Each of the synoptic Gospels presents us with the picture of Jesus sending his disciples out to preach, to heal, and to expel demons. Each of the synoptic Gospels records that Jesus asked them to do this with little else than what they were wearing and with no concern for money or reward. By now we are quite used to hearing the words of Jesus: Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; . . . (Luke 10:3-4a)
Luke adds a detail that marks his account; namely, instead of sending the Twelve, Luke mentions that Jesus sends seventy-two! Commentators and Scripture scholars offer this as an explanation for the difference. At that time in human history, the world seems to have been divided up into seventy-two different "countries." (I put the word in quotation marks because our understanding of "country" is different than theirs would have been.) By increasing the number to seventy-two, therefore, it is Luke's intent to convey that this commission that Jesus gives is meant for the whole then-known world. When we consider that Luke was a Gentile convert to Christianity and that his Gospel emphasizes that Jesus did not come simply for the Jewish people, this detail makes all the sense in the world.
There is another happy coincidence that happens with this Gospel passage falling on October 3. Tomorrow, Franciscans will celebrate the solemnity of their founder, St. Francis of Assisi. Tonight, after the sun goes down, Franciscans will remember that it was on the evening of October 3 that St. Francis made his way from this world to the next. We will celebrate "Transitus," the passing over of Francis.
Although it was from the Gospel of St. Matthew rather than that of St. Luke that Francis of Assisi first encountered this Gospel story, it is the admonition to take nothing for one's journey that seems to have captured his imagination. He was attending Mass with the first of his followers, Bernard of Quintavalle, and heard the Gospel in which Jesus sends his disciples without money, without extra clothes, without provisions of any kind. He approached the priest after Mass and said that he did not understand the Gospel reading and asked the priest to explain it to him. After the priest presented Francis with his understanding of the Gospel text, Francis exclaimed: "This is what I want; this is what I desire with all my heart." From that point on, St. Francis pursued this dream with unrelenting fervor. Thereby hangs the tail how the Little Poor Man of Assisi came to embrace poverty and humility.
To all the members of the Franciscan Family who celebrate these two days, may we all experience a renewal of that fervor in our own lives and bring about yet another "springtime" in the life of our faith.