14th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
This Sunday’s gospel tells the story of the 72 disciples sent by Jesus on a mission to prepare the way. Christ sent them ahead to every town he planned to visit to proclaim, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Lk 10:9). Before Jesus sends them off to proclaim the good news of his coming, he tells them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few” (Lk 10:2).
Are you a laborer?
You may not be used to thinking of yourself as one of Christ’s laborers, but that is what we are called to be. It is easy for us to fall into the trap of being “consumer Catholics.” We show up at Mass on Sunday to receive Communion, say our “Amen,” and then go about our business. The priests and nuns are the ones called to labor in the vineyard, not the rest of us. That’s their job, not ours.
Even devout Catholics can fall into this trap. We may pray our rosary every day, read the Bible and go to confession, but if the faith is something we passively consume rather than actively work to increase, then we remain “consumer Catholics” rather than the co-workers that Christ calls us to be.
What they didn’t have
What do we know about the 72 disciples sent by Jesus on this mission? Not much. But we know what they were not. They were not the 12 Apostles. They were not the leaders of the Church. They were not given the keys to the kingdom. They did not possess the authority to bind and loose, forgive sins, or any other authority Christ gave to the first leaders of the Church.
They were sent on their mission before the Last Supper and the institution of the priesthood. This was well before Pentecost. All of the spiritual strength we receive from the sacraments of the Eucharist, Confession and Confirmation were not available to these disciples.
They didn’t have money, or a sack to carry anything that might be given to them. They didn’t even have sandals to make the journey easier on their feet! (Which reminds me of a priest I knew once who liked to wear sneakers: he would say, “Christ called me to labor in his vineyard but he didn’t say I had to do it in uncomfortable shoes.”)
The “consumer Catholic” attitude tells us that evangelization is the job of the clergy, monks and nuns, because they are the ones equipped for ministry. Certainly clergy and professed religious are called to minister in a special way in the life of the Church. But that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook!
The average Catholic may not feel equipped to labor in Christ’s vineyard, but if you’ve got a few coins to rub together and a sack to put them in, you’ve got more than these 72 disciples had. If you have shoes on your feet, you have more than they did. If you have the graces of the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation and if you receive Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, then you have far more than they did! So we cannot use the excuse that we don’t have what it takes to carry out the mission.
Perhaps what we lack is not education or training, but trust — not in our own ability but in the One who calls us to serve. One thing the 72 missionary disciples did have in abundance was trust in God, which is why they were willing to go out with so little provision. And that was enough to make even the demons subject to them (Lk 10:17).
What you can do
Does this mean we should all go out and become snake handlers because Jesus told them, “I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you” (Lk 10:19)? Not quite. Christ is alluding to Genesis and the first Messianic prophecy, that the offspring of the woman would tread the serpent under his heel (Gen 3:15).
That prophecy is fulfilled in Christ. He is the one who crushes the head of Satan, the serpent and the great deceiver. The mission of the 72 was to proclaim his coming. That is the mission of each and every Christian disciple still today.
The great commission to make disciples of all nations applies to all of us (Mt 28:19). To make someone a disciple is to make them a citizen of God’s Kingdom; that means we first have to proclaim his kingdom. People need to know about the kingdom of God in order to become a part of it. And the way they learn about it will not principally be by reading the Catechism or even reading the Bible. It will be by having an encounter with someone who is already a citizen of that kingdom.
The way we serve as laborers in Christ’s vineyard will depend upon our particular call and state of life. Some are called to the contemplative life to labor principally by prayer. Some are called to labor as clergy, bringing grace through the sacraments, working to teach, govern and sanctify the Church. Some are called to be missionaries, bringing the gospel to far-flung communities by means of charity and evangelistic zeal. Most of us will be called to share the gospel in our own families, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, by the example of our Christian life.
We are all laborers in the same vineyard. We all called to proclaim God’s kingdom. Our particular role in that work may be different, but the mission is the same. We are Christ’s laborers. The world is his vineyard in need of harvest. Let us arise each morning asking, “Lord, how do you wish me to serve in your vineyard today?”