AMBASSADORS FOR CHRIST
The world famous Pagannini was scheduled to begin his violin recital, one evening, when he found that his Stradivarius violin had been stolen from its case and had been replaced with an old, ordinary violin. The audience was already seated and there was no time to go elsewhere and bring in another violin worthy of the maestro. Undaunted, Pagannini took the old instrument, tuned it to concert pitch and began to perform as if nothing untoward had happened. When he finished the recital, the audience gave him a standing ovation. Pagannini then announced, “Friends, today I’ve performed on an old, ordinary violin; and, I’ve proved to you that the music is not in the instrument but in the maestro!” In today’s gospel, the maestro of mission, Jesus, sends out seventy-two disciples on mission as instruments of his peace.
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” Jesus instructs in the penultimate verse of St Matthew’s Gospel. No one ever carried out this injunction with more courage and determination than Francis Xavier (1506-52). He was not only one of the greatest missionaries, but also one of the most remarkable travellers in history.
His letters, 137 of which have survived, show a man who combined the highest ideals with practical efficiency, and who tempered the rigours of faith with unfailing charity and humanity. Living in the first years of European colonialism, he criticised the cruelties and corruptions of power with an acuity centuries in advance of his time.
The youngest of a large family, Francis was born in his mother’s castle at Xavier, to the south of the Pyrennees. At 18 he went to study in Paris, where he met Ignatius Loyola, and in 1534 became one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus. Ordained in Venice in 1537, he spent two years in Rome with Loyola, who sent him to preach in the East.
First, Francis proceeded to Portugal, the colonial power in India, and met King John III, through whose auspices he received from the Pope the grand title of Apostolic Nuncio to the Indies. Francis, however, refused to employ a servant: “the best means of acquiring true dignity,” he considered, “is to wash one’s own clothes and boil one’s own pot.”
After a voyage of 13 months (twice as long as usual due to a winter sojourn in Mozambique), Francis arrived in Goa in May 1542. He soon understood that the hope of converting Indians was undermined by the greedy, debauched and vicious conduct of the Christian colonialists. “Experience has taught me,” he would write to John III, “that your Highness has no power in India to spread the faith of Christ, while you have power to take away and enjoy all the country’s material riches.”
Nevertheless, Francis achieved great success among the Paravas, a Tamil people in southern India and Ceylon. Though never much of a linguist (his first language was Basque), he managed to pick up scraps of native dialect and to teach Christianity in jingles.
In his mind all men weighed equally in the scales of natural justice. “Would the Portuguese be pleased,” he demanded when an Indian was abducted, “if one of the Hindus were to take a Portuguese by force and carry him up country?”
Francis went on to preach on the Malay peninsula (1545-47) and in Japan (1549-51), where he made some 2,000 converts. He was on his way to China when he died on the island of Shangchuan, some 100 miles west of Hong Kong. His body was returned to Goa for burial.
The First Reading is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, 66:10-14c speaks of the final judgment and the purified and joyful Jerusalem. All children of God nurse at the breast of Jerusalem — an image that beautifully portrays universal peace, contentment, and love. Slowly the image changes and God takes the place of Jerusalem — fondling, comforting, and nursing his children.
The Scond Reading is from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, 6:14-18 is the conclusion of his writing to respond to those who insisted that Christians must follow the Mosaic Law. He addresses the subject of circumcision which many Galatian Christians were submitting to and telling them that the Christian people of God are the new “offspring of Abraham.”
The Gospel is from St. Luke 10:1-12, 17-20 and is about Christ conferring his mission on the seventy-two disciples. There is a story about two missionaries who were going door to door. They knocked on the door of one woman who was not happy to see them. She told them in no uncertain terms that she did not want to hear their message and slammed the door in their faces. To her surprise, however, the door did not close and, in fact, almost magically bounced back open. She tried again, really putting her back into it and slammed the door again with the same amazing results-the door bounced back open. Convinced that one of the missionaries was sticking their foot in the door, she reared back to give it a third slam. She felt this would really teach them a lesson. But before she could act, one of them stopped her and politely said, “Ma’am, before you do that again, you really should move your cat”.
We don’t see many door-to-door sales people anymore, do we? Why not? First of all, nobody’s home any more, are they? At least, not in the daytime. And at night, with so much to do, and after husband and wife have worked all day, most people don’t want to be bothered with strangers at the door. So, at least in one respect, we live in a world that is different than the one in which Jesus appointed seventy emissaries and told them to go out two-by-two into the towns and villages from house to house and heal the sick and to tell everyone who would listen that the Kingdom of God is near.
