The main theme of the Gospel for today is the sending of the 72 disciples and their mission. The number 72 is very significant because he has already chosen 12 Apostles, and now he sends another 72 for the mission. In a sense, Jesus is creating a hierarchy. The twelve Apostles foreshadowed the order of Bishops, so also, we must know that these seventy-two represented the presbytery, that is, the second-order of priests.
In a spiritual sense, it is a beginning of a new life. In the Book of Genesis, seventy descendants of Jacob moved with him from Israel to Egypt to begin a new life. In the Book of Exodus, seventy elders go up the Mountain of God along with Moses to learn about the new Covenant with YHWH to start a new life of Israel with Him. Similarly, Jesus, by sending 72 disciples, begins a new life for the world.
Moreover, 72 indicates the genealogy of the sons of Noah in the book of Genesis (Gen 10), where we find all the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. We often avoid reading that genealogy simply because the chapter is boring, but they didn’t avoid it in the ancient world. They actually read it very carefully. It was called “the table of nations” and was seen as a catalogue from which all the different peoples of the world came. Hence the number 72 indicates that the Gospel that will help start a new life in Christ must be preached to the whole nation.
What is the mission of the 72?
The mission that Jesus entrusts to the 72 disciples is to prepare people for an encounter with Jesus. At the same time, there is an important and necessary connection between the corporal works of mercy and the mission of evangelization. While evangelization (encounter with Jesus) is always our primary goal in terms of priority, corporal works of charity are oftentimes our first temporal efforts due to the urgency of people’s needs. However, in responding to urgent physical needs, we should never lose sight of fulfilling our primary purpose, which is sharing with others the eternal goods of salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ. So, works of charity must become steppingstones that lead to encounter with Christ.
Then Jesus adds something important to the disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”.
The image of the harvest is both instructive and deeply rooted in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament. In Joel 3:13 and Micah 4:11–14, the harvest is a metaphor for the time of judgment. Jesus uses the harvest in this passage to describe the work of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. By using the image of the harvest, Jesus is communicating a sense of urgency and the need for everyone to be involved because time is short.
The harvest waits for no one, and the magnitude of the work is seemingly greater than the workers can handle. It requires the efforts of every single person, each in their own capacity, for the harvest to be successful. If we wait or choose not to be involved, the ripe harvest will be in jeopardy, and what was intended to be a bumper crop could become a lost crop. This sense of urgency for the harvest describes the need for everyone to be involved in preventing any loss of the yield.
But when we hear everyone be involved, the first thing that comes to our mind is that we are inadequate for the mission. The disciples probably felt somewhat same inadequate and ill-prepared for this mission. After all, they had only been chosen by Jesus a few chapters earlier (see Lk 6:12–16), and they had just taken their first steps on their journey to Jerusalem. They had also just been corrected by Jesus for their mistaken pursuit of false greatness (cfr Lk 9:46–48), reprimanded by Jesus for their possessiveness and control of ministry (cfr Lk 9:49–50), and even rebuked by Jesus because of their vengeful desire for retribution against the Samaritans (cfr Lk 9:54–55). They were well aware of their shortcomings.
Despite these inadequacies and their minimal preparation, Jesus sends them on a mission anyway. This is something quite challenging for our own lives as disciples. Sometimes we think that we have to be perfectly prepared before we can prepare others to meet Jesus or share the message of the Gospel. This passage corrects that erroneous thought. It reminds us that every disciple is called to be a missionary who shares with others whatever experience of Jesus they themselves have received. That is why being a missionary is fundamental and essential to discipleship.
There is a certain necessary correlation between these two facets of being a Christian. We cannot be a missionary if we ever stop being a disciple, and we cannot be faithful disciples if we refuse to be a missionary. For this reason, the common description of “missionary discipleship” is often used to inspire Christians so that they both deepen their own commitment to following Jesus (discipleship) while also realizing their obligation to invite others to follow the Lord (missionary).
So dear ones, Let us take this challenge of missionary zeal. Let us be the hands and feet, voice and touch of Jesus for others, but starting first with the neighbours, in the families, so that they can meet Jesus in their life and so we can glorify God.