14th Sunday Year C
Introduction to lectio divina on Lk 10,1-12.17-20
In his account of the mission of the seventy-two disciples, Luke introduces Jesus’ programme for his community as they engage in the mission. The shortage of workers calls into action disciples marked by gentleness, poverty of resources, lack of concern for their own interests and total commitment. They will proclaim the Kingdom of God to people in a way that is effective and sensitive. Since it does not depend on the capabilities of the people who are sent, the evangelizing mission must be carried out according to the will of the one who sends them. The apostle finds his strength and power in obedience.
Anyone who is sent to preach the Gospel cannot just follow his own ideas. The task of evangelization and the conditions for fulfilling the task are given by the one who sent them. They experience joy on their return from the mission. Doing one’s duty brings satisfaction. Miracles occur at their hands and God knows the people he has chosen. The reward for their work could not be better. However, being regarded by God as a subject of the Kingdom is more important that the triumph of their missionary work. What brings most joy is the awareness that, as they proclaim God to the world, they themselves are known by God.
1 At that time: the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. 2 And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace be to this house!’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9 heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
This passage is the account of the second apostolic mission that Jesus undertook during his ministry (Lk 10,1-16; cfr. Lk.9,1-6). The unfortunate omission in this liturgical version of the passage that refers the rejection of Jesus and his stern rebuke (Lk 10,13-15) and his foretelling of the rejection of the people sent by him (Lk. 10,16), robs the passage of its dramatic impact. Luke is the only one of the evangelists who mentions this mission of the seventy-two (or seventy according to some manuscripts). The task entrusted to them and the way they were to do it follows the model of their first mission (Lk 9,1-6). It is significant that it ends by commenting on the joy the disciples got from the success of their mission (Lk10,17), confirmed – and corrected – by Jesus himself. Their success was proof of the triumph of the Gospel, victory over evil. Evangelizers should be more interested in their own salvation than in the powers given to them (Lk 10,19-20).
The mission of the seventy-two – the number of the peoples on earth according to Genesis Chapter 10, and of the ancients elected by Moses to help him in his work, according to Numbers 24 – was the result of a personal decision by Jesus. For their testimony to be credible, they are told to go in twos (cfr. Dt 19,15). Jesus wants his mission to be a shared mission, not an individual task but a shared enterprise. He multiplied the number of the people he sent, not just to have enough to send to all the places where he wanted to go (Lk 10,1), but also because the harvest was great and the labourers few (Lk 10,2 Mt 9,27; Gn 4,35).
It is highly significant that the first instruction he gives to his disciples is to pray for an increase in their number (Lk 10,2). The work of evangelization must begin with prayer, asking God to send more labourers into the harvest. Those who are being sent know little about the task they are undertaking. They must put their trust in God.
They have no time to lose. They have a mandate that must be obeyed. They know they have been sent and so they set out immediately, knowing that they will face threats, that they must forego the security that comes from normal provisions, and they should not allow themselves to be distracted during their journey (Lk 10,3-4). The people who receive the message should also receive the messenger. Those who reject the gospel will be rejected. Those who are sent by Jesus will live and stay only where the gospel is accepted. The apostles should have nothing more to do even with the dust from the place where their preaching has not been accepted.
It is not by mere chance that the mission succeeded, and the missionaries give the reason for their way of acting and testify to the joy they felt from being evangelizers. They have experienced the power of the gospel over evil (Lk 10,17). Jesus points out another motive for great joy, the fact that his disciples have already been registered in the book of life (Es. 32,32; Sal.69,28; 138,16). They can be certain that they have been saved (Lk 10,20). Could there be any greater recompense for the fulfilment of a mission?
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
While Jesus was proclaiming the urgency of the Kingdom, and wanting to increase the number of preachers, he decided, one day, to share his personal mission with a chosen group of disciples. He was anxious to find new listeners for his gospel and he felt the need for more preachers. He could find nobody better to send than the men who had been living with him and who knew him well. He sent them out, two by two, as many as he had been able to gather around him. Those who had followed him were now called to go ahead of him. Wherever he was thinking of going, they would have to go before him. This is a historic fact, but it also helps us to discover an important element of the discipleship of Jesus which is not often emphasized. Jesus transforms his followers into missionaries. He sends the people he knows. Only the apostles were his intimate friends. Those who were sent by Jesus would have to obey him, so Jesus sent those who had already obeyed him. His representatives would have to be people who had shared in his life. Only those who had been his companions on the journey could take his place.
