July 7; 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year C

14th OT2A Charter for Mission

You may have noticed that the readings for these past weeks have been deliberately pointing to mission. Call it coincidence or providential, our liturgical readings provide us with a blueprint of sorts on how to become a missionary. Today, our gospel gives us the story of our Lord choosing and sending the seventy two on mission. The story of commissioning is not unique and can be found in all the Synoptic gospels. But what is unique to the Gospel of St Luke is that he records two missions: sending the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6) and sending the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1-12, 16). The two sending accounts in St Luke share nearly the same form and similar content, but vary considerably with respect to wording. What is more, each account ascribes the mission to a different group of disciples – Twelve and the Seventy two.

Ancient manuscripts are split regarding the number actually chosen and sent by the Lord – whether it is seventy-two as we’ve just heard in the version found in the Lectionary or seventy, they both have traditional symbolic meaning. In the Old Testament, Moses chose 70 elders to assist him in rendering legal judgments (Numbers 11:24). Seventy patriarchs went down to Egypt (Deut. 10:22). Seventy-two, on the other hand, is the traditional number of translators who produced the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures). Seventy or Seventy-two is also the traditional number of nations descended from Noah (Gen 10; Hebrew text has 70 names, the Septuagint 72). It has been suggested that the Lord’s choice of 12 and 72(or 70) for the size of the two missions is symbolic of the mission to the twelve tribes and to the nations of the world respectively.

Exegetes can fight over the accuracy of the actual number or its symbolic significance, but one thing that is certain is that these 72 were not made up of the Apostles. They were made up of ordinary folk, anonymous persons involved in various trades and work, different walks of life, and certainly not professional missionaries. In a way, we can say that we are the 72 - ordinary labourers chosen by the Lord to undertake His mission because the harvest of souls is plentiful, but labourers are few. Just like them, we receive the Lord’s marching orders today. At the end of every Mass, we are sent forth. One of the formulas which the priest uses is quite explicit, “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” But even in the traditional formula “Go forth, the Mass is ended,” the sending is implicit. In fact, the origin of the word “Mass” is said to have come from the traditional Latin formula “ite missa est” – which literally means – “it is sent”. This is what it means to be a Christian: we have been sent out to work the harvest, to make disciples for Christ, to save souls through the preaching of the gospel. We are called to be missionaries.

If one wonders what it means to be missionary some of the answers to this question are presented to us in today's Gospel.

First of all, we would need to know that this is a big job, and that it’s going to take more than 12 of us, even more than 72 (or 70) of us. Those are nice, symbolic numbers but if we are going to reach the whole world with the good news, it’s going to take all of us—every baptised individual will have to become a missionary. And it is not enough that we offer ourselves to be His emissaries. We must also work and pray for more missionaries, “so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to His harvest.” We cannot accomplish this work alone. Without the Lord of the Harvest, our efforts would be futile – unless “the Lord builds the house, those who build, labour in vain.” (Ps 127:1) Without His grace there would be no harvest needing labourers. It is His planting in the souls of the faithful that alone produces the fruit of any mission. But generously He makes the harvest to be ours too. He associates us with what is His. How amazing that the Lord should give us, His still imperfect creatures a share in His recreating work!

This collaborative work between God and man and between man and others is seen in how the Lord sends them out in pairs. The sending out in twos mirrors the fact that God has sent his Son and his Spirit to reveal Himself to us. A missionary community is a powerful sign not only through its words or works but also through the way that the members of the community relate to each other, through divinely-inspired love. In a sense, love is the proper language of mission for it is the language of God. When we live in the world as members of the body of Christ we are cemented together by the Spirit of love. It is living out Christ’s commandment of love which makes us recognisable as Christ's disciples because it exhibits the love of Christ Himself. “By this love you have for one another, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Secondly, the mission will encounter persecution, misunderstanding, rejection and hostility. Our Lord did not promise us an easy mission. “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” The reason for this is because as His missionaries, we have chosen to side with Him against the world. If the world has chosen to reject Him, can we His disciples expect any less? Christians will often be misunderstood and will seem to be out of step with the trajectory of society. We will appear to be on the wrong side of history. We will be rejected for refusing to embrace the changing ethics of our day. But though hated by the world, our consolation is knowing that we will share the same fate as our Lord and Master. St John Chrysostom reminds us that “as long as we remain sheep, we overcome. Even though we are surrounded by a thousand wolves, we overcome and are victorious. But as soon as we are wolves, we are beaten; for then we lose the support of the Shepherd, who feeds not wolves but only sheep.”

Thirdly, the 72 are asked to take no extra provisions, discipleship means travelling light. A heavy baggage implies a lack of trust in God’s providence. You are asked to depend on God’s providential care rather than rely on your own devices, efforts and resources. Simple living itself is a powerful form of witnessing. Big cars and big houses may impress those who are of the world, but they lead us no closer to the treasures of the Kingdom. Likewise, you can’t fuss about the conditions you would be working under, you have to accept whatever hospitality you receive, “taking what food and drink they have to offer”, whatever conditions that you may encounter – beggars can’t be choosy.

Fourthly, and finally, don’t get discouraged. Even if your message is one of peace, be prepared to face violence at the hands of the enemies of peace, and there will be many because peace comes with a cost. Opposition and hostility will be inevitable. But don’t take it personally because our Lord didn’t. Just “wipe off the dust under your feet” and move on. There will be no room for self-pity, complaints or dwelling on your setbacks. Christians cannot be insulated from the troubles of the world. We have to wade in the deep, into the muck and dirt that comes with proclaiming the gospel of Christ and working for the salvation of souls.

So, if you’ve got a simple formula for mission, this is what you need to do: Realise that mission is a big job that requires God’s grace and other’s help. You can’t do it alone and you always need prayer, lots of it. Though urgent, mission will not be easy but be assured of the protection of the Good Shepherd. Travel lightly and depend on God’s providence instead of your own resources. And finally don’t get discouraged; it’s not personal. They’re not rejecting you, they’re rejecting God. Got it? Good. Now go!