The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’
A recent talk about Vatican II surprised a lot of listeners by the responsibility and dignity given to the laity in the expression and formation of faith. The Council document, Lumen Gentium, was extraordinarily clear in the right and privilege of those outside ‘religious’ life to follow ministries of their own within the fellowship of the Family of God.
The fact is that this document was produced nearly 50 years ago and yet this message of having personal, spiritual involvement and influence in our faith has seemed to have passed by both the laity and the Church who is responsible for teaching it.
But, really, it is not nearly 50 years since we heard this message; but two thousand years; since this sending out of the seventy-two. If we assume that the ordained priesthood is born out of the choosing of the twelve apostles then who are these seventy- two mean to represent? These disciples with no names; no gender; no country; no status are ‘the rest’ they are us and it is how the Word of God goes out to the world.
Going back to the significance of numbers in Scripture, among other inspired references, the number 72 refers to 'many in totality' so seventy two nations, and seventy two Hebrew names for God. The Lord sends God out in all His many guises; as father, mother, lion, brother, wind, fire. As many personalities and characters that the seventy-two possess; God is in them; just as God is in us in our uniqueness, our gifts and our talents.
Jesus, being no fan of the Law, does not limit the seventy-two; the rules are few and very clear.
Don’t surround yourself with stuff, making yourself look more than you are, creating a self-image that is not about God’s work but your own standing.
Bring peace, first and foremost. We are not here to put ourselves in the position of judge and jury. We are not here to add to conflict or distress. If peace is not possible then be prepared to walk away, in prayer.
Be grateful; we may want more that we have been given but it may be all that there is… accept hospitality with thanks and grace.
Care for others; the Word of God heals, forgives, reconciles. Even when the world might condemn or ignore, our duty is to bring the Kingdom closer, to make it real, living in Love not judgement.
And if you feel that you have done all you can and you are still refused or rejected, then walk away. No-one can be forced to believe – no-one. Your insistence may be the worse thing you can do; if you have shown your love by your actions and they are not welcomed, leave them to God.
Every one of those anonymous seventy-two had something; a gift, a talent that they took out into the towns and that brought them back rejoicing. It is no different with us. Our mission, our duty is to bring peace, to build the Kingdom of God with whoever we are – just as a city needs all its different tradespeople and craftsmen – be all you can be.
And lastly, remember who you are working for - not yourself – but the Kingdom. This is not the place for ego or recognition.
If the world never knows your name – but people are changed, healed, reconciled because of who you are and what you have done, then that is enough. That is more than enough and know that your name is where it should be, written on the palm of God’s hand.