If we want to know if we are doing God’s will, I think, we need to examine our lives for evidence of joy. The disciple who goes about his or her work in this world grudgingly and amidst a total disconnect with other people isn’t much of a disciple at all, I’m afraid. I have been a priest now for just over a year, as you know, and lately I have been examining my vocation and how it’s been going. I wanted to see what I need to spend more time on and what I need to perhaps let go of. One of the great barometers for me has been to look at what gives me joy in my ministry. Not that every moment is supposed to be a picnic, that’s not the point at all. But God speaks through joy in our lives because joy is an indication that we’re doing what God wants from us. And I can find joy in doing some pretty hard things, like anointing a person near death, or ministering to a family who has come to the Church to arrange a loved one’s funeral. Joy doesn’t necessarily mean doing things that are easy and fun, but it means more that we are doing what we were created for, that we are using our time and our talents to build the kingdom in the particular way God has called us to do that, that we are living our discipleship in a way that gives honor and glory to God.
Now discipleship is not a popular term these days, I’m afraid. Maybe that’s because it comes from the same root as the word discipline which can be such an ugly word for us sometimes. And in a world where people do pretty much what they want, when they want and where they want, the idea of discipline doesn’t really work. But all of us who are followers of Jesus are disciples, and as such, we are subject to the discipline of the One we follow, Jesus Christ. So let’s take a look at today’s Liturgy of the Word and see what we can find out about the discipline that Jesus teaches us, and perhaps where we can find joy in following that discipline.
Now, before I launch into that study of the readings, I should point out that this is one of Fr. Ted’s favorite Gospel readings. He is so aware of the many needs of our parish and the difficulty of fulfilling them all, that he points to this reading as a reason to have two priests in a parish. “The Lord sent them out two by two,” he often tells me, “so I am so glad to have an associate to go out and do the Lord’s work with me.” Now, a little further down in the reading, the Lord says he was sending them out “like lambs among wolves.” So guess what that makes all of you… But I digress….
There are three specific disciplines that Jesus teaches the seventy-two that I want to reflect on today. First: don’t rely on yourself. Second: go in peace. And third: eat and drink what is set before you.
So first, 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; and greet no one along the way.” 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. And greeting no one along the way just seems downright inhospitable.
And this is worse for me, because I always overpack for a trip! But I think we’re missing the point here. If we take the time to bring everything with us that we’d ever need for the journey, we’d never get on the road. It’s much like the disciples in the Gospel reading last Sunday who wanted to bury their dead or greet their family, all at the expense of following Christ. At some point we have to stop thinking about maybe doing God’s will and just get out there and do it. Another point is that 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 you.
Second, 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. He is the one who greets the disciples after the Resurrection by saying “peace be with you.” 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. 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 brings true joy.
And third, 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. Taking things as they are and trusting in God to perfect our efforts is a path to true joy.
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.” For the disciple, the life of prayer must lead us to this kind of joy. Because 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!”