’s Club.” The membership included men, women, young and old. The one thing that they held in common was that they all like to fish. The purpose of the club was to discuss fishing and all the various aspects of it: the best locations, the effect of weather on fishing, the type of gear, travel destinations for fishing and so forth.
The club was very popular and many people joined. The meetings were lively and full of information. Soon the meetings and activities of the club expanded and grew. So much so that the membership were now more taken with being in the club than with actual fishing.
Jake, who had never fished before, was invited to join the club. After several meetings he went out fishing. He tried a few different things and caught several fish and before he knew it he was hooked (so to speak). At the next meeting of the Fisherman’s Club he told his story. He became a popular speaker at the club and its various chapters. Soon he was elected to leadership. Over time all these activities precluded Jake from fishing; there was no time.
Soon Jake began to feel anxious and restless. He longed to feel the tug on the line once again. So he cancelled all speaking engagements, resigned from the board and said to a friend, “Let’s go fishing.”
The story of Jake reflects a rather not uncommon occurrence. Jake was overtaken by the idea of fishing rather than the fishing itself. Although this was helpful in the beginning it soon obscured the purpose and joy of the activity. A separation ensued between the idea and the activity which needed to be resolved if Jake was going to find enjoyment again.
One of the aspects of Christian life and discipleship is that of mission. The mission is Jesus’ and the goal of that mission is salvation. He announces the Kingdom of God, establishes the Kingdom and invites many to enter. He gathers disciples to himself. He teaches them, trains them, forms them and sends them. His mission will continue after he ascends to the Father through the life of the Church which is comprised of his disciples.
The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy recalls the “sending” of the 72 disciples. He sends them out in pairs to the towns and villages he intends to visit as he journeys to Jerusalem. Recall in last week’s Gospel that he was rejected in Samaria because his destination was Jerusalem. These disciples are to proclaim the Kingdom of God and prepare for Jesus’ arrival.
Jesus’ mission is extended to his disciples. He invites them not only to “follow him” to Jerusalem (recall the Gospel passage from two weeks ago: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”) but to share in his mission of inviting others to discipleship.
His instructions emphasize the importance of this mission especially with regards to immediacy and urgency. He tells them, “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” Once arrived, they should stay put until they have adequately proclaimed the message and cared for those in need.
The disciples go out and when they return are filled with joy. Sharing in the Lord’s mission gives them great joy. They see the effects of his saving love on those in need which fills them with rejoicing.
Jesus lifts them out of the hardships of life (not necessarily taking away these hardships but depriving them of dominance over people) and his disciples do the same. The source of joy is the life that Christ wins for his people as he establishes his Kingdom. This happens when he reaches his in Jerusalem.
The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy from the prophet Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem and joy. The day will come when Jerusalem will rise from the ashes. Those who mourn for her will be filled with gladness, rejoicing and thanksgiving.
Isaiah uses several images to describe the joy. It is like one who achieves great prosperity and wealth: “I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent.” Or like the comfort and security of a baby in the arms of its mother: “You shall be carried in her arms and fondled in her lap.”
This joy is realized in the Kingdom of God. The disciples get a glimpse of this joy as they return from their initial mission to proclaim the Kingdom. Salvation is near at hand.
Jesus’ response to the disciples’ joy keeps them grounded. They could easily be overcome by all that they have witnessed: “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name,” they say. Jesus tells them, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus shares his mission with the 72 disciples. These disciples represent all disciples in every time and place, including us. Jesus invites us to follow him and to take up his mission in the world today.
In the story of Jake and the Fisherman’s Club mentioned above, Jake lost his sense of joy in fishing when the idea of fishing was separated from the fishing itself. The same thing can happen to us if we are not careful.
Mission is the activity of the Christian life. Inviting others to share in the life that Christ has won for us is an essential element of Christian discipleship. The manner and ways we do this may vary but the mission is the same.
Through the liturgy today, Jesus reminds us of the importance of this mission and invites us to be renewed in it.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.