by Br Julian McDonald cfc
Later, the Master selected seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit…“Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. On entering any house first say: ‘Peace to this household…’ Cure the sick and say to them: ‘The reign of God is at hand.’” Luke 10: 1-12; 17-20
Today’s gospel-reading gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ organising capacity and an insight into Luke’s focus on the Gentile world. By telling his audience that Jesus commissioned exactly 72 disciples to go ahead of him to the towns and villages along his route to Jerusalem, Luke was clearly signalling that the scope of Jesus’ mission included the whole of the Gentile world, believed to be made up of 72 different nations. There’s something ingenious about how the authorities of ancient Israel came to the conclusion that the world was peopled by 72 nations. Noah and his wife had three strong and healthy sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth who, with their wives, boarded the ark and survived the great flood. The descendants of those three lads numbered seventy-two, who proceeded to populate the whole world. That explains how Luke concludes that Jesus selected and missioned 72 disciples to reach out not just to Israel but to the whole Gentile world.
The detailed instructions that Luke has Jesus give to those seventy-two embody the life-style expected of all who choose to follow in Jesus’ footsteps:
* To keep their focus on the ways of God, disciples are expected to travel light, and be satisfied with the simple life-style of those who welcome them;
* They are to extend the offer of God’s peace, even when they are venturing among metaphorical wolves;
* They are to offer healing, encouragement and hope, rather than condemnation and negative criticism;
* They don’t take self-satisfaction from their successes, but rather delight in what God has done through them for those they serve.
When the disciples returned, jubilant at their mastery over demons, Jesus set them right by telling them that a better reason for rejoicing might be that they had done something worthwhile for other people rather than making a name for themselves. Nowadays, we would say that a proper cause for their rejoicing might be that they had contributed to the common good.
Vatican II reminded us all that we are commissioned by our baptism to be instruments of God’s love in the lives of everyone we encounter. Whenever we are truly present to people around us, when we reach out in care and compassion to those who are struggling, we are agents of God’s presence, care and compassion.
Arguably, the most challenging aspect of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples is the manner in which he urges them to engage with the people they meet. He expects them to be present to those who open their doors of welcome. He does not want disciples who are bent on imposing a message on those they encounter. He wants disciples who will be comfortable with simple hospitality, who will be present to their hosts, treating them with respect and equality. And it is to be no different with us. People we meet know instinctively when we are present to them, when we treat them as equals, when we are free within ourselves, and not driven by some compulsion or coming to burden them with some kind of hidden agenda. They know when we are comfortable and at ease with them. They don’t warm to unspoken expressions of position and importance, or hints that we have influence in high places. I suggest that that is what underlies Jesus’ direction to offer peace to everyone disciples encounter. Peace is conveyed by how we relate rather than in some formulaic greeting of peace.
In today’s world, there are countless very ordinary opportunities for us to be instruments of God’s love. Dropping a donation in a beggar’s collection container can be utterly impersonal. Engaging a beggar in conversation can make a world of difference in that it recognises him or her as a fellow human being worthy of dignity and respect. It breaks the barrier of isolation, loneliness, distance. All too often, people who are forced to beg long as much for human contact as they do for material or monetary support.
If we want to see the discipleship of Jesus at work, we need go no further than a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous, where people struggling to recover from addiction reach out to their sisters and brothers caught in the same depths of struggle and shame that they themselves know only too well. They don’t judge, they don’t condemn they simply reach out in compassion and acceptance. They extend a message of peace without words.
I read recently of an elderly man who had volunteered for hospital visitation, taking time to engage with strangers confined to hospital beds and with nobody to visit them. He came across a young couple who had just witnessed the birth of their first child, a little girl with Down’s Syndrome. In recounting the experience to his Parish Priest, he said: “I didn’t know what to say to them, but I asked if I could nurse their child. They let me hold their baby, and I told them she was beautiful. As I nursed that dear little girl, I prayed silently for her and her parents and thanked God for their baby.” A few weeks later, he told his parish priest that he had received a note of appreciation from the little girl’s mother, thanking him for his hospital visit. However, it was her final comment that surprised him most: “Thank you for not saying what so many other people have said, not telling us how sorry you were. We are so happy to have our baby. Thank you for sharing our family’s joy.”
Jesus has urged everyone of us who have dared to be his disciples to bring a message of peace wherever we go. From our own experience of ourselves and others, we know that peace comes into our lives when we are affirmed and encouraged, when our broken and strained relationships are mended and we are reconciled with those from whom we have become separated and distanced, when we are treated with courtesy and respect. Such experiences give us and others the hope that we all need to keep on keeping on. We also know that there is an ordinariness about the human interactions of our everyday lives. Yet God’s love is reflected in the very ordinary events of each day – when we exchange pleasantries with people walking their dogs, when we express appreciation to the doctors and their assistants who treat our minor and major illnesses and injuries, when we say please and thank you to the supermarket attendants who process our purchases at the check-out point. We have the capacity to reflect something of the love of God to everyone we encounter in the very ordinary exchanges that make up each day. Do we have the will?