THE MISSION OF THE 72 DISCIPLES……OUR MISSION!
Today’s Gospel focuses on sending Our Lord’s disciples out to do His work. He instructs them, and gives them very definite directions. We then read what happened when they returned to him to report on how they got on.
Let’s have a look at the Gospel closely? It is important to note that Jesus sent them out in pairs. The Mission almost sounds like some Assignment of heightened importance from a James Bond Movie! MI 5 have given the strictest instructions to these 72 ‘called’ by Jesus, not to do a secret Mission, even though it sounds like it, but it was indeed a very public presence in the towns which Jesus will eventually visit, as he completes His travelogue en route to Jerusalem. Let’s just reflect for a moment on that fact that Jesus called each one individually. He never asked the five thousand to follow him, after he had fed them with the loaves and fishes. While he called each one personally, he never sent an apostle out alone. There are but two incidents in the Gospels when an apostle went out alone: one was to betray him, the other ended up denying him. Community support and companionship is essential in living the gospel. Even a hermit has to be commissioned by a Christian Community, and must continue to be in touch with that group. There is no such vocation in the Christian community called a ‘loner’.
What is the significance of the number 72?
According to the Lucan Community who put together this version of The Good News, Part 1; I say that because Part two of the Lucan Gospel is the Acts of the Apostles. It seems that 72 is an important Biblical number found in the Book of Genesis; 72 is the number of the known nations of the ‘old world’ around that time. It is worth noting as an observation, that Luke gives no real attention to the actual mission of the disciples, but rather concentrates his reflections on the nature of the mission and the causes of joy and sorrow. Another question worth asking is why did Jesus sent them out in pairs? It would seem that three reasons can be assumed; mutual support, the bearing of witness to the truth of their testimony and the living embodiment of the Gospel of Peace.
The overnight bag is pretty light: what’s that all about?
It would be silly to take this literally, and over the centuries, sure enough some have done so to the detriment of the Biblical meaning enshrined in this advice. In other words, the actual Mission is a time of total dependence on God, the list of ‘what not to take’ means that their ‘back up’ is guaranteed by Jesus. God will provide for the journey, through the ‘goodness’ of His people.
Is the mission of the 72 about preaching, like John the Baptist did as a precursor and making the way for Jesus?
It seems that the short answer is no! But, there is a very important parallel between the Mission of the Prophet Jonah in the Old Testament and the 72! Remember that Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, then he went onto the God given Mission to the people in Nineveh…..a Gentile City. How many days did it take to cross that City? 3 days! Now, it is vitally important for us to take note as to what happened in Jonah, during his sojourn in the Whale, and what happened in the people of Nineveh during the three days of the ‘walk through’ by Jonah. Let’s look at Jonah’s name…..a Hebrew derivative of Dove….of PEACE…..the dove bearing the olive branch marking the conclusion to the flood, and the entrée to the sign of the Rainbow; that God is one who saves! One who will defend us! One who will protect us! Why? Because of God’s unconditional ‘covenant love’ with His people. Please, let’s not pass by the sign of the rainbow; the colours of the rainbow have absolutely nothing to do with the SIGN; it is the shape which is paramount; the shape of a giant BOW, as in a Bow and Arrow!
So many people think that the gays have stolen the rainbow for their coloured flag! It does not interfere with the sign from God at all……if the gay flag was in the shape of a giant Bow….well there could be something said about that. So, the next time that you see a beautiful rainbow, enjoy the colours, but keep in mind the giant Bow of God as protector. Now, back a bit to the three day Retreat that Jonah spent in the whale……Again, this is not necessarily the literal truth, like we would read in the Morning Newspaper! No, it is what is called a literary form which contains a special truth. The Belly of the whale can also stand for three days in a tomb! Three days in a Cave….the seed buried in the ground. In that Semitic triplet of time, some deep internal change has happened within the person…..something like a metamorphic change…..the person in the tomb, in the belly, in the cave, has experienced salvation, and like the butterfly that comes out of the cocoon has changed and can BE AND IS DIFFERENT but belonging to the one before the change. This is all getting a bit complicated if you ask me; so why not grab a coffee and some nice toasted Raisin bread? In this case of Jonah, he changed and was the embodiment of the pristine ‘shalom’ in the Garden of Eden, and his demeanor was a walking GOOD NEWS, a WALKING CATALYST FOR GOD, which evoked a deep metanoia (Change) in those people who saw him, met him, and could relate to him, and in turn the message that Jonah embodied was contagious to those who came into his presence! In the Gospel for today, we see the reality, which some people who don’t want to be touched by or even be open to God’s Gift in the presence of the 72 disciples on Mission. It is God’s Work, not our work. St. Paul and to deal with ‘knock backs’ and obstinate people, but through a deep understanding of the Apostolic Mission he was able to say:’ I can do all things through Him who gives me the strength’. Or in another place, could say that he (Paul) is in difficulties on all sides, but never cornered!
It is amazing to hear many people say, nowadays and with such conviction ‘that there is no real need to go to Church, I believe in God, I try to live a good life, I try to follow the commandments, I say a few prayers etc.’ But it would seem to me that this kind of attitude which is very popular, misses the understanding of the absolute need to be with, and belong to a community which finds its direction, energy, grace and movement, through the Celebration within Community of the Eucharist. Going to Mass is not like going to a Service Station and filling up with Premium, and then going off after Tap and Go! No, it is about belonging, it is about an awareness which demonstrates that as Christians we need nourishment from the Word, the Sacrament and Community (The Body of Christ). From that community Eucharistic experience, we are sent out like the disciples in today’s Gospel. ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. That is not a Liturgical way of saying, ‘Bye, see you next week, and be good’. Far from it! It means go and live what you have heard, go and be what you have received in Holy Communion, go and be a foot washer following the example of Christ’s servant hood. Do you know, we are all Christ’s Missionaries all the time in the way we relate, accept, forgive, love, reverence and respect for one another? THINK TIME: What do you understand by being a Missionary every day of Christ? Being a Missionary does not necessarily mean that it is all about the best Programme for Catechesis which is important; it can sure help; it is about being not necessarily doing; that is continually be ‘refreshed’ by God’s Word and Sacrament, and rubbing shoulders with the living Body of Christ – His Church! We could have the best Missionary activities in the world and be a raving rat-bag at the same time! We might believe that we speak the truth in love and be a narcissistic dictator at the same time. Surely, the budding Missionary is one who listens to the truth in love; and allows that to flavor all thoughts and actions…..Our Pope Francis is a great example of the Missionary as exemplified in the 72 disciples set out in today’s Gospel.
Finally, when the Missionaries return, it is time to share their stories on how the saving action of God has been experienced; it is a time of ‘thanksgiving’ it is a time of deep reflection into The One who sent them…..who sends us!
Fr Kevin Walsh
Stanhope Gardens. Sydney, Australia