14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
By Msgr. John N. Fell
This Sunday’s Gospel presents a series of Jesus’ missionary instructions to his disciples. Having himself just set out on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus must have been considering his own destiny, for these instructions stress both the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel as well as the opposition which the disciples will face.
Earlier in his ministry Jesus had sent just the 12 apostles themselves off on such a missionary journey, and now St. Luke records that he “appointed a further seventy-two” (Lk 10:1). The number seventy-two here is probably connected with the Old Testament belief that there were only 72 nations in the entire world. Jesus’ choice of 72 messengers would then reflect his intention to have the Gospel proclaimed in every nation. The number 72 could also be an approximation of the number 70, the number of elders chosen to assist Moses in his task of shepherding God’s people toward the Old Testament Promised Land.
Jesus next reveals his Heavenly Father as the Source of the disciples’ mission and power. He tells them, “The harvest is rich but the workers are few; therefore ask the harvest master to send workers to his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Jesus here is highlighting the fact that prayer (asking the harvest master) is a key responsibility of any missionary. Success in leading others to God will come not through the dazzling words and impressive demeanor of the missionaries, but rather through the power of God touching the hearts of those who hear the Good News.
Jesus then sends them off, telling them “I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Lk 10:3). This remark warns the disciples of the opposition that they will encounter. They will be putting themselves in danger as they preach the Good News. Jesus also instructs them, “Do not carry a walking staff or traveling bag; wear no sandals . . .” (Lk 10:4a). This is an assurance of God’s protection; they are to place their trust entirely in God’s providence and not seek safety in their own devices; their journey will be difficult, but God will watch over them.
Jesus then instructs them to offer the gift of “peace” to every household they enter. “Peace” here means much more than the absence of strife. Peace is a state of blessed wholeness and contentment. It comes as a divine gift to those who live in right relationships with God and others. It is the state of complete joy and fulfillment, a foretaste on earth of the glory of heaven. Only by profoundly accepting and living out the Gospel can we hope to achieve this blessedness here on earth.
They are then to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom in word and deed. With their lips they are to announce that “the Reign of God is at hand!” (Lk 10:11). They are to explain Jesus’ teaching, and to visibly demonstrate the effects of the Kingdom of God by curing the sick and further offering God’s gift of peace to all. This demonstration is intended to assure the people of God’s entirely reliable goodness toward them.
This revelation of God’s goodness then opens up a period of decision for the towns and people visited, for they ultimately must choose to accept the Gospel or not. And while they are free to choose one way or the other, Jesus assures his disciples that this choice will have drastic, eternal consequences. He warns them that those who fail to accept the Gospel will suffer a terrible fate, telling them that even “the fate of Sodom will be less severe than that of such a town [that rejects the Gospel]” (Lk 10:12).
The disciples went out as Jesus commanded. They were jubilant on their return, delighted with the success of their mission. Jesus confirmed that he himself had recognized their success, saying that he had seen “Satan fall from the sky like lightning,” and that he had given them the “power to tread on snakes and scorpions and all the forces of the enemy” (Lk 10:18-19). Seeing Satan fall from the sky was likely a reference to Jewish folklore which held that Satan stood in God’s throne room in heaven and acted as a prosecuting attorney, seeking to claim the souls of all who had sinned before they could enter God’s Kingdom. As more and more people converted to Jesus, Satan had no charges to bring and so his power and position dwindled. The power to tread on snakes and scorpions likely refers to the disciples’ power to overcome the forces of evil they encountered in this world.
Finally, Jesus reminded the disciples that of all their reasons to rejoice, none was as wonderful as the fact that their “names are inscribed in heaven” (Lk 10:20). Jesus’ followers today and in every age seek to proclaim the Gospel by their words and deeds as faithfully as did his first disciples, hoping that their names may be similarly inscribed. This Gospel comes at a very important time as we celebrate our national feast day and conclude our Fortnight for Freedom; may the encouraging words of Jesus, his assurance that our faithfulness will be rewarded even when it is difficult, and the success of those early disciples all serve to further inspire our efforts to proclaim the Gospel of life and faith amid the opportunities and trials we face in our own land.
Msgr. Fell is a Scripture scholar and director, diocesan Office of Priest Personnel