‘The Lord appointed seventy-two others.’ That’s roughly three times the number of people gathered in this church this morning. Who were those ‘seventy-two others’? What were their names? We don’t know. We do know though that they were other than the twelve Apostles, the closest confidants of Jesus, who would later be given responsibility for the church. Those ‘seventy-two others’ were ‘ordinary’ followers of Jesus.
What were they appointed to? ‘The Lord […] sent them out ahead of him, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit.’ Their appointment wasn’t made to tickle their ambitions or to flatter their egos. They were chosen to be trailblazers for Jesus, to be his heralds. It was an easy job, wasn’t it? Going to places and talking to random people about Jesus – easy-peasy, right? If you think so, recall those moments when you have been talking to strangers about Jesus… Have you?
I’m quite sure that our predominant experience is that we rarely talk about our faith to strangers. To proclaim Jesus as the Saviour of the world is essentially out of the question. We’d better leave that to ‘professionals’ – bishops, priests, deacons, nuns and trained catechists. If you think so, I’m sorry to say that: you’re wrong. At the very moment you received the Sacrament of Confirmation ‘the Lord appointed you and sent you out ahead of him, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit.’ You are one of those ‘appointed seventy-two others’; you are the one Jesus sends ahead of him; you are Jesus’ trailblazer. If this statement has made you feel uneasy or uncomfortable, rest assured it’s normal to feel that way. Because it’s not easy to talk about Jesus. Dare I say, it’s harder to do it in our contemporary world than it was two thousand years ago, when Jesus warned the seventy-two: ‘I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.’ Being on the receiving end of mocking or angry reactions can be quite discouraging, particularly when it comes from those close to us: our spouses, grown-up children, siblings or friends. Seemingly keeping your mouth shut is the only way to peaceful coexistence…
I think there are two main problems that stop us from proclaiming Jesus. The first one is how to talk and what to say; the second problem is that talking rarely seems to be effective in a positive way. It’s time to deal with those two obstacles. Firstly, when you closely look at the instructions given by Jesus to the ‘seventy-two others’, there’s precious little on what to say and how to talk. In fact, there are literally two messages they were to pass on: ‘Peace to this house’ and ‘the Kingdom of God is very near to you.’ The main bulk of Jesus’ instruction is about their attitude and behaviour. Their demeanour was to do the talking. Any words uttered were to complement their attitudes. If their bearing was poor, their words would work against them.
Secondly, when we do talk about religious stuff, we tend to refer either to the Christian moral code or to practising the religion, i.e. going to church. Well, both – the moral code and practising the faith – are not the departure point of the journey, but they are the means of travel. The departure point is meeting Jesus in a very personal way. Occasionally it can come out of the blue, as it happened to St Paul on his way to Damascus. But far more often it comes through other people. St Andrew – the patron saint of Scotland – followed Jesus pointed out to him by St John the Baptist. Then he brought to Jesus his brother Simon, whom we know as Peter. It’s a chain reaction, when people share their experience with others. There’s one crucial condition – I have to have this kind of personal relationship with Jesus to share it with others. If my faith has stagnated and got into a bit of a rut, it’s hard to be a witness. Our faith needs refreshment, renewal and growth. Fortunately, we will have a great opportunity to do so, starting in September, when an 8-week Bible study program will take place at St Joseph’s. You can find more details in the newsletter and particularly on the parish website. Those words of Jesus remain valid: ‘The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few.’ You are invited to spend some quality time with Jesus, to so become one of those labourers for the sake of the Kingdom of God.