As the Church, we are called today to go into our corner of the world as missionaries of Jesus Christ, taking his gospel to those around us. Yet, like in the time of Jesus, we are seeing resistance and downright opposition to our message.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Back in the late 60's and early 70's, a phenomenon swept America called "the Jesus Movement." It affected young people from every denomination, but more specifically, it affected countless thousands of young people who had no background in the Christian faith whatsoever.
Churches started to fill up with people who didn't look like themselves - causing concern and confusion. One protestant pastor, Stuart Briscoe, wrote a book talking about how this movement surprised us all called, Where Was the Church When the Youth Exploded?
This was an amazing time - church youth ministries were in their heyday, with hundreds attending events and Christian youth organizations springing into existence. Simply announce a Bible study and you'd have a room full of teens and young adults, all eager to study the Word of God and pray fervently.
Evangelization was easy back then during the Jesus Movement. It seemed like everyone wanted to be a Christian! When Jesus uses the words- "The harvest is abundant" in our reading from today's Gospel - this is the kind of image we normally have in mind; a time when everyone is clamoring to hear the good news, to receive the light of the Gospel. By the late 70's it was over.
Our passage from Luke 10:1-9 concerns the sending of the seventy-two disciples.
The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.' If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.'"
From Matthew's version of this same passage, we see something completely different about harvest. Here he points out that Jesus was moved with compassion for the people he saw, that they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. It was in this setting that he made the declaration that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few.
He was seeing people harassed from the outside - living conditions, high taxes, governmental intervention, you name it! They were also helpless - they couldn't stand up against it all! Truly, they were ready for a word of hope, a glimpse of light in the midst of the darkness.
While the harvest may have been plentiful, the conditions of oppression and persecution definitely cut down on the number of laborers. It would take a strong faith and courage to move out to take the message of the gospel to that culture.
Into this hostile world, Jesus had previously sent his twelve - the core - his apostles. Now he was enlarging the circle and sending 70. We have no accurate listing of who actually went. From tradition and other parts of New Testament Scripture, we have stories that such men as Barnabas, Sosthenes (who we meet in Acts and Corinthians), Matthias and Joseph Justus - the two candidates for replacing Judas Iscariot, Titus, and Aristarchus (who we meet in Acts).
Many others remain unnamed and unheralded individually. They were the faithful who responded to the call and went forth. The Venerable Bede sees these, in following after the Apostles, as an image of the priests following their bishop into the work of the gospel.
We can also see them as representing the whole church, where Christ continues to call to bring the Gospel into the world and fulfill the Great Commission - Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.
As the Church, we are still called today to go into our corner of the world as missionaries of Jesus Christ, taking his gospel to those around us. Yet, like in the time of Jesus, we are seeing resistance and downright opposition to our message.
Last July, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith. Written with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, it is a powerful and challenging document that underscores the role of faith in the life of all humanity.
In the introduction, the Holy Father writes, The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence… Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives.
Through faith, any person can become a new creation in Christ, as Paul calls us. Our lives can be made new and more meaningful through His Grace!
The Pope also includes a caution: Yet in speaking of the light of faith, we can almost hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways.
To many people in the world, then, our faith seems out of fashion and out of date. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Now more than ever people need a savior!
As Pope Francis points out, this objection does not stop us, but merely provides a context - where our culture is - as we continue to declare our faith in deed and in word.
In our gospel passage, Jesus gives us some wonderful insights on how we commit ourselves to this appointed task.
Take nothing with you
Jesus instructed his disciples to take nothing with them. They could then learn that God Himself could provide all they needed. They would learn total faith.
As we are called into our slice of humanity, we can often be intimidated about being a model of faith. What if they ask deep questions? What do I say about certain doctrines? I don't have a theological education like the priests.
God's call is not for us to provide in-depth theological documentation but simply to give a reason for the hope that lies within.
Now, that shouldn't excuse you from your own personal formation. Every Catholic should be involved in a long-term commitment to learning their faith. You can read the Catechism - even subscribe to a daily email to do it. You can read Holy Scripture, join a Bible study and find other means of deepening your own life.
At the same time, we have to remember that people are looking for hope more than a Catholic infomercial. When Jesus healed a blind man, others asked him who that man was. He simply replied, "I don't know; all I know is that once I was blind and now I see."
Peace be to this household
In the early 70's there was a Christian movie that circulated around called, "The Gospel Blimp." A church had decided that their town needed to hear the gospel so they hired a blimp to fly overhead and drop leaflets on everyone. The result was a comedy of errors and an embarrassment to the Body of Christ.
Jesus' way is different - share where you are welcome. Each of us will find those people with whom we seem to have a connection. They are eager to hear what we say. They want to be around us. This is our mission field.
Sometimes we may feel guilty that we can reach everyone, but if we are all faithful in connecting with those within our reach, many will hear the call! In addition, we may all play different roles. As St. Paul describes in I Corinthians, with regard to sharing the message of the gospel, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth."
The Kingdom of God is at-hand
The key to everything, as Jesus pointed out, is to remember that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is right here, right now. It is not about something that will happen in the future, but something available now to everyone and we have the opportunity of bringing them that message. This is the heart of the new evangelization.
We have the words of life - words that can help bring meaning to our life here on earth and words to can lead to eternal life in heaven!
Pope Francis, toward the end of his encyclical, underscores the importance of our message, since the world cannot properly live without it. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure.
Our message - both in our deeds and in our words - is so necessary. As the Pope states, As the Son, Jesus brings to the world a new beginning and a new light, the fullness of God's faithful love bestowed on humanity.
May we truly be bearers of that light!
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus. He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Ordinariate Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate. He is a popular speaker for parishes, apostolates and organizations.
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