Jesus had sent the Twelve Disciples out on a missionary journey, a mission that was wildly successful. Now, the Lord turns to the other followers who have been with him and who are being formed into a new people. He chooses seventy-two others and sends them ahead of his intended journey from Galilee to Judea. He sends them in pairs to every town and village he himself intends to visit. Jesus announces to his seventy-two recruits:
The harvest in abundant, but the laborers are few;
So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.
Jesus adds that they are not to carry provisions, money, extra footwear: nothing that will distract them from their mission, or possibly decrease their dependence on the hospitality of strangers, nor their total dependence on God. They are being sent like lambs among wolves, Jesus adds. As one commentator put it, “Jesus ‘de-equips’ them of the requisite travel paraphernalia.”1 Rather, he cautions, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” They are not to prey on the helpless or to seek worldly prestige. With these instructions having been provided the seventy-two, he sends them out. “Go on your way,” Jesus announces.
As with Jesus’ sending of the Twelve, the mission of the seventy-two is to be that of the Lord himself—to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God. These two ministries will abide as the core mission of Christ’s church until he returns in glory. We are baptized into Christ, welcomed into the household of faith, and nourished by the Eucharist. Then, we are sent forth into the world to care for the sick and in a multitude of ways to proclaim the kingdom of God. These are the two sides of the coin of Christian discipleship: We tend and heal the sick; we proclaim the advent of God’s reign in Christ. Of course, countless other ministries will accumulate around these core Apostolic missions. Theologians will ponder the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the nature of the church, and the meaning of the sacraments. Social ethicists will explore the vast dimensions of the church’s witness for justice and the care of the earth. Faithful lay men and women along with deacons, priests, and bishops will explore the profound dimension of the spirituality of the members of the Body of Christ. Saints will surprise and confuse the world with their holiness and their unswerving pursuit of their vocations. Still, at the heart of it all, our risen Lord continues to call his church to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God.
So, on the one side of the coin, the Sisters of Mercy engage in their vocation of ministering to the sick and encouraging wellness throughout the world. Some of us may have been born at a Sisters of Mercy hospital or tended to in a heath care facility by a Sisters of Mercy-trained nurse or physician. (In my own case, my mother, Elisabeth, was a Sisters of Mercy RN trained at Mercy Hospital in Baltimore.) This order of faithful women have as the wellspring of their vocation the mandate of the Lord himself as he sent the seventy-two: “Cure the sick.” The other side of the coin is best named as Catholic evangelization. All the baptized
are called to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations. The distinctiveness of Catholic evangelization includes the insistence upon this ministry as a constant vocation of Church. A website titled “Sharing the Good News” explained the meanings of Catholic evangelization this way:
Two things must always be at work when we evangelize. First, we live by faith and follow the example of Christ and, second, we share the good news. Regardless of what method we use to share the news of salvation, we must put love at the center of all our words and actions just as Jesus put love at the heart of everything He did for humanity.2
These two virtues—living by faith and the example of Christ, and sharing the Good News—were right there as Jesus sent out his disciples and followers into the world. He had sent the Twelve to heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God, and he then appoints the seventy-two with the same vocation. Their vocation, and ours, shall be that which his Father intended as he sent his Son into the world.
As Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, the angelic hosts sang of good news that shall be to all people. So, too, when Jesus sends his first missionaries into the towns and villages ahead of him, he is “ecumenical” in his instructions. They go to a village and enter a house. Which house should they enter? Jesus only tells them to go to some household and enter. It is at this point that a disagreement emerges between Sts. Matthew and Luke. In Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus sends the Twelve out on their missionary journey, they are admonished, “Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.” The Twelve are to seek out a household of worthy persons. On the other hand, in St. Luke’s story of the sending of the seventy-two, Jesus seems to have a much more prodigal approach to the selecting of a household to enter. Much like the Parable of the Wedding Banquet in Luke’s Gospel, everyone can be invited to be healed, hear the Good News of God’s reign, and be welcomed into the Banquet.
One example of this dispute between St. Matthew and St. Luke regarding evangelization was seen in the “Church Growth Movement” of the past four or so decades. Much of what the advocates of this movement asked was intuitively good ideas: In the parish parking lot, are there spaces with marked signage, “For Visitors”? Are first-time visitors to worship at the parish greeted by members who welcome them warmly and offer helpful information as needed? On the other hand, some Church Growth experts sought to home in on particular subcultures, age demographics, and such other categories as gender and ethnicity who were most open to hearing the gospel and responding by attending church. These “ready ones” were the groups of persons toward which most outreach and evangelization should be directed. They were those “worthy” of being approached and invited to become people of God. Clearly, the mandates of Jesus in St. Luke’s Gospel run contrary to these teachings. We are sent out, commissioned by our baptism and formation in Christ’s church, to go to “whatever house” is encountered. It is not our role to prejudge which groups of people or even individuals should be sought out for healing, for teaching the way of Christ, or for hearing the proclamation of the kingdom of God. That familiar hymn by Marty Haugen sings, “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”3
There is a prodigal character to Jesus’ invitation to be sent into the world to heal, do justice, and to proclaim God’s reign. We do not pick and choose those whom we meet by conditions of their worthiness or any other of our deeply held standards. We sing, “All are welcome.”
Upon entering a location within the village or town to which they are sent, the seventy-two are then immediately to say, “Peace to this household.” Then, it is up to the members of that family to decide whether to extend good biblical hospitality. If the disciples’ greeting of peace is rejected, they are to immediately go out into the street and say “The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.” Of course, if the members of the house had welcomed those sent by Jesus they would have had no dust to shake off. The first sign of Jewish hospitality was to wash the feet of the visitor! But there is a profound issue at stake here in this peaceful greeting rite. We cannot be messengers of Christ’s peace unless we are at peace, soul-deep, within ourselves, with God and with each other in the household of faith. As Fr. Michael Marsh observed, “The struggle for peace begins not between me and another but within myself.”4 No wonder there is both a Penitential Act as well as the sharing of the Peace at every Mass prior to our Communion. We are to be sent (missa) into the world as a people of peace, reconciled with each other and at peace with our Lord. Soon today we will indeed be sent once again, along with those seventy-two, to announce peace to the world. Our own peace is the prior condition to our mission as the “sent.” And before we welcome others in Christ’s Name, we first offer and receive welcome in this holy place.
1 Mikeal C. Parsons, “Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,” Working Preacher, July 3, 2016, accessed June 23, 2022, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-14-3/commentary-on-luke-101-11-16-20-2.
2 “Share the GOOD NEWS: Catholic Evangelization in the Modern World,” Daily Bread, accessed June 23, 2022, https://www.catholicfaithstore.com/daily-bread/catholic-evangelization-in-the-modern-world/.
3 Marty Haugen, “All are Welcome,” Copyright © 1994 by GIA Publications, Inc. 7404 S. Mason Ave., Chicago, IL 60638.
4 Fr. Michael Marsh is rector of St. Phillips Episcopal Church in Uvalde, Texas. He is the author of Interrupting the Silence.