In today’s Gospel, Jesus prepares seventy-two disciples to go out on mission. They are to go out in twos, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick. He sent them out to villages he himself intended to visit, more or less preparing the way for him. It’s a moving story about how Jesus was able to accomplish much through the ministry of the seventy-two, even without being physically present with them. But it’s not just a moving story, right? You know as well as I do that the reason we all got to hear that story today is because we’re being sent out on mission too. When the time comes for us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” we have to be like the seventy-two, preparing hearts and lives for Jesus, preaching the Gospel, healing the sick.
So although we could read today’s Gospel as a nice academic exercise about what Jesus expected disciples to do, that’s not how we’re going to read it. Instead, the Church gives us this Gospel so that, in our own mission, we will have a discipleship handbook.
If I could sum up today’s Gospel reading in a few short words, I think those words would be: discipline brings joy. But I think those words aren’t easy for our world to hear; maybe they’re not even easy for us disciples to hear. But for now, let’s bookmark the idea that discipline brings joy, and I promise I’ll come back to it. But first, I would like to take a closer look at the Gospel reading and pull out some of the disciplines Jesus wants those first disciples, as well as you and me, to learn.
So the first discipline is this: don’t rely on yourself. Listen to the instructions Jesus gives the seventy-two before they leave: “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals…” Now that all seems pretty impractical to those of us who have to travel in the twenty-first century, doesn’t it? I mean, the only possible instruction in there that would make our travel at all easy is to wear no sandals – bare feet sure travel easier through security checkpoints! But we definitely need a money bag to carry what we’d need to pay tolls and buy fuel, and certainly we’d need a sack to carry identification as well as just basic things we’d need for the journey.
This discipline is a hard one for me, because I always over-pack for a trip! But I think we’re missing the point here. If we were even able to foresee every possibility and pack for every possible need, we would certainly not need Jesus, would we? Jesus is telling the seventy-two, and us as well, to stop worrying and start following. Rely on Jesus because he is trustworthy. Experience the joy of letting Jesus worry about the small stuff while he is doing big things in and through us.
Second, Jesus tells us to “greet no one along the way.” That sounds pretty inhospitable, doesn’t it? We would think he’d want us to greet everyone we can, but that’s not what’s at stake here. The point is, along the way, we can easily be derailed from the mission. Other things can seem to be important, other people can try to get us off track, Satan can make so many other things seem important along the way. The point here is that there is urgency to the mission. People have to hear that Jesus is Lord and that God loves them now, not later, when it may be too late. We have to get the show on the road, and the time is now.
The third discipline is: go in peace. Jesus says to the seventy-two: “Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” Those disciples were sent out with the peace of Christ, and were told to expect to be received in peace. The source of the peace they were sent out in was, of course, Jesus himself. The peace he is offering is not just the absence of conflict. In fact, their journeys may indeed involve some conflict: conflict with demons, conflict with illness, conflict with those who may not receive them or want to hear the Gospel. No, the peace he sends the seventy-two out with is a peace that they receive from knowing they are doing God’s will and that souls are coming back to God. It is a peace that says that everyone and everything is in right relationship, the way things are supposed to be.
The disciples are told to enter a place and say “Peace to this household.” So we too must also offer this greeting of peace to those we come to work with. There are a lot of ways to make this greeting, though. We could say it in those words, or perhaps through our actions: in not returning violence with violence; doing our best to diffuse anger and hatred; treating all people equally; respecting the rights of both the well-established and the newcomer; working to make neighborhoods and communities less violent; protecting the abused and the ridiculed. This peace is a peace that is authentic and that really works.
The fourth discipline, then, is: eat and drink what is set before you. This is again a trust issue. The seventy-two are to trust that since the laborer deserves his payment, the Lord will provide for what they need. But there’s a bit more to it, I think. Eating and drinking what is set before them meant that if they were to be given ministry that is difficult, they needed to stay with it, because that’s what was set before them. If they have been received in peace, then they need to know that they are in the right place. That doesn’t mean that the mission would be easy, though, and they need to take what’s given to them. We too have to know that our mission may not be easy, but if we have been given it in peace, we have to accept the mission we have. We are called to accept people and situations as they are and trust God to perfect our efforts.
The final discipline is this: do not move from one house to another. It’s not that Jesus doesn’t want us to spread the Good News. The discipline Jesus is teaching here is that we have to be focused in our ministry. Once we have been given the mission, we have to stay with it, and not be blown about like the wind. We are called to stay with a person or a situation until what God wants to happen happens. When it’s time to move on, God will let us know, and we will come to know that time through prayer and discernment.
The disciplines Jesus teaches us today are difficult ones. In some cases, they’re even counterintuitive. But if we want to accomplish what God wants to accomplish, then we have to do it his way, in his time. We have to get ourselves out of the way and let him work in us and through us. That discipline will bring the joy I spoke of at the beginning of my homily today.
Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Joy is prayer – Joy is strength – Joy is love – Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” Joyous disciples are the ones who bring unbelievers to the faith. They are the ones that bring God’s love to the forgotten and the sorrowful. They are the ones that make God’s presence and care known to those who have been marginalized and exploited. Following the discipline of Christ by relying on Christ – not ourselves, by bringing the peace of God to our missionary encounters, and by eating and drinking what the mission sets before us, this is the way to true joy. This is the joy of which the Psalmist sings, “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth, sing praise to the glory of his name!”