Column: Disciples commissioned to go prepare the nations

by Father Mike Stubbs

“Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals.” In other words, travel light.

When Jesus gives these instructions to his disciples in Sunday’s Gospel reading — Lk 10:1-12, 17-20 — it sounds as though he doesn’t want anything to slow them down. He doesn’t even want them to chat to others as they travel to those places where he will eventually visit: “Greet no one along the way.”

Jesus is sending out 72 disciples on this urgent mission in pairs. (There is some ambiguity about the exact number. Some ancient texts read 72, others read 70. Scholars are evenly divided on this point, but it ultimately does not appear to make any difference on the interpretation of the passage.)

That makes a total of 36 teams. If every team of two disciples were to visit only one town or village, that would still mean a minimum of 36 places that Jesus would be planning to visit. Of course, if a team were to visit more than one place, that would only increase the total number. Evidently, Jesus intends to visit a lot of places. In fact, one could argue that he intends to visit the whole world.

That view finds support in the possible symbolic value of the number of disciples sent out. According to Jewish tradition, the number of Gentile nations in the world totaled 70 (or 72). This number is based on the list of names in Chapter 10 of the Book of Genesis. (Once again, some ancient texts supply 70 names, other texts supply 72 names.)

If the number of disciples Jesus sends out points to the Gentile nations, it suggests that Jesus is enlarging the scope of his mission to include the entire world. That would correlate to the large number of places that Jesus would be planning to visit, already mentioned as 36 at the very minimum.

This means that Jesus intends to visit the entire world — not personally, but through his disciples. Through them, Jesus will visit everyone, to bring them healing and the good news about the kingdom of God.

Just as Moses in the Old Testament relied on the 72 (or 70) elders to help him care for the people of Israel (Ex 24; Nm 11), so also Jesus will share with these disciples the responsibility of carrying out his mission. As Jesus’ co-workers, they will bring Jesus’ presence to the whole world.

Only one question remains: Are we included in that group of 72 (or 70) disciples?

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