In chapter nine of St. Luke’s Gospel, we read: “He summoned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal [the sick].” Today, however, we read from chapter ten and are surprised that not only did Jesus send the Twelve, he also sent seventy-two others. This missionary venture is only contained in the Gospel of St. Luke.
We know that the Twelve Apostles are chosen by Jesus to correlate to the twelve tribes of Israel. Does the number seventy-two have any significance? Indeed! In Genesis, seventy-two is the number of all the nations descended from Noah, that is--everybody in the world! So Luke’s mention of seventy-two “others” represents those who carry out the post-Easter extension of Jesus’ mission to everyone.
The work of the seventy-two, including us, is preparatory. Jesus does the real work of ‘visiting’ everyone. This may be puzzling, until we discover in the Acts of Apostles, also written by St. Luke, that the work of Paul and company is understood as the work of the risen Lord working through the Holy Spirit animating the Christian movement. So the mission is not so much about us as about the work of Jesus, through the likes of us, for the rest of the world.
Whatever our situation, class, lifestyle, we are part of the mission. We are to contribute to the “harvest” to the extent that we are able. We are not to boast about our exercise of God-given power; rather we are to rejoice that we have been called to participate in God’s mission of mercy. A few lines beyond today’s gospel reading (Luke 10:17-20) Luke says that the seventy-two “returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus says, in effect, ‘Rejoice because you have been chosen for mission.’ Thank God for Luke’s special way of helping us get some perspective on our role.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.. Administrator