Missionaries of Christ in Luke’s Gospel
This quote from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians calls to my mind the account in Luke’s Gospel when Christ sends out several dozen disciples to go out of ahead of him to minister to the people (Luke 10:1-12). This is so because of either the openness or rejection each person has as part of our God-given free will. Are we receptive to the Word of God or not? Jesus provides contingencies for either result:
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”—Luke 10:5-12 (RSV2CE)
They were sent out with “no purse, no bag, no sandals” (Luke 10:4, RSV2CE) but regardless of their physical poverty, lack of earthly recognition, or chastisement, they had cause to rejoice. Their rejoicing was initially because even the demons were subject to them in the name of Christ (10:17), but Jesus called them to rejoice rather because their names are written in heaven (10:20) in the book of life, as sons and daughters of God.
As Christians, our primary reason for rejoicing shouldn’t stem from our little, successful missions on Earth. They are good, sure, and we ought to continue them and praise God for these, but our joy should not be rooted in them because they aren’t what primarily defines us. What primarily defines us, through Baptism, is that we are sons and daughters of God. That is our identity. That is cause to rejoice.
70 or 72 Disciples?
Some ancient authorities (including the NABRE translation) read Luke 10:1 and 10:17 as seventy-two disciples, whereas other authorities (such as the RSV2CE) say there were seventy disciples. NABRE is used in Catholic liturgy while RSV2CE is the 2nd Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version, so as a Catholic it would seem I can accept either.
Curtis Mitch and Scott Hahn bring up a great point, however, on the symbolism of 70 in their Study Bible, which uses the RSV2CE translation of the New Testament:
“Jesus patterns his missionary effort on Moses, who commissioned 70 elders to be prophets in Israel (Num 11:24-25). The 71 members of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin, had already modeled itself after this leadership structure of Moses and the 70 elders. At another level, this number alludes to Gen 10, which describes the origin of the 70 nations of the ancient world, not including Israel. The ministry of the 70 disciples thus anticipates the Church’s mission to the nations (Luke 24:47).”—Dr. Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament
Why did Jesus Instruct Them Not to Greet Others?
Christ sent the disciples out ahead of him, so time was of the essence. Dr. Hahn and Mr. Mitch provide good insight here as well:
“The urgency of the mission allows for no distractions or delays, especially since customary greetings could be quite elaborate. Elisha gave similar instructions when sending his servant on a pressing mission (2 Kings 4:29).”—Dr. Scott Hahn & Curtis Mitch, The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament
For the sake of not overloading the photo with words, I had to distill the message. To provide full context, all the verses are below, and I boldfaced what is included in the wallpaper:
Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: “In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We cause no one to stumble in anything, in order that no fault may be found with our ministry; on the contrary, in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in a holy spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left; through glory and dishonor, insult and praise. We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful; as unrecognized and yet acknowledged; as dying and behold we live; as chastised and yet not put to death; as sorrowful yet always rejoicing; as poor yet enriching many; as having nothing and yet possessing all things.—2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (NABRE)
Being a Missionary Today
Being a missionary of Christ is similar, in ways, from when the 70 (or 72) were sent out by Christ while he walked on this earth, and when Paul was active years later and penned these words, and onwards throughout the next couple thousand years through today.
We don’t have to venture far today to be a missionary of Christ, and not just due to the greater numbers of people alive today and their proximity to one another, but because of technology.
Being a missionary can also just be done in little moments we have interacting with people in our daily life, whether it’s in conversations with family, friends at school, colleagues at work, or employees in the places we shop.
I try to be mindful of the words I use too. For example, I don’t believe in luck; I believe in God’s grace, in his passive and active will, that he can teach me through suffering, and in the power of prayer, so I try to avoid saying, “Good luck” or that I am “lucky.” This doesn’t mean I get bothered when others say it to me, as it’s certainly rooted in good intention and they are hoping the best for me when they say it. But I can control what I say, and so saying “I’ll pray for you” or “I hope it goes well” or that I am “blessed” is much more congruent with what I believe.
Being a missionary disciple, and outspoken about my faith, was something I was initially timid about. However, the closer I approach God, the more he swaddles me up with grace and love and courage, and the less I wind up caring about being made fun of or ridiculed by others for my faith. It’s even gone beyond that: I am becoming more and more grateful for being challenged, insulted, and ridiculed, because the adversity helps to identify my weak spots, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Reflecting on these and praying is what prepares me for future encounters, and this cycle of growth makes me ever more confident in sharing the Good News.