When Jesus sends out the 72, in our Gospel today, he does so with the explicit intention that where they go, he himself will follow. The disciples are going to spread the news, not that Jesus is somewhere distant to be looked for, but that he is coming. The message is not “Let me tell you where to find Jesus”, but rather “He is coming!”
That is something to remember about our own discipleship. We make a mistake if we think that our job is to lead people to Jesus. Rather, we are called to be the forerunners, who prepare the way. Jesus will come, does come to all, whether they recognise him or not. Our call is to help others to see this coming and welcome it. And at the heart of this call is remembering that it is Good News. The coming of Jesus into any life is a cause of joy.
The first words Jesus tells the disciples to use are words of peace. Just as the prophet Isaiah foretells that the Lord will bring peace flowing like a river upon Jerusalem and all her children, so the message of the Gospel is of peace and joy coming through Christ. Peace which is not just an absence of war, but the foretaste of the fullness of joy which God desires to give to the whole world.
So the news that the Lord is coming is something we should have no qualms about sharing. It is the ultimate message of hope.
But St Paul reminds us in our second reading that we ourselves are not just the messengers of the coming of Christ, but also the beginning of its fulfilment. St Paul says that the marks on his body are those of Christ. He’s not interested he says in any human marks, any human declaration of worth. He knows the only thing of real importance is his share in the life of Christ, being a part of Christ’s body.
We are that body. When we go to others, it isn’t just as Jesus’s messengers, but as the beginning of his coming into their lives. It is a slightly solemn thought that our meeting with a person is also a part of Jesus’s meeting them. Fortunately it doesn’t depend on us. God’s grace is the true force at work. But we are called to co-operate with that grace, to remember that we are called to be the face of Christ to those we meet. If we had that thought before us more often, it might make a very significant difference to how we interact with our brothers and sisters each day!
But equally important is to realise that my brother or sister may be, like St Paul, the one bringing me the message of Christ’s peace coming into my life, if only I am ready to listen.
Fr Chris Denham