Start off now, I am sending you out…
A few years ago, a priest wrote a short reflection in the Diocesan Newsletter of the Archdiocese of Nairobi, Kenya. The reflection was entitled, “Away with Motorcars and Aeroplanes”. The point that he was trying to make in that provocative reflection was that early missionaries had to walk long distances on foot; some others used mules or horses for their journey. They had to use ships to cross oceans. It was much slower in terms of speed, but their message was deeper and far-reaching because of their earnestness and passion. Since many missionaries had to walk they had personal contact with the people; and wherever they stopped over in the course of the journey, they founded communities and built missions. In contrast, these days the missionaries fly across continents like executives and travel around in cars with no real contact with people. They establish massive institutions. The strong point is speed, while lacking depth in evangelization and sometimes passion too. In this context, the Word of God in the liturgy of the 14th Sunday comes as a challenge – even to me! It challenges us to make a distinction between an urgency of the message that motivates us to be passionate, serious and deep, and speed that could be achievement oriented while being shallow and showy.
The gospel of today could be a meaningful challenge not only to ‘missionaries’, but also to every Christian since we are all called to be evangelizers – messengers of the Good News. In the Gospel of Luke they are two similar commissioning and sending out of groups. In Lk 9:1-6, Jesus sends out the Twelve. And in Lk 10:1-16, Jesus sends out the Seventy (or Seventy-two) with the instructions that we heard read today. So Jesus sends out not only priests and religious, but even the large circle of his disciples – all Christians. At the core of the sending out is the image of mustard seed growing to be a tree with large branches. Jesus is creating a movement of people around him. He does not do everything by himself, he just creates ripples. The Kingdom of God is growing. And we are all part of that ripple, being touched by it and passing it on.
There is also a deeper implication in the two commissioning. In Jesus sending out the Twelve (Lk 9:1-6), representing the 12 tribes of Israel, Jesus suggests that, yes, “Salvation comes from the Jews.” And in the sending out of the Seventy, representing all the nations of the world (the progeny of Noah as suggested in Genesis 10) Jesus is inviting all peoples to receive the Good News and to pass it on. The instruction given to the two movements is basically the same. It is marked by the same sense of urgency, reliance on God and his providence, and being able to respect individual response of the listener.
“Salute no one on the road” (Lk 10:4b): The Urgency of the Good News
In some cultures the instruction not to greet anyone on the road could sound very impolite. But taken in the context of the gospel stories like the following, this instruction reminds us of the urgency of the Good News:
• Lk 1:39 After having received the Word of God, “Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah.”
• Jn 1: 41-42 After their encounter with Jesus, “the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ — which means the Christ- and he took Simon to Jesus.”
• Jn 4: 28–29: Having encountered Jesus at the well, “the woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I have done; could this be the Christ?’”
• Lk 24:33-35 The two disciples on the road to Emmaus having encountered the Risen Lord at the breaking of the bread, “set out that instant and returned to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven assembled together with their companions… and they told their story of what had happened on the road and how they had recognized him at the breaking of bread.”
This urgency is not the same as speed. It is the drive and passion within individuals that makes the Good News convincing to the listeners. The source of this inner energy is our own continued encounter with Jesus, and it does not depend on the equipment we carry, and so, “take no purse with you, no haversack, no sandals” (Lk 10:4).
“Do not move from house to house” (Lk 10:7b): Evangelizers are not choosers
Besides not carrying anything for the journey, Jesus also insists that the messengers are not to be too choosy about where they will stay and what they will eat: “Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house. Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is put before you” (Lk 10:7-8). On the one hand, this instruction of Jesus challenges the disciples to depend totally on the providence of God. And on the other hand, it is also an invitation not to take advantage of their position to exploit the generosity of the people who welcome them.
Taken at a deeper level, it is also an invitation not to lose the focus on the message: “The kingdom of God is very near to you” (Lk 10:9,11). Not making fuss about the logistical issues helps the disciples to focus on the urgency of the Gospel: I am sending you now… do not salute any one on the road… and say, “The Kingdom of God is very near…”
“We wipe off the very dust of your town” (Lk 10:11): Respect individual choice
In the gospel text today Jesus says, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves” (Lk 10:3). He is warning his disciples to be ready for resistance, opposition, and even persecution. He goes on to instruct them on how to deal with such situations: Just move on! And say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet.” On the one hand, we do not compel or force anyone to believe that the “Kingdom of God is near” and to accept the message of peace. The message has meaning only in so far as one responds to it freely and willingly. On the other hand, the messenger does not need to take responsibility for the lack of response. Faced with resistance the messenger just moves on, and the message is due to spread by that very fact of moving on.
We need to ask ourselves today, as we listen to the instruction of Jesus, are we ready to take up his commissioning extended to us. Are we ready to be sent out? Are we passionate about the urgency of the Kingdom of God?
Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.