We are familiar with the inner circle of Jesus’ followers, the Twelve Apostles. The Gospels recount the ups and downs of their time spent with Jesus, and the Church honors them with liturgical Feast days. But the evangelist Luke, after narrating the sending out of the Twelve in chapter 9, tells us in chapter 10 that there were seventy-two other disciples whom Jesus also sent out. In a remarkable parallel writing, Luke tells of the two sets of calling, instructing, and sending of disciples; after which he gives a narrative of the results (9:10-17 and 10:17-20); and in between the sending and the return, there is sandwiched some controversy (about Herod in 9:7-9; and about the unrepentant towns in 10:13-16). Luke is teaching us that in Christ, many are called, sent, strengthened to face difficulties, and invited to rejoice. We can ponder today’s readings with this missionary theme in mind.

When Jesus appoints the seventy-two, he gives them several vital instructions. The first thing he tells them to do is to pray to the Master of the harvest, God the Father, who is the prime Source of mission and of fruitfulness. This prayer for more laborers for the harvest of evangelization recognizes the abundant potential in mission work and urgently pleads that God will turn this potential into a reality.

Today’s Psalm shows us how grateful we ought to be to God for the abundant harvest that he is raising in our midst. “Come and see the works of God, his tremendous deeds among the children of Adam.” The Psalm also expresses our confidence in the One to whom we raise our hopeful pleas: “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness.” When we ask him for more laborers, it is part of letting “all the earth cry out to God with joy.” Abundant potential and fruitful outcome in mission go together, not because of us, but because of God’s goodness.

Jesus uses the “laborers for the harvest” image several times in the Gospels. In Matthew’s Gospel, he speaks of it in the context of his being moved with pity for the crowd (cf. Mt 9:37-38), while in John, he uses it in speaking of the harvest of Samaritans who are converted through the testimony of the woman he spoke to at the well (cf. Jn 4:35). Despite these variations, it is clear that Jesus’ disciples play a significant role in turning the potential abundant harvest into reality. We are all part of his saving work. When there is an abundant harvest of wheat or grapes, many workers are needed to turn them into bread and wine to be enjoyed in meals.

After instructing us on prayer, Jesus invites us to poverty in spirit: “I am sending you like lambs among wolves…. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” Mission work entails detachment and selfless service. During harvest time, laborers leave the comfort of their homes to engage in strenuous work. Our motivation as laborers for the Lord must be, like that of Christ himself, to give glory to the Father and to bring to others the Good News of salvation.

St. Paul was a Christian laborer par excellence. In his Letter to the Galatians, he sums up his understanding of his missionary call through the figure of the Cross. “May I never boast except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says. All his work, indeed his very being, is conformed to Jesus Christ crucified: “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Christian mission takes the shape of the Cross; it is at once both vertical – in prayer and love for God – and horizontal – in its service and love for others.

Jesus then instructs his disciples about their message. He tells them: “first say, ‘Peace to this household.’” The mission seeks to give peace to all who are willing to accept it. What sort of peace is this? It is not simply a lack of conflict, but the gift of Christ’s own peace. He spoke of this at the Last Supper: “Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you” (Jn 14:27). His peace is the fruit of living according to the Father’s will. As missionaries, we are all called to find peace in the will of the Father and to invite others to share in the gift. The same Father who creates the abundant harvest and sends laborers to gather them is the Source of our peace. Jesus says further that the sharing of the Gospel of peace is to be done with respect for the freedom of its hearers. Others may choose not to accept the gift, but even if they do, there is no reason for us to lose it ourselves as we move on to proclaim the Kingdom to others.

When the seventy-two return from their mission, they are rejoicing, amazed at their power to drive out demons in Jesus’ name. Jesus, while acknowledging their joy and their power, gives them some wisdom to put everything into proper perspective. Those who spread the message of peace brought about by faithfulness to the Father do indeed expel demons. But there is more: the Gospel transforms its hearers to become children of God: “rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.” To have our names written in Heaven means that we belong to God, not to this world.

Our first reading today gives us a glorious and appealing description of Heaven, symbolized by the restored holy city of Jerusalem. “Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent… in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort. When you see this, your heart shall rejoice and your bodies flourish like the grass; the LORD’s power shall be known to his servants.” Heaven is where Christ is. When we are united with him in his fulfillment of the Father’s will, when we are conformed to him through the Cross, we find the joy of having our names written in Heaven. Thus the Gospel Acclamation urges us to let Christ reign in us now: “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts; let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

How seriously do I take the priest when he says at the end of the Mass “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”? As I labor in the Lord’s vineyard, what motivates me? How does my inner peace or conflict affect my sharing the Gospel with others?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.