I can see why Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. Mutual support is very important in unfamiliar situations. He tells them that he is sending them out “like lambs among wolves”. A bit of a scary prospect, but at least the feeling of vulnerability could be shared. Sharing the message of Jesus was going to be a challenge, but all the more so in the Samaritan territory between Galilee and Judea.
Perhaps we too do not find it easy to share our faith with others. We wouldn’t normally face the kind of danger that the disciples faced in Samaria, or the later apostles in the Roman-occupied parts of the Middle East and Europe. But we live in a very secular context. People are often resistant to religious belief, even if they like to believe in something more than just the here and now. Many people are indifferent and this too can be a hard thing to break open.
Mission can often seem like a scary word. It seems to demand of us something that we feel unable to give. We may be drawn to faith because it brings us peace and comfort, but trying to share that with others might seem like a step too far. I have often heard people speak about “taking Jesus to other people” or “taking Jesus out into the world”. But the thing that seems clear to me from the gospel is that Jesus is quite capable of making his own way out into the world and making contact with all kinds of people. He sent his disciples out ahead of him but he would then go out and visit those places himself. Jesus entrusted his disciples with the special mission of preparing the way.
We don’t know what those disciples said to people when they went out into the towns and villages. But we do know that they were travelling light. Jesus told them just to take themselves, with just the bare minimum of props. It was perhaps their attitude rather than their words that mattered. They were to expect hospitality but to move on when that hospitality was lacking. They were called to be a peaceful presence in the places they visited. They were also called to be a healing presence. What they had witnessed in Jesus themselves they were to share with others in whatever way they could. Jesus does not expect people to do the impossible, but to live out their faith in whatever way is right for them.
People know when our faith is genuine, because it shines through our words and our actions. If we sow seeds of hope, of compassion and of reconciliation, then people can begin to see the person in whom our faith is based: Our Lord Jesus Christ. Conversely, if they see Christians sowing discord, judgement and cynicism, they are hardly likely to want to stick around and see what comes next. The good thing is that Jesus does work through human weakness. We are not an indispensable part of the mission of God, but Jesus chooses us to work with him in showing people the kingdom of God. What could be more special than that?
So that we can share what the seventy two disciples shared in St Luke’s gospel, we need to come to know the Lord as they did. We don’t have him among us in the same form, but we know him through the words of the Bible and in the sacraments of the Church. We can come to know the same spiritual liberation experienced by the disciples. It mirrors the liberation depicted in that beautiful poetic language of the prophet Isaiah as he spoke of the peace and the freedom that would be experienced by the people of Israel as they emerged from captivity in an unfamiliar land.
St Paul also, in the letter to the Galatians, writes about the way in which the believer is set free from the constraints imposed on us by those who would stifle our true identity. Christians are called not to live by law but by grace. The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus are the cornerstone of our faith. When we know our limitations and our need for God’s mercy, then we can witness to others by the words we speak and the life we live. There are no magic words, no props, no gimmicks. Jesus sends us out and calls us to be ourselves. All he asks of us is that we proclaim not ourselves, but the love and the peace of the one who has called us and who sends us. We have his promise that he will be with us wherever we go.
Let us pray:
Stay with us, Lord Jesus,
be our companion on our way.
In your mercy inflame our hearts and raise our hope,
so that, in union with our brothers and sisters,
we may recognize you in the scriptures and in the breaking of bread,
who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.