In the Gospel reading in Sunday, the 14th in Ordinary Time, Jesus sent the disciples out, en masse, and in pairs, for their first work ‘without’ him. He called them to clear focus and firm discipline.
They learnt to minister from a position of vulnerability, relying on nothing but their confidence in the goodness of God, the closeness of the reign or kingdom of God, and their power to share that goodness with others.
And they succeed spectacularly.
Freed from the compulsions that so often condition our choices to act or not act; freed from self, they themselves do spectacular work.
The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’
At the heart of the passage from the Gospel is the gift of peace – a peace the disciples, for all their poverty, are able to give.
It is a gift that those who receive it already have, at least in some sense. ‘If a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him…’
The communion in peace establishes or perhaps more accurately recognises the bonds that already unite disciple and those to whom they are sent, demonstrates that indeed the kingdom is very near.
Too often that unity is compromised by suspicion and labels of ‘otherness’. But resistance is relaxed by the gentle presence of the disciples and the sharing of the foundational teaching of Jesus.
And suddenly the kingdom is somewhat closer, and the family of God somewhat healthier, enlivened and happier! United with each other, and united with God.
St Francis, Assisi. (c) 2015, Allen Morris.