Luke 10:1-11; 16-20
‘Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves’ (10:3).
Today’s gospel describes how Jesus sent seventy-two disciples ahead of him with a simple, yet challenging mission: to open the way for him in the neighbouring communities. Journeying in pairs, each disciple is sent to bring peace and good news, to cure the sick, and to announce the kingdom of God wherever they are sent. Now, depending on how familiar we may be with this story, one could either be inclined to underestimate the ground-breaking meaning of the mission entrusted to the disciples or to think of it as something impossible to accomplish. But by reading this passage as part of a wider gospel narrative we may be able to look at it with fresh eyes and find its meaning for our day-to-day lives.
St Luke geographically sets the commission of the seventy-two disciples somewhere between Judea and Samaria but without specifying its exact location. In doing so the evangelist hints that the seventy-two disciples may not be sent to Jewish towns alone, but also to the communities of Samaria. The Samaritans were in many senses the outcast of Israel, the people rejected and cut off for mainstream Judaism because of their unorthodox religious beliefs. In their partly-voluntary, partly-imposed marginalisation the Samaritans nurtured deep resentment and mistrust towards Jewish practices, towards any Jewish claim about being God’s chosen people, and indeed towards anything to do with Judaism. So, even if the seventy-two are sent to them by Lord himself, they cannot take for granted that people who have been mistreated for generations will suddenly welcome them with open arms. And in this circumstances the words ‘I am sending you out like lambs among wolves’ assume a very real sense of what the disciples can expect from their mission.
The disciples are to be heralds of peace and good news to people who, in all likelihood, could be overtly hostile towards them, who do not appreciate them going about their land, and who at best probably do not care for them. Yet, if we look at it this way the mission entrusted to the disciples becomes even more poignant. ‘Whatever house you go into’, we read in v.5, ‘let your first words be, “Peace to this house”’. Not only the seventy-two are sent to those whom Israel has institutionally ostracized and allowed to become completely estranged, but they are to give them a blessing of peace and prosperity, and to break down barriers.
Imagine that someone should tell you that after Mass you had to go and visit a long lost relative or friend who was wronged by your family many years ago. Imagine if you were told to patch up relationship with someone who doesn’t particularly like you or you really, really cannot stomach. If you do this you may be able understand how the disciples must have felt; sent to a people grown resentful because of Israel’s own attempt to marginalise them; sent to better their conditions; sent to heal; sent to tell them that the Kingdom of God is open to them too in equal share; and finally, sent to open a way for Jesus, making ready for Him to abide with them.
The seventy-two disciples, people exactly like you and me, are sent to prepare for Jesus, to make way for him in a territory made hostile by recriminations and discrimination. So, this week put yourselves in their shoes. How do you feel as you hear Jesus saying that all those communities in wider society that are hostile to the Church are to be ministered to? How do you respond as he sends you to visit these people in the marginalised conditions we, as the Church, have imposed upon them? How do you respond to the One who is sending you to reach out to them, because through your actions the Kingdom of God will be opened to them? How do you respond?