Jesus and politicians have a lot in common. Both struggle to get their message out. Both send out in advance, men to prepare the way and to excite the people for their arrival and their messages. The seventy disciples represented the universal mission to all nations-including the Gentiles and the Samaritans. Their discipleship had a multiplying effect because people wanted to hear the message-just like people want to hear the message today. The seventy were delegated to discover new opportunities that were there to bring the message to the people and the people into the kingdom.
Why did Jesus send 70? Some scholars believe that the seventy missionaries represented the 70 nations of the world that were listed in Genesis 10. By appointing seventy, Jesus was announcing God’s intention to take the news to the entire world. They were sent in pairs because their work was difficult, even with helpers. These men were sent into a vast field with very few workers to help them. They were to pray for more labourers to join them-just like we have to pray for more helpers today when we fulfill the same mission. The seventy were successful in their first attempt at spreading the Gospel. They conquered their fears and did what they were told.
Sometimes we in the church are not willing to follow some of Christ’s directions most of the time. Are they too difficult? Do we do only what is the easiest? What we fail to do most often is to not really ask something in Jesus’ name and expect it to come true. We only respond in partial faith, or we try to make our desires God’s desires. The task Christ gives us is not easy, but he helps us and supports us. Nothing is impossible with Christ.
The 70 disciples were totally defenseless. They were totally dependent on Christ and the reception of the people they met. We can be sure today that God is there with us. It is no secret that our world has a lot of problems such as violence, war, crime and famine. Around the world today, the collapse of civil societies sobers us. We are descending toward individualisms that block our responsibilities for each other, including those who are poor. When it comes to our ways of living, some of us may think that we can escape the consequences of our wasteful lifestyles, deliberate ignorance of others’ poverty, and reluctance to combat injustice. We act as if we don’t have to pay for what we’ve done. The only way we can escape our problem-filled world is through peace! – the peace that only Christ provides. We are to proclaim that peace, which is the arrival of God’s kingdom and ushered in by Jesus.
The church must also look at its own checkered past. All we have to do is to look at the residential schools issue, especially the issue of how native students were treated. We must ask ourselves if we are converts or Christ’s disciples.
By God’s grace, and because of the Holy Spirit, the consequences of our living on earth can lead towards wonderful things that don’t break any law-such as helping one another and doing good deeds. We must go out into the world because there are people in great need. We must go out as caring people who identify with them in their hurt and their need. We must go out with the hope and realization that when we minister to the least and the lowest, we encounter Christ. When we feed the hungry or visit the sick or prisoners, we obey Christ. We can be so at one with Christ that Christ will live and act through us. He calls us to identify with those he came to save. The worst thing we can do is to make a person who is in need or in the middle of a crisis feel rejected or inferior. Sometimes those we minister to will do more for us than we will do for them.
When Jesus said, “I am sending you like lambs among wolves”, he was acknowledging the ferocity of the opposition that true followers of Christ would encounter. The image of the lamb is an image of self-sacrifice – the Pascal Lamb, who is slain to redeem his people. Any follower of Christ must also be an imitator of Christ. If we are to be like Christ, we can expect the same treatment he received. The image of the lamb is also a reminder that the kingdom of God will be marked by peace and reconciliation. We must confront the attitudes and behaviours that do not reflect God’s intentions. The word “lambs” implies that religious commitment can’t be compelled by force. This sets Christianity apart from other religions.
Jesus knew the seventy would stand out and was counting on it because they had a message to share – a message so vital and life-changing that everyone needed to hear it. People still need to hear it today. When we are changed by our encounter with Christ, we have the authority and responsibility to tell everyone, by our words and by our lifestyle, that the Kingdom of God has come near them. It defeats the powers of darkness and evil, and brings the Kingdom of God among those who are lost and hurting. Jesus told the 70 to proclaim the rule and reign of God in people’s hearts, and he tells us to proclaim the same message today. We do this by respecting one another, live in loving relationships, working to bring about social justice, and reflecting the image of God in our works and deeds. As we pass through the various stages of our lives and the changes they bring, we are still disciples who have been sent to proclaim the Good News. God has sent us along with his presence in the form of the Holy Spirit.
Satan’s power and authority over people has been broken not only by Jesus, but also by the faithful people who follow the Great Commission. When we stand against evil in any form, we are protesting evil. The protest is reflected by Christ’s instruction to the seventy to shake the dust off of their shoes when they encountered a town where the people did not want to hear the message. Judgment will be certain. God will deal with those who reject us. When they reject us, they reject him. We have a choice-accept him or reject him.
A preacher was speaking at an open-air crusade in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada one time. 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 until 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. We are all called to be missionaries for Christ.
