In the Gospel reading for last week, the 13th. Sunday, St. Luke told us that:
Jesus, resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and sent messengers ahead of Him. On the way they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for His reception there, but they would not welcome Him, because the destination of His journey was Jerusalem.
Today we learn that, subsequently:
The Lord appointed seventy-two others whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit.
We can appreciate that Jesus had originally sent a single pair of messengers (the sons of Thunder, James and John!!) to the Samaritan village appearing before Him on His way to Jerusalem; but what a difference now: He sends 72 others ahead of Him, two by two!! Why such a striking difference, why such a specific number?
The first disciples had been sent to a village on the way to prepare an overnight resting place for Jesus and His disciples, but they had not been welcomed by the villagers concerned. Today’s mission would seem to have been sent symbolically to the whole world, in preparation for Jesus’ coming to the whole of mankind in the persons of the twelve Apostles and His universal Church; for there were 70 ancients of Israel, plus Moses and Aaron, to ratify the Covenant of Sinai; there were also 70 leaders in Israel, plus Eldad and Medad who were given a share in Moses’ prophetic spirit when he found it too hard to lead Israel alone; there were also 70 nations on earth we are told in Genesis (10).
These are the clans of the sons of Noah, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood. (Genesis 10:32)
In sending out the 72 messengers to foreshadow – for Jesus Himself and for the 72 participants -- the proclamation of God’s saving word by the Apostles and Mother Church to mankind in need, Jesus was recalling both the Old Covenant ... now to be replaced by the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood, and the old prophetic message of Moses … now to be replaced by the Good News of Jesus. On the return of the 72 – rejoicing -- we are told, Jesus revealed the momentous, indeed the apocalyptic, import of their symbolic work of evangelization:
I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.
You will remember the following incident from the Acts of the Apostles when the Gospel message of Paul and Barnabas (one of the 72) was rejected by the Jews at Antioch:
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul say saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: ‘We had to speak the Word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”’ (Acts 13:45-47)
Paul, a supreme disciple of Jesus, may well have known of Jesus’ rejection by the Samaritans (regarded, in those days, as bastard Jews) and of course -- thanks to his missionary companion Barnabas -- of His symbolic ‘world’ mission of 72 followers of which Luke alone gives us information. However that may be, the fact is that Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey in the name of the Church of Christ, followed Jesus’ command and, in the power of His Spirit, took the word of God – after its rejection by the Jews of Antioch -- to the nations, thereby initiating the demise of Satan’s power so dramatically seen in anticipation by Jesus.
Oh, for a mind and heart able to see and appreciate something of the wonder of God’s wisdom and beauty to be found in the Scriptures of Mother Church: Jesus sending out the 72 not only recalls the beginnings of mankind and of God’s direct dealings with His Chosen People but also foresees, from their endeavours in His name, the ultimate downfall of Satan, and the heavens opened to welcome back those washed clean in the blood of the Lamb!!
Let us now look at another aspect of today’s Gospel reading:
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say, ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you. Yet know this: the Kingdom of God is at hand.’ I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.
And we have verse 16 omitted in our reading today:
He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him Who sent Me.
Notice; those who reject – indeed, even those who do not welcome, will not listen to -- the Word, will be rejected. How can that be? It can only be because mankind, being made in the image and likeness of God, is made for the Word of God, as Jesus said at the very beginning of His Messianic struggle with Satan;
Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)
How Mother Church suffers today from those who are constantly seeking to adapt that Word to the world’s expectations, desires, and even demands!
The authentic Good News of Jesus in all its integrity is the natural food for those whom God has made in His own likeness. Just as a child finds its natural food at its mother’s breast, so too mankind is made in such a fashion as to find supernatural nourishment and indeed spiritual delight from the Word of God and the Sacrament of His Church:
For thus says the Lord: Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this your hearts shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the Lord’s power shall be known to His servants.
We are made for God; and if, ultimately, we cannot rejoice over, will not welcome, do not trust, His Word of Truth and His Spirit of Love, then we will die. And there can be no excuse for we would have destroyed our very selves.
People of God, today the Western world is, in so many ways, literally falling over itself to separate itself from any acceptance of the wisdom of an authoritative and loving God: when ‘husband’ is not to refer, necessarily, to a man, nor ‘wife’ to a woman, when, in fact, ‘husband’ can be a woman, ‘wife’ can be a man; when children are no longer God’s gift to human nature, but can be of individual procurement: proclaimed as loving and caring, of course, but against the very nature of the ‘procured, loved’ child, born of the union of man and woman to receive the fulness of humanity:
He said in reply, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’. (Matthew 19:4)
In these modern times of moral darkness when passing ideas and current fancies, mistaken ideals, and febrile, fruitless, hopes are picked up and proclaimed by so many seeking to be their own masters in all things, and attempting so proudly to masterfully guide their society and the world around from their own pitifully and appallingly limited awareness and understanding, we can profitably notice and learn from St. Paul’s words in our second reading:
Peace and mercy to all who follow the rule of Christ; for through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, the world is being crucified to us, and we ourselves to the world. Let nothing make trouble for you, for you are part of a new creation. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.