THE LORD APPOINTED SEVENTY OTHERS WHOM HE SENT
Sunday, July 3, 2016
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Mission of the Seventy-two
1After this the Lord appointed seventy[-two] others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.2He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.
Other readings: Luke 10:17-20; Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-7; Psalm 66:16-20; Galatians 6:14-18
The last verses of the Letter to the Galatians sum up, to a large extent, the core of the message Paul wanted to convey: in Christ, all things are new. Especially for Christians, who through faith and baptism have become “new creatures,” all the differences that the old Jewish mentality had established, dividing humans between Jews and Gentiles, male and female, slaves or free citizens, were now erased. For Paul personally, there was another “extra” sign: “the marks of Jesus” that he bore in his body (6:17). Whether he was referring to actual scars left by beatings and stonings he had suffered, or to the spiritual scars he bore in his soul, his suffering for all the churches, we do not know. Perhaps he is using symbolic language, making reference to the marks slaves bore that identified them as belonging to a master, in his case, to Jesus his “Lord.” Jesus’ cross, Jesus crucified in fact, is what matters and makes the difference between the old and the new.
This newness of life after Christ could be the key to understanding the promises announced by Isaiah, the change from the mourning suffered by Jerusalem and those who loved her, into the joy and comfort they will experience after returning from the exile. The milk and delight they will feel, the flourishing of their bodies and the wealth of the nations, all of those different realities will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, whose presence Jesus’ disciples will announce with a greeting of peace. When Jesus started preaching in the very beginning of his ministry, he already announced how those promises were being fulfilled. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16 and Luke 6:20-23) reflect the comfort and satisfaction those who trust in God will receive. This explains why Jesus tells the disciples to proclaim the same words he had used: “The kingdom of God is at hand for you” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17; Mark 1:15).
It is curious to see that Luke is the only Synoptic writer to include two different “missions,” that of the Twelve (9:1-6), and the one in today’s passage where the number of disciples is not just the élite of Jesus’ close friends, but includes a larger number (seventy or seventy-two) of his “anonymous” followers. In both cases, the objectives and the instructions are similar, although in our text the tone and details are more precise, and more realistic. Besides anticipating the possibility of the rejection that the disciples may experience, Jesus warns them of the dangers entailed in the mission. Being sent “like lambs among wolves” is not a very encouraging announcement. In this realistic context, Luke does not omit verses 11-16 (although the Lectionary does exclude them!), where Jesus reproaches Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum because of their lack of repentance.
Against any human expectation (how can we start a project without money or provisions?), the disciples return to Jesus “rejoicing” because “even the demons are subjected to them because of his name” (10:17). Jesus, once again, emphasizes the foundation of all the missionary work they would attempt. It is not the results, the success of having “subjected the demons or the spirits,” but the fact of having their names “written in heaven” that matters. It will take them a long time and the light of the Spirit to understand that Jesus’ triumph was the moment of his glorification on the cross: “Wasn’t it necessary that the Messiah should suffer…?” (Luke 24:26).
We can easily find a multiple message in today’s readings, and the truth is, we find more details to the guidelines Jesus had given the Twelve in the first mission narrated by Luke. There is something that may surprise us at first sight. Was the number of Jesus’ followers so large as to allow for sending seventy [two] disciples? More curious is the fact that Jesus complains about the scarcity of the laborers sent to the harvest! The point is not the number, of course, but to see that announcing the kingdom of God is not a “specialized job,” but a task to which all believers are called. The content of the mission, as mentioned above, is the same as that entrusted to the Twelve (Luke 9:1-2) or the one that Jesus himself performed, including “curing the sick” and “those oppressed by the devil” (Acts 10:38). As for the conditions placed upon those who were sent to prepare the way and the towns where Jesus intended to visit, they are also practically identical to those given to the Twelve.
Putting together the three texts (the Gospel, Isaiah’s announcement and Paul’s testimony of his ministry), we can pose some very simple questions. Are we conscious of our personal responsibility as messengers of the Gospel and of Christ, crucified and risen for our salvation? Does our actual mission, our witness, contain an announcement of peace and healing? Do we truly rely on God’s help or do we still put our trust in purely human resources?
Pray for those who are presently working in missions in depressed or hostile areas: that their lack of human or material resources may be supplied by the active cooperation of those of us who rest in “safe” communities or regions.
Pray for all of us who are afraid to run any risks in our witness to the Gospel: that Jesus may grant us humble confidence in his words and promises.
Jesus’ message of confidence in the Father implied facing mission without relying on human power or resources, something “the wise and the learned” would never do. Read the passage that immediately follows Jesus’ instructions (Luke 10:21-24). Only those who are humble can accept, understand and see the fulfilment of Jesus’ words. Perhaps we could add Psalm 131, where the psalmist compares himself with a child, in order to recognize that it is our self-sufficient attitude that prevents us from being effective disciples.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón,Roman Catholic priest,Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain