Today we hear the story of Jesus sending seventy two disciples ahead of him to preach the good news. Jesus gives them a simple mission; he told them to say, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” It is important for us to ask at this time: What exactly is the “Kingdom of God?” In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict gives an in-depth analysis of this phrase. He notes that you can find the phrase “Kingdom of God” 122 times in the New Testament – almost always from the lips of Jesus. While you cannot reduce the phrase to a single meaning, the pope makes this statement: “When Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God, he is quite simply proclaiming God, and proclaiming him to be the living God, who is able to act concretely in the world and in history and is even now so acting.”
The disciples journey is similar to that of John the Baptist. “For you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). And by your actions that “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5).
The mission of the disciples begins with prayer. Jesus tells them to ask God to send laborers into his harvest. They are not to be burdened with material things; they are to travel light. They are not to greet anybody on the way; they must focus on the journey before them. The disciples travel without a money bag, sack or sandals; they travel without weapons of defense.
Jesus warns them that their journey will not be easy, that they will meet hostility and rejection, and that they will be like lambs among wolves. Jesus sent them with nothing for the journey. Some welcomed them, but others threw stones and rejected them. The disciples didn’t fall into self-pity or anger or despair. They simply brushed the dust from their feet. They knew that if some people didn’t welcome them, others down the road needed them. In the end, their mission will be for them a source of great joy; as heralds of God’s kingdom their names will be forever written in the book of life.
What is the significance of Jesus appointing seventy disciples to the ministry of the word? Seventy was a significant number in biblical times. Moses chose seventy elders to help him in the task of leading the people through the wilderness. The Jewish Sanhedrin, the governing council for the nation of Israel, was composed of seventy members. In Jesus’ times seventy was held to be the number of nations throughout the world. Jesus commissioned the seventy to a two-fold task – to speak in his name and to act with his power.
The story of the sending out of the seventy two disciples on a mission was a major inspiration in the life and ministry of many saints, but most notably in the life St. Francis and St. Dominic. St. Francis was touched in particular by the poverty that was to mark the disciples’ lives. They are to carry “no purse, no sack, no sandals” but are to live from the generosity of those to whom they are sent.
St. Dominic focused on the missionary task itself. Religious life before these two great saints was largely lived out in monasteries. What Dominic saw was a religious community of missionaries, of preachers, of people who, supported by a life in common, would be totally dedicated to preaching the gospel wherever and whenever it was needed.
What kind of harvest does the Lord want us to reap today for his kingdom? When Jesus commissioned seventy two of his disciples to go on mission, he gave them a vision of a vast field that is ready to be harvested for the kingdom of God. Jesus frequently used the image of a harvest to convey the coming of God’s reign on earth. The harvest is the fruition of much labor and growth – beginning with the sowing of seeds, then growth to maturity, and finally the reaping of fruit for the harvest.
What does this mean for us today? The word of God is sown in the hearts of receptive men and women who hear his word. God’s word grows like a seed within us. We can accept it with trust and obedience. We can then share the abundant fruit of God’s word in our life with others. The harvest Jesus had in mind was not only the gathering in of the people of Israel, but all the peoples (and nations) of the world.
Jesus gave his disciples instructions for how they were to carry out their ministry. They must go and serve as people without guile, full of charity (selfless giving in love) and peace, and simplicity. They must give their full attention to the proclamation of God’s kingdom and not be diverted by other lesser things. They must travel light – only take what was essential and leave behind whatever would distract them – in order to concentrate on the task of speaking the word of the God. They must do their work, not for what they can get out of it, but for what they can give freely to others, without expecting reward or payment. “Poverty of spirit” frees us from greed and preoccupation with possessions and makes ample room for God’s provision. The Lord Jesus wants his disciples to be dependent on him and not on themselves.” (St. Augustine)
Jesus says his disciples must be “lambs in the midst of wolves?” The prophet Isaiah foretold a time when wolves and lambs will dwell in peace (Isaiah 11:6 and 65:25). This refers to the second coming of of the Lord Jesus when all will be united under the Lordship of Jesus after he has put down his enemies and established the reign of God over the heavens and the earth. In the meantime, the disciples must expect opposition and persecution from those who would oppose the Gospel. Jesus ends his instructions with a warning: If people reject God’s invitation and refuse his word, then they bring condemnation on themselves. The choice is theirs’. Move on to those willing to listen to the word of God.
Jesus tells his disciples to not take joy in their own successes, even spiritual ones. Jesus makes clear that the true source of our joy is God, and God alone. Our second reading from Galatians reminds us that St. Paul did not take joy in his successes or boast. it was not over what he did for the Lord. Paul brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to tens of thousands of people throughout the Roman Empire. But Paul would not boast in this, or in anything he did. He would not rejoice in his accomplishments. But Paul did boast. He boasted in the Cross of Jesus Christ. He rejoiced that Jesus Christ died for him. He rejoiced that because of the cross, he was a new creation.
We have a strong tendency to base our satisfaction on successes and pleasures that we can see and touch. The real celebration, the real meaning of life is God. Only by maintaining an awareness of God’s interest in and love for us, will we be able to experience the deeper happiness that can bring meaning and satisfaction even in the middle of hardship and suffering. God wants us to place our lives in his hands. Jesus asks us to trust God and to remember our purpose: to help bring in the great harvest of souls.
We rejoice in that we can be Christ for others. By our thoughts and actions. Everything we do is for Jesus Christ’s greater glory. St. Teresa of Avila wrote:
“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
We are that new creation! We are Christ for others. We are Christians. We are Catholics. It is as Catholics that we receive the strength to boast in the Cross as St. Paul did