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The Gospel this Sunday (the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C) tells the tale of the 72 disciples who were sent out in pairs to take on a world ruled by the Roman empire.
They are sent out without money bag, sack or sandals, and they are to greet no one along the way. When they come to a house they are to pray for and with those people, serve their needs and accept their charity. When they are rejected, they are to move on with a parting word of warning.
In the Orthodox Church, ancient hymns extol the praises of the 72 disciples (or 70, as some ancient manscripts say).
Says one: “O faithful, let us praise with hymns the choir of the seventy disciples of Christ. They have taught us all to worship the undivided Trinity, for they are divine lamps of the Faith.”
The 72 were wildly successful. Some ancient lists claim to name them. The lists are a Who’s Who of early Christianity. They include Evangelists Mark and Luke, St. Stephen who would be the first martyr, the future Pope Linus, and various bishops.
We should imitate them. Our world is ruled by a “new Rome”: An empire of consumerism and relativism, a culture of death. The Church wants us to go out like the 72 and this Sunday’s readings fill out a list of virtues that Jesus wants us to bring to the task.
The disciples kept it simple, neither bringing too much with them nor complicating their message. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Galatians that rejecting the comfort of the world and focusing on Jesus is the pattern for all Christians.
“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” he said.
The world will only listen to Christians whose lives have that same simple authenticity. Mother Teresa and St. John Paul II won the world’s respect this way. Do we?
There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian. We are meant to partner with others in our efforts.
It is the same in the first reading, from Isaiah. The prophet is telling the people of Jerusalem to celebrate because Jerusalem — an image for us of Mother Church — welcomes them, nourishes them and comforts them together.
Our efforts alone are not worth much. When we act with the Church, we are part of the great channel of blessings God has prepared for mankind.
Just as the disciples “greeted no-one along the way” and “shook the dust from their feet” when rejected, we should remember that our faith journey has a destination and a time table; we aren’t called to drift through life for God, but to go resolutely to him.
The Gospel acclamation describes what that looks like: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts,” says this Sunday’s Gospel acclamation, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
To take on the world, we need that same single-mindedness and refusal to get distracted.
You can almost feel the high-fives when the disciples return from their mission. The Gospel tells us that “The 72 returned rejoicing, and said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.’”
Jesus told them all he had done for them: He has made them seemingly immune to demonic forces. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,” he says, “but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
With the steady drumbeat of bad news for Christians, victory can seem a long way off. But victory will follow fidelity. It only waits for us to follow God and take it.