One of the great obstacles to effectively evangelizing is that most Christians lack the requisite freedom and simplicity of life to carry forth the task consistently and coherently. In today’s Gospel the Lord offers some counsel on what is required to effectively evangelize.
As we read a gospel like this, it is tempting to think it speaks only of specialists such as missionaries, religious, priests or deacons, or others with specialized calls. But such a presumption forgets that everyone is called to evangelize: clergy to people, parents to children, elders to youngsters, sibling to sibling, friend to friend, neighbor to neighbor.
Thus this gospel is for all of us, and it summons us to a greater freedom that will equip, empower and enable us to more effectively evangelize. Let’s look at the Lord’s counsels:
I. The Freedom of SUMMONS - The text says Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
It may not seem immediately obvious how a summons is freeing, but consider that, to the degree that we know we are called to do something by someone in authority, we are often more courageous and diligent in doing it, even if it is hard. A commanding officer may have to ask the troops under him to engage in a difficult battle, but to the degree that he knows his own commanders have ordered it and that it is part of a wider strategy, he goes to his troops and rallies the troops. He speaks not only with his own authority but that of others, and thus he is courageous and his words have weight. And even if his troops protest or seem unenthusiastic, he remains strong because he knows his duty and is doing what is right.
Yes, being under a summons is freeing and empowering. And so for us, if we know that the Lord has summoned and sent us to evangelize, and he surely has (cf Matt 28:19) we can go forth with courage to muster and rally God’s people and summon them to the Lord’s team. And even when people react poorly we need not be discouraged, for we know we are under orders of God himself and that what we speak is right.
As a priest I am often called to speak on topics that some do not want to hear. And yet, to the degree that I know I have called to speak it, I do so with courage, knowing that, when the Lord and his Church bid me to address it I speak not only with my own authority but that of God. Some may grumble that they don’t want to hear me speak of money, or abortion, or religious liberty, or homosexual sin or heterosexual sin…. Yet to the degree that I know I AM called to speak on these things I still do them and do them with courage. Yes, I am summoned: I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! …for God has given me this sacred trust. (1 Cor 9:17).
Do you know you have been summoned? Have you experienced this call? Do you see it as a mandate, as something you have been summoned to do? Priests and deacons need to recognize our call to preach the Word of God unambiguously. We are under orders from the Lord. As Scripture says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. (2 Tim 4:1-2) But honestly, can any of you who are parents and grandparents not see that you are called to the same for your children? And who of us here can say any but perhaps the youngest are exempt from the summons to preach, to declare the word of God.
Knowing and experiencing that you have been summoned is freeing!
II. The Freedom of SIMPLICITY - The text says: He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
One the most fundamental reason that people do not evangelize is that we have way too much baggage. What kind of baggage? Consider that our lives are:
1. CLUTTERED – Too much stuff. And stuff needs attention, maintenance, money, it takes up space and ties us down. We also have the baggage and clutter of too many commitments. We’re over scheduled, over booked, and have many wrongful priorities where we spend too much time worrying about things that don’t matter all that much in the end. And what does matter gets put on hold. Reading Bible stories to your kids?? No time for that we’ve got to get to soccer practice! Yes, our lives are cluttered with the excess baggage of too many distractions. And what is a “dis-traction?” It is something that gets you off track and makes you loose traction in what really matters.
2. COMPLEX – Most of our lives are so cluttered and choked with excess baggage we don’t even know where to begin to simply it. We don’t know how to break the cycle, how to say no, So we end up carrying all this baggage, all this stuff and are quite enslaved to its demands.
3. COMPROMISED – and all this extra baggage weighs us down and entangles us with the world. Thus, our values are not the values of the gospel. Instead, we are tied down to the world, loyal to it, and invested in its thinking and ways.
We need to be free to preach the Gospel and evangelize. So the Lord says, simplify! Too much obsession with money, food, clothes and boxes of stuff, popularity, and fitting in, will hinder you.
