by Father Mike Stubbs
When traveling abroad, it is always good to be able to greet people according to local custom, even if it is not possible to master the entire language.
It is easy to learn a few words, whether it is “bonjour,” “ciao,” “guten tag,” “buenos días.” It makes a big difference on how people receive you.
When Jesus sends the 72 disciples off on a mission to evangelize in Sunday’s Gospel reading — Lk 10:1-12, 17-20 — he instructs them very specifically on how to greet the people they encounter. He advises a greeting which to our ears carries a great deal of theological baggage: “Peace to this household.” It echoes the greeting of the risen Christ on Easter. It reminds us of the sign of peace which we exchange at Mass.
To be sure, the word “peace” continues as the standard greeting in the Mideast, in an area of the world too often lacking in that precious item. “Peace” means more than merely the absence of conflict. It includes well-being, the fullness of life. It dovetails neatly with the message that the disciples wish to bring to each household that they visit. The peace that they offer is the peace of God, which comes from believing the words of Christ.
It may appear strange that, while the Gospel reading provides detailed instructions on how the disciples should greet the households they enter, it warns them, on the other hand, against greeting people on the road: “Greet no one along the way.”
At first glance, this may look like a contradiction, or even a lapse into unfriendliness. The route that the disciples are traveling will take them through Samaria — hostile territory. That in itself could explain this caution. Another explanation suggests that unnecessary chitchat along the way would delay the disciples on the journey. The prohibition against stopping to greet people on the way reflects the urgency of their mission.
The disciples can expect room and board from those whom they visit: “Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you.” At the same time, the hospitality given to the disciples means more than merely fulfilling the requirements of etiquette.
The hospitality shown to the disciples also reflects how their message has been accepted. As the town receives the disciples, in the same manner it receives the Gospel. And if the town rejects the disciples, it also rejects the Gospel. When that happens, the disciples are to shake the dust off their feet as they leave the town.
In either case, though, the disciples are still to proclaim the coming of the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is at hand.” Spreading the Gospel is para- mount.
Peace be with you.
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