The Prophet Isaiah’s concluding chapter summons flagging hearts to the anticipated joy of salvation:
“Rejoice, Jerusalem, be glad for her, all you who love her. Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you. At the sight your heart will rejoice.”
This promised salvation, expressed in language of unparalleled intimacy, struggled to describe God’s love for his people. The God of Israel would reach down to his people with the tenderness of a mother for a suckling child. This salvation would engage our complex humanity at every level; it would be a salvation of embrace, something to savour with delight.
The Word that became flesh broke down the isolation of sinful humanity. The mission of the 72 disciples, sent before the Lord, was an integral part of this encounter between God and man.
Their mission reminds us that every Christian is involved in the ministry of Christ, that the example of our lives prepares his way. Jesus prepared the 72 for the world that they would encounter:
“The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers into the harvest.”
There was no hint of despondency in the Lord’s words. What many might have dismissed as a sinful world, far removed from God, Jesus described as a rich harvest to be gathered into the Father’s love.
We can understand these words as a silent rebuke to the timidity that resigns itself to the decline of faith. The words of Jesus were full of confidence. He did not invite his disciples to save the world by themselves, but he does invite us, with the 72, to play our part in bringing his salvation to that world. His first call was to prayer: “Ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.”
Traditionally we have interpreted this prayer as a prayer for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. They are also a prayer that every believer, regardless of state of life, might play their part in building up the kingdom of God. We are all of us labourers in the harvest. Let us pray that all, in every state of life, might discern and manifest Christ’s presence in the world.
Jesus gave specific instructions for the journey. His disciples were to set off unencumbered by purse, haversack and sandals. At first sight these instructions seem extreme, even life-threatening. Extreme though these words appear, they are intended as a warning against the many distractions that threaten faith’s journey.
Money, possessions and the means of transport are necessary for any journey. It is only too easy to allow such “necessities” to become ends in themselves. What was true of the first disciples is true of ourselves. If we are to be convincing witnesses we must travel light.
Jesus insisted that peace should be the first gift imparted by his disciples: “Whatever house you go into, let your first words be: ‘Peace to this house.’ ” We should not overlook this instruction in a world that longs for peace on so many different levels. The peace that we strive for is a gift of God’s grace. It unites us to God and make us one with each other.
Let us pray for that peace of mind and heart that speaks to a divided world with compassion and authority.