In the Gospel today, Jesus sends out 72 disciples on their first missionary journeys. Why such a specific number? Moses appointed 70 elders, and the Jewish Sanhedrin (the 'Supreme Court' of Judaism in Jesus' day) had how many members? You guessed it: 70. Jesus was hinting that they were the 'new' elders, the 'next' Sanhedrin. But he sends them with very specific instructions:
- No "extra stuff". No overpacking like we do when we go on vacation. In other words, don't let what you're bringing overshadow what you're being sent to do.
- No talking to people on the way. Sounds rude, no? He meant don't get sidetracked. You're not being told just to 'get lost' for a few days; you're being sent to do specific stuff, and there's gonna be a test when you get back.
- No "house-hopping". Don't spend you're whole time there with one eye on your own personal comfort and interests. Your missionary trip isn't about making you feel all good about yourself, it's about you affecting others. Make a decision (on where to stay) and live with that decision.
The challenge by Christ is interesting, and reaches out to us today: How do we make Christ's Gospel known without "things"? Don't get me wrong: holy cards, religious medals, bibles, and rosaries are good things and helpful in introducing the devotional life to people, which should hopefully lead to full participation in the life and the Sacraments of the Church. But what the Lord did in the Gospel reading today is give the 36 pairs of disciples a task with a catch; with a "degree of difficulty" involved in it (just like, for example, certain moves in competitive gymnastics or diving are harder to do than others, so there's extra points given for a more difficult task). Don't rely on "stuff", Jesus says. Rely on God.
What about us? If we had our rosaries taken out of our pockets or off of the rear view mirrors of our cars, if we had our religious jewelry (cross rings, crucifix necklaces, etc.) taken away, if we couldn't show people our bibles or prayer books, what could we do to show them we're disciples of Jesus Christ and members of the Church He established? You've heard the adage: "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to 'find you guilty'?" Anyone can buy a Yankees shirt and call yourself a Yankees fan. It's harder to spend time watching games and memorizing players' names, statistics, etc. But if I took both "fans", dressed them in green hospital gowns, and asked them to tell me about the Yankees, one person will do well and the other won't.
ATTENTION YF PRIESTS/SEMINARIANS: Here is the challenge and the danger for Priests. The 'challenge' is this: If I am at the movies, a restaurant, a supermarket, whatever, without wearing my clerical clothing, can others tell that I am a Priest by the way I conduct myself? When a bunch of Priests get together, as we often do, and we decide to go out without clerical clothing (which many times means black shoes, black socks, black slacks, black belt, and some multi-colored shirt), is our conduct reflecting our Priesthood? From this, you can guess what the 'danger' is: Priests can slip into the erroneous belief that we're only Priests when we're wearing our "Priest clothes". Many Priests I know have vacation homes, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the same dangerous belief can happen at a place as much as with clothing (i.e. - "I'm only a Priest when I'm at the parish or in the rectory. When I'm here, I'm not 'Father X'. I'm just plain 'X'"). Obviously, there's no "Mute" button that comes with ordination.
The best part: God's not holding us accountable for the number of converts we make, only that we did our best to present the message to them! The Gospel says, "Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’ Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand." In other words, your 'success' or 'failure' isn't measured in the number of completed "I wanna be a Catholic" applications, but by the number of people you approached and to whom you made the pitch! If you tried and they believed, good for you and them; if you tried and they refused, still good for you. As a Priest, that's my great relief and joy! God is not going to hold me accountable for the number of families in my parish who heard my homilies, adult ed teachings, RCIA classes, etc., and chose not to listen (unless I was rude and inaccurate, but that's another problem). At the end of my life, the Lord is going to judge me on "whether" (and how accurately) I made the message known. As a priest, my "job" isn't to convince people that ((pick something: Christ is substantially present in the Eucharist, abortion is evil, contraception is wrong, there is objective truth, Sacramental confession is necessary, etc.)). My task is to present the Church's teachings in a way that my people can understand. If I've done that, then what they do with that teaching will affect how God judges them when their time on earth is finished, not me. The same works for anyone who is a Christian. Jesus was more concerned that the 72 walked the walk and talked the talk on their apostolic mission than He was whether they actually brought any warm bodies back with them.
So how do we do it? For that, we turn to the other readings:
- The Responsorial Psalm told us that, to be effective disciples, we need to "Shout joyfully to God", "say to God 'how tremendous are your deeds'", and "worship and sing praise" to the Lord. How often does that happen in our daily lives? How's your prayer life?
- Isaiah, in the First Reading, tells the children of Israel who've been in exile that soon they'll return to Jerusalem, who will nurse them as a mother breastfeeds her children in order to nourish them. The Sacraments of the Church are the nourishment we get from Mother Church. Do the research on breast milk (full of nutrients, helps the child's growth, etc.). That's what the Sacraments do for us, as we "nurse with delight at [the Church's] abundant breasts".
- Finally, St. Paul, in the Second Reading, gives the Galatians a little history lesson. Just as God gave Abraham the command to circumcise all males as the outward mark of the covenant between God and His people, so now St. Paul essentially says, "new covenant, new mark." Now, the mark of the covenant is not found on each person (shall we say below the waistline), but in the marks of the wounds of Christ crucified. Christ bears the wounds Himself. We don't have to have our hands, feet, and side punctured (thank God!), because Jesus did it for us! But there is a downside to that fact: A Jewish man was visibly reminded of the covenant every time he saw himself all nekkid in his birthday suit. Sadly for us, the indelible mark made at our Baptisms is invisible, and so we can occasionally forget the fact that we're in a covenant relationship with God and so allow ourselves to lapse into a broken or distanced relationship. St. Paul knows that his "name is written in heaven" thanks to the salvation Christ won for him. Hence he says he won't boast in his pedigree as a Jew and a student of Rabbi Gamaliel, or even in his social status as a Roman citizen, but only in what got him that salvation: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ".
Zorro left behind a "Z", and the Lone Ranger left behind a silver bullet. What examples do we "leave behind" with the people we encounter in our lives that tell them they've just been in contact with a Christian?