Think of a runner in a race. He does one thing and carries nothing extra that would weigh him down. Travelers too do not take their whole house with them, only what is necessary. And, in terms of this world, we are just traveling through.
Most of just have too much stuff, and because of this we are tied to this world lack the kind of freedom necessary to prophetically witness to what is beyond this passing world. Ask the Lord to help you gently but persistently simplify your life so that it increasingly becomes about the one thing necessary.
III. The Freedom of STABILITY – The text says, He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Stability is the freedom to accept what is and work with it rather than to be constantly looking for something better. It is the freedom to bloom where you are planted and use what God actually gives, rather than to wait for something better.
There’s a real freedom to staying put and developing the deeper relationships that are usually necessary for evangelization to be effective and lasting.
One of the bigger problems with handing on the faith today is that there is very little stability in families, communities, and parishes. When things and people are passing and ephemeral, how can values rooted in lasting things be inculcated?
Preaching the gospel often depends on deep, well founded relationships, patience, perseverance, and taking the long view of life. Running here and there and living life only on the surface will not cut it. Shallow soil does not sustain taller growth. Only deep roots can do that.
Ask for the freedom to stay put and to be less anxious about the possibility that there may be a better job, a better community, a better deal out there somewhere. There is a value in being grateful for what you have and working with that, setting down deep roots and lasting relationship. This is the deeper and richer soil where evangelization can happen.
IV. The Freedom of SURETY - The text says – Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.
Here is one of the greatest freedoms of all, the gift to be free of our obsession with being liked, approved and popular. Too often we are overly concerned with being popular. We care too much about what others think, at the expense of the truth of the gospel.
In effect Jesus implies here that rejection will surely happen and when it does, shake it off, let it pass over you. Speak the truth and don’t worry about rejection. Expect it! This is a very great freedom.
Too many parents are too desperate to have their children like them and accept them. They avoid the difficult teachings and discipline. It is necessary to be free of this “need” and the Lord can give that to you.
It is true that we are not speaking here of becoming sociopaths caring not one wit what others think. This is not an invitation to be rude or impolite, or to fail to groom ourselves and be presentable. Rather it is an invitation to be free of our obsession with popularity so that we can shake off the rejection of the gospel we will inevitably experience. And again, the Lord can give that to us.
V. The Freedom of SUBSTANCE – The text says - So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
There is a freedom in knowing what to say and what to do. And this freedom flows from the first one about, that of SUMMONS. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Crucified and this is freeing, for we cannot be compelled to change or adapt the message that has already been set for us. There is a freedom in sticking to the message proclaimed once and for all. The world demands compromise, and that certain passages of scripture be modified. But we, who in no way can do this, are free of such compulsion.
Only those who are enslaved to the times and mentality of this world can be so compelled. But to the degree that we know we are summoned, sent and given the substance of what to preach, we are free to announce, and free from coercion to compromise.
And substance was “repentance.” As we have noted before, the Greek word here: μετανοῶσιν (metanoosin) means more than simply to clean up ones behavior. It means, most literally “to come to a new mind,” or “to change your thinking.” Hence the evangelizer seeks to appeal to the whole person. It is not only important how a person behaves, it is also important how they think, and what is taking place in the deepest part of their soul.
Therefore the Lord seeks to heal the whole person from the inside out. Thus the Apostles and those of us free enough to be true evangelizes are not merely seeking to inform but to transform.
And note how the text describes them as driving out demons and curing the sick. Is this merely some exotic ability of the early apostles? No. We too, by this proclamation, drive out the demons of sadness, meaninglessness, ignorance, misplaced priorities, atheism, agnosticism, worldliness, materialism and so forth. We also bring healing and peace for those accept the power of the word of God in to their life. These healings are very real. I know them in my own life and have seen them in others.
Are you free enough to evangelize, to preach the gospel, to bring healing and peace to others? Are you free enough to be a means of God’s transformative Word?