Saturday, July 7, 2007

Waiting for the Big Guns

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 8, 2007:

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”

A preacher was speaking one night at an open-air evangelical crusade. The famed preacher, Billy Graham was set to speak the next night. Graham arrived a day early and came unannounced and sat on the grass with the rest of the crowd. In front of him sat an elderly gentleman who seemed to be listening attentively to the preaching. When the call came for people to come forward and make a commitment to the Lord, the gentleman did not move. Dr Graham tapped the man on the shoulder and asked, “Would you like to accept Christ today? I’ll be glad to walk down with you if you want to.” The old man looked him up and down unimpressed, shook his head and said, “No, I think I’ll just wait till the big guns show up tomorrow night.” In the thinking of this man and in the thinking of many people, winning souls for Christ is something that should be reserved for the “big guns.” Today’s gospel story, however, shows us that mission of winning souls is for everyone, big guns and little shots alike, clergy and religious, along with all the baptized.

There is a temptation with this passage from Luke’s Gospel to use it to preach on the call to priestly or religious vocations. But, this passage actually has more to do with the call to those who are not ordained than to clergy.

You see, Luke’s Gospel has two stories of Jesus sending out His followers to go and spread the Good News. In chapter 9, Jesus sends the 12 apostles and in chapter 10 which we heard today, He sends 72 disciples. Scholars believe that the sending out of the 72 is Luke’s way of emphasizing the universal scope of the message of Christ. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that the mission of the 12 was limited to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” The mission of the 72 has no such limitation. You see there is a significance to these two numbers – 12 vs. 72. According to Jewish tradition there are 12 tribes of Israel and 72 nations of the earth. The sending of the 72 disciples, therefore, symbolizes the sending of the message of Christ to the whole world.

I invite you, today, to look at this story from a the perspective of those 72 bringing the message, from the perspective of the missionaries themselves. Our tradition usually identifies the 12 apostles with ordained ministry in the church – the ministry of bishops, priests and deacons. When at the Last Supper Jesus commissioned His followers to “do this in memory of me” He was addressing the 12, or the clergy so-to-speak. If this is so, then the 72 who are sent out on mission in today Gospel must be understood as lay people. Today’s gospel, then, is the commissioning of the mission of all lay people. This way we can read the two missions in the Gospel of Luke, the mission of the 12 and the mission of the 72, as the mission of the clergy and the mission of the laity together. By including these two accounts Luke is saying that mission of spreading the Gospel is not only for the clergy, the mission is not only for the “big guns,” the mission is for us all, ordained and non-ordained followers of Christ alike.

Jesus tells us today why it is so important that we all engage in this mission of spreading the Gospel together. Because, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.” This is as true today as it was in the days of Jesus. There is a greater need than ever for the world to hear, truly hear, the saving words of Jesus. So what role are the laity supposed to play in fulfilling this mission? Jesus tells us that the role of the laity is twofold. First He says, “ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest,” or in other words – pray for more laborers. Secondly He says, “Go on your way; behold, I am sending you,” or in other words, you too must be a laborer of the harvest, actively involved in spreading the Gospel.

Prayer and action. It’s not a question of doing either the one or the other. Rather, every Christian is called to participate in the spreading of the message of Christ through both a commitment to prayer and a commitment to action. We are all called to be people deeply rooted in prayer, unafraid of spreading and sharing our faith with others – whever we find them. You’ve probably heard before, “Pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.”

This is what the Church means when it speaks of the priesthood of all the faithful in addition to the priesthood of the ordained. Did you know that you, too, are a priest, or as St. Peter puts it, “you are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.’” And so, today is your ordination day. Today, you are ordained by God to be men and women of deep prayer; men and women of profound holy action in our world. It is the day to embrace your priesthood and the great call to prayer and action in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ.

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” So, pray as if everything depends on God, but act as if everything depends on you.

May God give you peace.

1 comment:

  1. I recall hearing that St Padre Pio used to get upset with people who would come up to him for communion when other priests were present and distributing communion. I'm also reminded that neither St Paul, or Moses, were "big guns" according to worldly estimates, since both were unimpressive in speech.