The Heart of Discipleship
(Is.66:10-14; Gal.6:14-18; Lk.10:1-12; 17-20)
In Luke’s Gospel last week, Jesus began his Great Journey to Jerusalem. Today he sends 72 disciples out ahead to evangelise all the villages and towns he intends to visit.
But why does he choose 72? Why not just the original 12?
In Biblical times, people believed there were 72 countries in the world. They calculated that by counting all the descendants of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japeth. They were the only survivors of the flood, and therefore the ancestors of all humanity. So, the number 72 came to represent all nations.
By using this number, Luke makes the point that Jesus is sending his followers not only to Israel, but also to the whole world.[i] Jesus has commissioned them to go tell everyone about God’s love and to establish new faith communities.
However, as he says, ‘the harvest is rich, but the labourers are few’. This explains why Jesus doesn’t simply rely on the Twelve to do this work. He needs all his followers to help spread the Good News.
Today, there’s still so much work to be done, because millions of people still don’t know about God’s love.
In the 1960s, after Vatican II had a good, fresh look at the work of the Church around the world, 16 documents were published. James Mallon, in his book Divine Renovation, says that all these documents can be summarised in two phrases: the universal call to holiness, and the universal call to mission. [ii]
In other words, it’s not only priests, deacons and religious who are called to holiness and mission. Because of our baptism, every Christian is called to be holy and to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ.
But how might we do this today? Especially when so many of us feel unqualified to talk about Jesus?
The thing to remember is that God is love. All you need to promote Jesus is to have a heart full of love, and enough passion to share that joy with others.
You don’t have to be anyone special to do this, because Jesus encourages us all to live in simplicity and innocence, just like children (Mt.18:3).
And remember, too, that although Jesus only had five loaves and two fish, he still managed to feed over 5,000 people (Lk.9:10-17). In other words, start with what you have, and God will give you whatever else you need.
Flor McCarthy tells the story of a knight who was about to set out on a long journey. He tried to foresee all the problems and dangers he might face, and prepared for them.
He took a sword and a suit of armour in case he met an enemy. He took a jar of ointment to guard against sunburn. He took an axe to chop wood for a fire. He took a tent and several blankets. He took pots and pans for cooking. And he took a sackful of oats for his horse.
Thus, heavily laden, he set out.
However, he hadn’t gone far when he came to a rickety old bridge straddling a deep gorge. He was only halfway across, when the bridge collapsed under him. He fell into the gorge and died. [iii]
This helps explain why Jesus tells us to travel light when he sends us out into the world. He urges us to trust in God and only take the most basic of essentials, because God will take care of his workers.
Today, when we leave Mass, nourished and transformed by the Eucharist, Jesus will be sending us out, just like his 72 missionaries. He’s commissioning us all to take his love and Gospel message into our families and into every community to which we belong.
For some, this might seem quite a challenge, but we can learn from St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Thérèse was a simple nun who never performed any great works, but she still became a great saint. She clearly understood that what matters in the Christian life is not great deeds, but great love. She knew that anyone can achieve the heights of holiness simply by doing the smallest things well for the love of God.
She lived in a convent community that was sometimes challenging, but she wrote, ‘All is well when one seeks only the will of Jesus’.
St. Thérèse reminds us that it’s love that makes us good disciples, and it’s the little things that keep our Christian community growing and moving forward.
For love is the heart and challenge of discipleship.
And that is our calling.
[i] William J Bausch, Once Upon a Gospel, Twenty-Third Publications, New London CT, 2011:198.
[ii] James Mallon, Divine Renovation, Garratt Publishing, Melbourne, 2014:28.
[iii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies – Year C, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2018:256-257.