RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while sailing to New York in 1912. The story has been told in newspapers, magazines, books, movies, plays and even a musical. Once the ship started taking on water, the crew sent out a distress signal. There were two other ships in the area: the Californian and the Carpathia. I recently read a piece comparing their responses to the situation as maintenance versus mission.
The Californian was about 20 miles away from the Titanic. They had turned off their radio about 10 minutes before the distress signal went out. They saw rockets and flares go off in the distance but could not figure out why another ship would be firing them. They noticed the lights go out on the Titanic but just thought it was “lights out” time. They never turned on the radio. They never considered there might be a distress signal. They did nothing but maintain their course.
The Carpathia was further away, about 58 miles from the Titanic. They however took a different approach. Their radio was on when the distress signal went out and they went into mission mode. The captain ordered all engines powered on to the highest level. They carefully navigated the icebergs in the area while traveling at the highest speed possible. The crew was focused, determined and engaged. When they arrived at the scene three and a half hours later, they were able to save the 705 people who were on life boats.
The four Gospels recount key aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. There are broad themes that run through each and all of them. One such theme is mission. Jesus comes on a mission from the Father. He is sent. The mission is to offer life — eternal life, divine life — to all humanity. Jesus in turn invites apostles and disciples to follow him and to share in his mission. In fact he prepares them, as the church, to carry on his life-saving mission after his return to the Father. The Gospel account for this Sunday’s liturgy reminds us of this mission.
The passage comes from the Gospel According to Luke and recalls the sending out of the 72 disciples. They have been with Jesus for some time already being formed in the Way. This sending of the disciples might be considered “field education” or “practice.”
The permanent commission will be given after all has been accomplished in Jesus’ passion, death, resurrection and ascension. They will be given the Spirit at Pentecost that will power them on the mission. Jesus’ words here not only gave them direction but continue to give us direction as the mission continues today.
Jesus first recognizes the need for more laborers for the harvest. He says that the harvest is abundant. We realize this need when we consider how many people today have not had an authentic encounter with Christ Jesus. As the culture grows more and more secularized, the number of people who can be invited grows. Jesus is asking us to bring the invitation with us into the world and to these people.
Jesus tells the disciples and us to pray, to pray for the mission and to pray for laborers. Jesus shows us the way. He was continually at prayer throughout his life and mission. Prayer reinforces our faith and bolsters our hope.
Jesus wants us to be aware of the challenges ahead. “I am sending you like lambs among wolves,” he says. Despair and hurt have hit so many people in our society that they have built walls up around themselves. The polarization in our society has entrenched many in their opinions or suspicions that they even become aggressive. Perhaps these are the “wolves” today. We are to remain “lambs” among the wolves.
As we go forth, Jesus tells us what to bring and what to offer — peace. We bring the peace that only he can offer. He who is peace is the one who can give it. It’s a peace that brings life. Notice the urgency with which Jesus speaks. We are to be focused on the mission — full steam ahead: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.”
Jesus then instructs us to be engaged: “stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you.” The message takes time to be proclaimed – and accepted. Diligence is needed as is commitment. The message proclaimed is the “Kingdom of God.”
The proclamation will not be accepted by all. There will be rejection. However, this is not to deter or derail the mission. He tells us to move on and continue the work: “know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
In the story above, the Carpathia responded to the Titanic with a sense of mission. When we listen attentively to the world around us, we soon realize that many people are sending distress signals. When we look at or read news stories, even programs or books geared toward entertainment, we hear a call for assistance or help or healing.
Jesus saw similar signals when he walked among us. He responded with a sense of mission. Jesus hears these calls today. His response is immediate – he sends us.
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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