There has been in the past decades a tendency to try and couch evangelization efforts in pleasantries and to use glossy paged flyers showing smiling members “looking normal” and happy in a worldly sort of way. Of itself this is not wrong. Sour faced saints are a disgrace (literally “dis” = contrary to + “grace”). But the joy of the saints is not obtained on worldly terms. And thus we risk trying to appeal to the world by becoming the world and adopting its ways and thoughts, which is a huge disgrace (literally).
In the Gospel of Luke, which we are reading at daily Mass, there is a familiar story the Lord sending forth 72 disciples (read it here: Luke 10). He sent them to prepare the towns and villages that he intended to visit, they were like heralds who went before him to prepare his way. We sometimes get the notion that the Lord just ambled about, going from town to town in a random sort of way. But that is not what the Gospel says, he was quite intentional and followed the plan. He knew where he was going, and sent others to prepare each town he intended to visit.
But is what is most remarkable about the sending texts like these is the urgency and sobriety that is built into them. In this they act as a kind of remedy for our modern tendency to be soft and go too far in meeting the world on its terms. There is, to be sure, a need to meet people personally and walk with them in respect, with patience and kindness. But when it comes to “the world” (understood as the array of powers, philosophies and priorities at odds with God’s Kingdom) there must be a firm and clear delineation.
There are three keywords that help us to understand the sort of urgency and clarity that the Lord announces: Sobriety, Simplicity, and the Sword.
I. As regards Sobriety – The Lord speaks to the hostility that any evangelizer will inevitably encounter teaching: Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves (Lk 10:3). For we live in a world that is hostile to the things of God. In our own times secularism is not just pervasive, it is becoming increasingly militant, and we can expect even greater hostility to our proclamation of the faith in the years to come.
Whatever strategies we develop in engaging the world, the compromise of the faith cannot be one of them. Observe, that a wolf has no plans to compromise with the lamb. For the Lamb to stand a chance, the wolf must be changed. And thus, as we go forth we cannot engage the wolf on its own terms. We must hold up to the wolf its need to be transformed and converted by the Lamb of God.
Too many Christians have thought the compromise with the world, a kind of serving of two masters, is the way to go. But the Lord says elsewhere that serving two masters is not possible. One will be favored, one will win the day. When the sheep compromises with the wolf, the sheep ends up dead. Thus, the wolf must be changed or the sheep will be dinner.
Hence, in our stance with the world we cannot simply seek a via media. We must be willing to announce the kingdom of God, which is clearly contrasted with the kingdom of this world as light is contrasted with darkness.
And we ought to do this with serene confidence, for Scripture says the Light has already won: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it (Jn 1:5). Yet, as Jesus notes elsewhere though darkness is already conquered, many prefer the darkness because their deeds are wicked (cf Jn 3:19).
Hence, our task is urgent, and we must be sober that as we go forth, the conversion of hearts, is not an easy task.
II. Regarding Simplicity – the Lord therefore counsels us that we shed anything which gets in the way of fulfilling our task as disciples and evangelizers: Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road (Luke 10:4). And thus if anything or anyone can prevent us from this task, it has too much power, it has to go.
In effect, the Lord counsels us to travel light. Too many attachments to this world hinder our freedom to live and preach the kingdom. The command he gives the disciples to leave behind purses, bags and money is a solemn reminder to us that our wealth and possessions get in the way, they hinder us from radical dedication to making disciples. Whatever gets in the way has to go.
When the Lord tells them, “greet no one” along the way, He is not calling us to be unkind, but rather, reminding us that no human interaction or relationship should take priority over the mission that he is given us.
For too many Christians, other human beings have more authority and power in life than does the Lord. This must end. Obsession with popularity and intrigue about what famous and glamorous people think, must give way to the Lord’s teaching and the Lord himself. If necessary, we must be willing to be declared a fool for Christ sake.
The simplicity to be embraced here is that we serve one Lord and Master, not 10,000 human beings. The simplicity is that we fear the Lord, and thereby fear no one else.
Another aspect of simplicity of the Lord says for this that we find one place and stay there: When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. (Luke 10:5-7)
In other words, our job is to do what the Lord told us, and not 100 other things besides. He sent the 72 to particular towns, not all over God’s green acre. They were to go there, get there, and stay there, doing what he said. Too many Christians have not learned to listen and discern with the Lord, the town to which he sent them, and what “house” what he expects them to dwell in.
Thus, an important aspect of simplicity in our lives is to find out what the Lord has told us to do, based on our gifts and state in life. And having discovered our task, to do that in preference to anything else. We need to find out where home is and stay there. We need to find our part in the vineyard and work it, and as we work it, we ought not wonder what the next vineyard over might be like. Simplicity: Go there, get there, and stay there, doing what he said.
And what are we to do? Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Lk 10:9). That is, we are to announce the Kingdom of God, proclaiming its truth, and thereby bring healing. Everything we do is to be focused on this. But again, too often we get sidetracked into secondary things, or even worse, worldly things.
Keep it simple: we are to be healing heralds, drawing people to Jesus and the truth of his Kingdom.
III. As regards the sword – The Lord says, when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (Lk 10:10-12)
We are reminded in a text like this that regarding Jesus, Simeon said, This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted. (Lk 2:34). And hence the Lord says elsewhere, that he has come to bring the sword (Mt 10:32), that he will divide out the sheep from the goats (Matt 25:31ff), and that those who believe are saved, and those who do not believed are condemned (Jn 3:18).
In this particular gospel, the Lord warns that for those who reject the proclamation of the Gospel, it will be better for the citizens of Sodom, than for them on the day of judgment.
We don’t like to think this way today. We prefer to think that everything is basically nice, everyone means well, and that everything will turn out just fine. These pleasant thoughts are indeed pleasant, but that does not mean they are real or realistic.
Jesus, who loves us wants to save us, and even died to save us, is far more sober, and He warns of judgment and Hell, and sadly observes that many are on a wide road leading to destruction.
None of this is meant to depress us, rather it is to motivate us with a sense of the urgency of evangelizing. We have largely lost this urgency today with drunken notions of universal salvation. Perdition is a very deep mystery in the light of God’s love, but it is taught. Surely it is also caught up in the mystery of human freedom and the sad tendency of our hearts to be rebellious and obtuse.
But note this, the Lord is clear, it’s decision time. The gospel is going forth, and everyone will be judged by it. It is like a sharp sword that judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (cf Heb 4:12). People either choose the Kingdom, or not. This is the dividing line, this is the sword that divides, separating the sheep from the goats.
All the more reason for us to be urgent and evangelize, first our own heart, and then the hearts of others. And thus the Lord, in this very familiar Gospel, councils and commands that we be sober, simple, and remember the sword that will inevitably divide the sheep from the goats. Choose sides.