Dear Sisters and Brothers,
A preacher was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Billy Graham was to speak the following night. But he arrived a day early. He came unannounced and sat on the grass with the crowd. In front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening attentively to the preaching. When the call came for people to come forward and make a commitment to the Lord, the gentleman did not move. Dr. Graham tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, “Would you like to accept Christ? I’ll be glad to walk down with you if you want to.” The old man looked him up and down, shook his head and said, “No, I think I’ll just wait till the big gun shows up tomorrow night.” In the thinking of this man and in the thinking of many people, winning souls for Christ is something that should be reserved for the “big guns.” Today’s gospel story, however, shows us that mission is for everyone, big guns and little shots alike, the clergy as well as the laity.
Luke’s Gospel has two stories of Jesus sending out his followers to go and spread the Good News. In chapter 9 Jesus sends the Twelve apostles and in chapter 10 he sends seventy disciples. Matthew’s Gospel has only one: the sending of the Twelve. Scholars believe that Luke’s story of the sending out of the Seventy is his way of emphasizing the universal scope of the message of Christ. The mission of the Twelve, according to Matthew, was limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6). The mission of the Seventy has no such limitation. According to Jewish tradition there are twelve tribes of Israel and seventy nations of the earth. The sending of the seventy disciples, therefore, symbolizes the sending of the message of Christ to the whole world.
Today, however, I will invite you to look at the story from a different perspective, from the perspective not of those receiving the message but of those bringing the message, from the perspective of the missionaries themselves. Christian tradition identifies the Twelve apostles with ordained ministry in the church. When at the Last Supper Jesus commissioned his followers to “do this in memory of me” he was addressing the Twelve, the clergy. If this is so, then the Seventy who are sent out on mission in today gospel must be understood as lay people. Today’s gospel, therefore, is the commissioning of lay ministry. This way we can read the two missions in the Gospel of Luke, the mission of the Twelve and the mission of the Seventy, as the mission of the clergy and the mission of the laity. By including the two accounts Luke, unlike Matthew, is saying, therefore, that mission is not only for the clergy, mission is not only for the “big guns,” mission is for us all, ordained and non-ordained followers of Christ alike.
What is the reason for lay involvement in the spreading of the gospel? Because “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Luke 10:2). This is as true today as it was in the days of Jesus. What role are the laity supposed to play in fulfilling the mission of Christ? The role of the laity is twofold: “Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (verse 2), i.e. prayer, and “Go on your way. See, I am sending you” (verse 3), i.e. active involvement. It is not a question of doing either the one or the other. Every Christian is called to participate in the spreading of the message of Christ through a commitment to prayer and a commitment to action. Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you. Jesus goes on to detail the disposition we should bring to the work of evangelization: a spirit of meekness and vulnerability, a spirit of politeness and adaptability to the changing and challenging local situations in which we find ourselves in the course of mission work.
Jesus places special emphasis on the work of curing the sick. This is not an optional task in the work of spreading the gospel. Someone may ask: Is health of body necessary for salvation? Is holiness of soul not enough? We tend to forget that holiness is another word for wholeness. It has to do with the whole person, body and soul. The Good News is good not only for the soul but for the body as well. The seventy disciples went on their way trying to implement what Jesus charged them to do. They were surprised to see that, acting in Jesus’ name, not only physical sicknesses but “even the demons” submit to them (verse 17). A similar happy surprise awaits all followers of Christ, ordained or non-ordained, who dare to embrace the work of spreading the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ just as he directed us.
Peace and Everything good!
Fr. Valery Burusu