“Come follow me,” Jesus said to Peter, Andrew, James and John. And they followed. Jesus said the same words to many others. They come and follow. He continues to say those words and many people hear them, respond in faith, follow him and become his disciples.
Last week we were reminded of the importance of discipleship and our commitment to Jesus and his way. Today we see that discipleship does not only involve “following” but also “being sent.”
Jesus gathers disciples together. He enters into a relationship with them. The relationship is life-giving. One aspect of this life-giving relationship is that it is meant to be shared. The activity of sharing this message, inviting others into the relationship and proclaiming God’s goodness is sometimes referred to as “mission.”
Jesus speaks of the mission today as he prepares and sends forth 72 of his disciples. This sending is sometimes likened to field education. The permanent sending will only come after Jesus sends the Spirit. The 72 disciples in this account represent all the members of the church. Notice it is not the twelve who are sent here. That will happen later.
The seventy-two remind us that we all have role in the mission of Christ. The first thing we are told in this passage is that Jesus sends the disciples out in pairs. They go out two-by-two, a reminder that the mission is one that is shared by all, not owned by one. The communal aspect of the mission is essential. Jesus invites us into a relationship with him and each other. This is reflected in the manner by which we conduct the mission.
Jesus gives instructions to the 72 before sending them off. While there are many aspects of the instruction, we will consider three.
First, Jesus asks his disciples to pray. Prayer precedes mission and, as we will see later in the gospel, pervades the mission. In this case Jesus instructs the disciples to pray for more “laborers,” fellow disciples of Jesus who will join in the mission. The mission is going to go out to all the earth. Laborers are needed. The prayer represents a reliance on God. The prayer is not only for laborers but for the mission itself. It is his mission. The prayer helps keep the disciples focused and true.
Second, the immediacy of the mission. “Go on your way,” he says. He wants them to focus and to invest themselves in the mission. No dilly-dallying here. The mission is important and the disciples need to show that in their conduct. Jesus says: “Carry no money bag, no sack or sandals; and greet no one along the way.” Naturally when going out on a journey finances, food and clothing would be a concern. It is as if Jesus is saying not to worry about those things, they are not nearly important as the mission. Those needs will be taken care of as the mission unfolds.
Third, the proclamation itself. Jesus instructs the disciples to offer peace when entering a household. Peace harkens back to relationship. Peace exists when there is harmony and concord among people. Offering peace is offering an invitation to the relationship both with Christ and his disciples, the church.
Jesus tells the disciples to cure the sick. The sick represents people in need. The curing is not dependent on the sick being disciples. The care represents Jesus’ care for all people especially those in need.
Finally, the disciples are to proclaim the kingdom of God. Notice the proclamation comes after the greeting of peace and care for the needy. It is essential to the mission but needs to be proclaimed in the context of living love. The first reading for today’s liturgy reminds us that the proclamation should be one of joy and rejoicing. The cares and worries of the world are surpassed by the loving care of God made known in and through Christ.
The instructions to the 72 are helpful for us today who walk in their footsteps. We are all called to be missionaries. For most of us the “going forth” is not to a foreign land or nation but happens in our homes, workplaces, schools and communities. The mission is the same. Jesus invites us to “come follow me.” As he sends the 72 so too he sends us: “pray … go forth … care and proclaim.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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