ColumnsSunday’s Word

Sending forth 72 disciples

July 3, 2016


Is 66:10-14

Jerusalem like a nursing mother

Ps 66:1-7, 16, 20

Shout joyfully to God, all the earth

Gal 6:14-18

I never boast except in the cross

Lk 10:1-12, 17-20

Seventy-two sent forth on mission 070316.cfm

interstate hitchhikersThe picture painted by the Gospel for today is outrageous. Yet, because we tend imagine the Gospel stories taking place in a sort of fantasyland, rather than as a part of real life, we are not bothered. But consider.

Luke story of sending forth 72 disciples comes at the beginning of his long account of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. It shows them preceding him, much like an advance team preparing the way.

But notice the special preparations for their mission. Jesus admittedly is sending them out “like lambs among wolves.” They are to travel light, without money, sack, or sandals. They are to depend on those whom they visit for their sustenance. Upon arrival, they are to stay in the same house, eat what they eat, accept their welcome. They are to ground their mission in trust in God.

They come bringing peace. For this they are to declare “Peace to this household” at each place where they stay. If a peaceful person resides there, peace will rest upon that one; if not it will return to the disciple. Peace, then, is a matter of invitation and greeting. In staying in the same place, joining in the inhabitants in their lives, they are building their mission in and on community. Community mutuality is the anchor for this peace they welcome and bring. It is a peace grounded in shared life and responsibilities.

Trust and peacemaking. These seem fragile supports for anchoring the mission. The Old Testament reading for today is taken from the final chapter of the book of Isaiah. Its elaborate picture of Jerusalem as a nursing mother delivers a message of confidence in God’s care. This is the other side of trust in God—belief in a God who can be trusted, who is deeply concerned about us. This trust is at the heart of the faith life.

In the second reading for today we are concluding our time with the letter to the Galatians. We have not talked much about this pivotal letter, which expresses Paul’s deep belief in living by trust. Earlier he compares “living by the flesh” with “living by the Spirit” (Gal 5:15-25).

By “flesh,” he is not primarily thinking of human frailty. Rather he has in mind our hu­man attempts to provide for our own security. Alarm systems and Rottweilers seem a sensible choice. But Paul believes all this is like chaff in the wind, because it will pass away, for the flesh passes away. The only true security—paradoxically, for sure—is living by the Spirit, that is, living through trust in God.

So it is in the mission of the 72. They are to live in trust, and bring peace. It seems unrealistic.

But it occurs to me that we have today a fair example of the principle involved here. For many Americans, as we experience a rise in shootings, some of them multiple and terrifying, the solution seems to be getting a gun for oneself. What drives this, I think, is a sense of our unexpected vulnerability and a strong need to find some security. The obvious answer for many is the security of having one’s own weapon to answer those of the others “out there.”

And yet, this seems a futile response. One person made an analogy: It is as if a kid in the playground was hitting everyone with a stick, and the answer was to give all the kids sticks. There is something incoherent here. That is Paul’s message. And it is the message of the 72, as they move through Judea, bringing peace and trusting in God.

For reflection: Am I correct in thinking we consider the gospel stories taking place in a world apart from real life?

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.