Disciples of Jesus must take into consideration that, sooner or later, the Lord will send them into the world in his place and with his power. Jesus asks, and continues to ask, for followers who will go before him proclaiming the Kingdom. Disciples are not just people who remain always with Jesus. One day they will have to become his witnesses. Jesus needs to know all about the people he chooses as his disciples to prepare them for the journey. Unless the disciples go before him, he cannot prepare for his coming nor can he count on being accepted. The world today, like Galilee in the time of Jesus, is in need of God. Both God and the world have need of witnesses who will proclaim that he is near. There was a great scarcity of witnesses then and there still is today. The urgency is so great that Jesus asks the disciples, not only for personal commitment, but also to pray for more witnesses. Willingness is not enough. The apostles need God’s blessing. Prayer is the best preparation. It is a stage they must pass before being sent as apostles. This is something that we, the disciples of Jesus who are being sent now, or hope to be sent, must not forget. Would-be evangelizers must pray before they can evangelize.
How can we pray to God to send apostles into the world, if we ourselves are not willing to be sent? Prayer that does not make us willing to do God’s will, is of little value. Perhaps we think we are good disciples just because we want to be faithful, and because we are really concerned about the danger of moving away from Jesus and losing his love. We do all that is necessary to follow Jesus, but we leave it to others to be his witnesses in the world. Jesus does not want disciples who stay by his side until they meet difficulties, and then abandon him. He wants disciples who will never leave him even when they are sent out to proclaim the gospel, at his command and in his name.
We cannot go on calmly asking the Lord to send good apostles while, at the same time, we are afraid that he will send us or someone close to us. The first thing Jesus asked of those he was sending was to pray that God would send workers into his harvest. One way of knowing for sure that we are being sent is when we feel the need to ask for missionaries in our world. It often happens that the best Christians complain that our world is moving away from God. They genuinely wish for a radical change and they pray for it constantly, but at the same time they do not allow God to count on them. People who do not want to be sent and have no desire to be Christ’s apostles in the world, should not ask God to send missionaries, and should not think of themselves as good disciples.
Jesus tells his disciples to pray and he sends them to preach. Before he sends disciples into the world, he makes them his confidants, then he shares his life and his prayer with them, and finally he makes them his representatives in the world. Apart from the task entrusted to them, he also gives advice in the form of recommendations. The missionary needs to know that evangelizing is not easy.
Jesus warns his apostles that they will be like lambs among wolves that will surround them, far and near. But that will not be their biggest difficulty. Even though their lives will be under threat, Jesus does not promise safety or security. They will have to bring little by way of equipment, and carry with them no provisions, only peace and urgency in proclaiming the gospel. The kingdom of God fills the hearts of Christ’s apostles. Those who proclaim the kingdom know that God takes care of their needs. Dedicating themselves completely to God means letting God take care of the work they do. The peace promised to the apostle is found only in God. The apostles know that they are sent and so they cannot waste any time in reaching their destination. They should not settle among those who do not want to hear the gospel. Only those who look for the Kingdom of God are deserving of the apostles’ attention. The apostles’ work begins where the Gospel is accepted. They can rest wherever there are people who accept God.
These may sound like unheard of demands that could never be met today, and so indeed they are. But the problem is that if we are to carry the Kingdom of God in our hearts, we must feel sent by Christ to the world. It is true that Jesus demands poverty of the evangelizer, but it is even more true that there is no poverty for people who carry the Kingdom of God in their hearts and in their hands. It is true that it is consoling, sometimes even necessary, for the apostles to feel accepted, but again, what really matters is not the consolation of the apostles, but the acceptance of the Gospel. It is undeniable that the apostles need a place where they can feel loved if they are to be good apostles. Still however, the apostles find their family wherever there are children of God who have received salvation. There can be no better place for apostles than where God is accepted.
The demands of Jesus may seem extraordinary. However, they are the logical consequence of being called to serve God. Those who serve God abandon their own personal plans and give up whatever offers security. In return, God promises them his power. We disciples of Jesus miss out on the joy of working wonders because we have to present ourselves to the world as people sent by God. We don’t have the courage to represent him, nor do we boast of having received his power. If we are sent by Jesus, then we know that we share his mission and his power. It is not that God no longer works miracles, but rather that he does not find disciples who can represent him well in the world. The power to work miracles is not what matters. What really matters is that the apostles work because they are God’s subjects. The subjects of the Kingdom in the next world will be those who proclaim God in this world. Christ’s apostles, his representatives on earth, have their names already written in heaven.
Whether or not we will be with God in the next world depends on what we are in this world – not just good disciples but credible witnesses. Unless we are trying to be the best of apostles we cannot be sure of belonging to the family of Jesus, nor can we be sure of our future salvation. We are really risking a lot if we are slow about carrying out the mission Jesus entrusts to his followers.