People of all ages still follow Jesus today. That includes taking the good news to all people all over the world, in spite of opposition from other faiths, governments that try to suppress the message, and the influence of the secular world. Those who follow Christ are the forerunners of the coming kingdom. We pray for the grace to be good representatives of what we proclaim, proficient in our witness, and to assume a personal ownership in the ultimate victory. Christ seeks us not in the temple courts of the sacred and the sanctified, but in the scandalous, secular and sinful world. When he seeks and saves us, it means our eternal destiny has been decided. Salvation rests in God’s care and keeping.
The only way to understand the Christian life is to live it. It can only be understood if we follow Christ’s example in the homeless shelter, at the local food bank, at a hospital bed, or with a friend or neighbour who has just lost a loved one. We do this as ordinary, fragile human beings. We need to give witness to God with our whole lives, especially since we don’t know when we will have an opportunity to show God’s love. Jesus calls us to go to everyone we know and touch them with the ministry of God’s love. We are called to be faithful witnesses of our Lord. All we have to do is tell people about the love of Jesus, and say that he died for all. We are not to do this alone. He has given us our church communities as support networks that we can share our journey with.
We are called to travel light on the road of faith. Too much stuff can be a problem. The more we accumulate, the more our freedom is restricted. The more attached we are to our stuff, the harder it is to hear the call of Jesus. Churches are also called to be in mission, to be about the business of evangelism, to hear Jesus’ instructions, and to travel light. They are often so bogged down with business and concern for facilities and so many other details that they can miss the voice of the Lord-just like busy people can.
The Great Commission was possible because of Christ’s authority, power and dominion over heaven and earth. Spiritual authority is a vertical chain of command with Jesus at the top. He gives us a vision of what we can be and of what God can do in us and for us as we make our way to Him and spread the Good News. Jesus has shown us that the light is there-the light of hope and faith. We have to hold on to faith and to hope in what He has shown us and to keep on going. We cannot be diverted from our mission. We are not to give in to false promises. The most effective form of evangelism is the way we live our lives and the example we set as Christians. The best forms of evangelism come in small ways with random acts of kindness. That’s how we can defeat evil in the world. Our mission is the same one that was given to the seventy. There is a deep hunger for God, the truth, and sincere witnesses to Christ. We need to learn to work within that authority, to step out and claim it, and use it in ministry.
A young hospital chaplain was serving his internship in a large teaching hospital. While on call one night, he was summoned to the room of a woman whose baby had been stillborn a few hours earlier. “We want our baby baptized,” the young woman said, cradling her lifeless daughter, her husband at her side. “Her name is Nicole”.
The intern didn’t know what to do. He asked the young parents to wait a few minutes and then come to the chapel. Meanwhile, he tried to find a more experienced chaplain to take over. He was not successful. What was he to do? What was he to say? Baptize a stillborn? This situation had not been covered in either his theological training or his training in pastoral care. He tried to think of what he could say to minister to this couple in their grief.
But when they arrived at the chapel, the words he had hoped to say did not come. Instead, and almost without realizing what he was doing, he took a tissue, wiped at the tears in the eyes of the parents, then wiped his own tears and touched the tissue to the baby’s head and said, “Nicole, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”.
He said nothing else—the tears were more eloquent than words could have been.
We must always be willing to discover new opportunities for doing God’s work in our world. The old ways of doing things may not always work in our modern society. After all, if Jesus was here on earth today, he would likely use the Internet, social networks, cellular phone applications and other modern tools to proclaim his message and do his work in our world.
We must also be persistent, especially when we face barriers to seeking the kingdom of God. Persistence does indeed pay off. Remember the parable of the persistent widow who constantly pestered the judge to hear her case until he finally gave in. If people don’t respond to our message about the Good News, we must move on to others who do respond. If they refuse an invitation to come to church, we must move on to those who are willing to accept the invitation. Resistance is a sign of vitality and an occasion for ministry.
Our chief goal must be salvation and faithfulness. We must point people to Christ, and not to ourselves. We have to offer Christ’s love and compassion. We are to witness to people and rejoice by being faithful. We can witness to people by the way we lead our lives; by donating food, money or time to the local food bank; by visiting with a sick person at home or in the hospital; or by offering sympathy and comfort to a friend or neighbour who has just lost a loved one. We are to minister to people by getting to know them and being genuinely concerned about their needs. Unless we love people, we will hinder God’s work here on earth in some way. We are forerunners of the coming Kingdom, just like the 70 disciples were “advance men” for Jesus. We must always pray for the grace to be good representatives of what we proclaim. In other words, we must practice what we preach.
If we stand firm in our mission, Satan will fail in his mission. Satan will fall when we trust Jesus with our lives. Satan will fall when we stand firm against all forces of evil, just like the Axis powers in World War II fell when they faced the determination and unity of the Allies. Satan will fall when we exercise the power of Christ obediently in faith and belief. Satan will fall when we are so at one with Christ that Christ lives and acts through us.