July 7, 2019 onboard the MS Amsterdam
Isaiah 66, 10-14 + Psalm 66 + Galatians 6, 14-18 + Luke 10, 1-10, 17-20
Just in case you have wondered about the number 72, let’s get started by understanding that in the tenth chapter of Genesis, 72 is the number of nations in the world. Luke’s point is that the mission involves the whole world. Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sent out “The Twelve” representing Israel’s 12 nations. Now the mission of Jesus and his disciples is bigger than just Israel.
The instructions are very clear: take nothing. The sharing of the Gospel, our mission which we call today Evangelization is a ministry of presence. That’s all there is to it. Jesus did not give them a Handbook, a Catechism, Canon Law, a Map, a set of CDs, or a Power Point Presentation. They were to be the message. The mission all rests on their relationships with one another, their joy, their gentleness, the mercy they show, the generosity, and the forgiveness they offer.
Years ago, when I was the Director of Seminarians in my diocese, a really fine seminarian full of zeal and good intentions was spending the summer out in western Oklahoma with a good pastor who happened to be away for a few days. The seminarian called me late one evening. It seems there had been a tragic accident on the highway, and the hospital called the Rectory for a priest. The seminarian was alone, so he called me and said: “I don’t know what to do.” I said, “Don’t do anything. Just go over there and stay with them. If you “do” something you might mess it all up. All that family needs is for someone to be with them.” Later I heard that when he got to the hospital, someone in the family said, “But, we wanted the priest.” The seminarian responded. “He’s out of town. I’m all you get. Let’s get in there and pray.” With that, everything was fine, and I know the story because one of the family members called to tell me how wonderful it was to be comforted by that young man.
I have never forgotten that experience when I am faced with a situation in which I don’t know what to say or what to do. Sometimes it is best to simply say nothing and just be there. There is no excuse for running away. This is the instruction that Jesus gives those 72 among whom we must find ourselves. There is no substitute for presence. It is the way God has chosen to redeem us and give us hope. God simply came in the person of Jesus Christ, and God stayed. Sometimes God says nothing. Sometimes God does nothing, But, God is present, and you and I are all called to be that comforting, loving presence. It’s not a matter of ordination or some long program of formation. It is a human experience that touches the human heart.
We cannot be afraid in a world that is hostile to the Gospel message of love and service, of peace and mercy. Revenge is the way of this world, and as this Gospel reminds us, it has no place in our lives because it has no place in God’s plan or in God’s Kingdom. The real point of the reign of God is union with God. Power is a dangerous thing, but the assurance that God loves you and that you have a future with God is the antidote to getting hooked on power and puts the battle with evil in its proper perspective. They do not go alone, those 72, and neither do we. We go together on the adventure of this mission. The laborers will grow, not from promotional advertising, but through attraction to the liberating life-giving movement we tend to call the Church.