At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.
As I’ve worked with parish and retreat groups around the country, I’ve discovered that many people see a contrast or division between their private faith and their public acts of charity and service. I’ve often wondered why that is. After all, aren’t we, as Christians, inspired to do good works because of our faith in Jesus Christ?
It seems that the rub for many people is a fear (or at least a hesitation) to talk about prayer and spirituality. It’s much easier for us to talk about the things we do in life than it is to talk about who we are. And our spirituality is really something that exists in “heart of hearts,” at the core of our being. Whether it is because they fear saying the wrong thing, or admitting they don’t pray as well or as long as they imagine they should, or simply because they’ve never had an opportunity, most people quickly revert to talking about their professional lives, their parish ministry, or the volunteer work that they do. This leads to an unfortunate compartmentalization of spirituality.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sends out seventy-two of his disciples in pairs to “every town and place he intended to visit.” These disciples were to let the local communities know that Jesus and the Apostles were on their way. They were being asked to evangelize—to announce the “Good News” that Jesus was coming. (Remember that our word “evangelize” comes from the Greek word evangelion, which originally meant a joyful announcement—good news—that a king was coming to visit or that a military battle had been won.) And the message, the evangelion, that Jesus had instructed the disciples to proclaim was simple: “The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.” Here. Now.
The disciples’ journey and their announcement of the coming of the Kingdom—and of the King himself—was the action. But what was bubbling beneath the surface, within the hearts and souls of those early evangelizers? It was their faith in and relationship with Jesus and with one another.
When Jesus sent out those pairs of disciples as “laborers for his harvest,” he wanted them to work together, to share their faith, support and encourage one another when the journey was difficult, and to witness to the fact that being a disciple of Jesus calls for collaboration and community. Today’s Gospel reminds us that living our faith with integrity means that we share our interior faith through our words and actions. The two go hand-in-hand. But Jesus also teaching an important lesson in relationships by urging the disciples to pay attention to the response of the people they were visiting. Yes, they were to share their message about the coming of the Kingdom, but he also wanted them to watch and listen—to be in relationship with the people they visited, to be sensitive to how the Good News was being received and to act accordingly.
In the end, the mission of the disciples was to proclaim the faith they held within their hearts and invite others—all others—to join them in building up God’s Kingdom as faithful disciples. Faith and action came together in relationships—the communion and community of the Kingdom of God.
As we reflect on the reality of our spiritual relationships, we can certainly also think about the community of our nation as we look forward to our Independence Day celebrations on the Fourth of July. The Founding Fathers and first parents of this country envisioned the United States as a nation where all people were equal (cf. the Declaration of Independence) and where essential rights and freedoms were available to all people without fear of retribution or retaliation. America was built upon a belief in the necessity of right relationships and the responsible practice of freedom for the good of all our people.
As Christians—disciples proclaiming our interior faith through our public works of mercy and justice—we are being invited to reflect on how we are helping build God’s Kingdom within our families, parishes, communities, and country.
How are you building relationships with others? How does our faith form and inform your relationships?
Are you open to sharing your faith with members of your family? Your parish? How does this Gospel passage challenge you to be more open about your beliefs and relationship with Christ?
Words of Wisdom: “Within the People of God, there is a specific mission awaiting each one. Because the needs of the ‘harvest’ are so great, all the members of God’s People must grow in the awareness of ‘being called.’”—Pope Saint John Paul II