Jesus does three things wherever he goes. He preaches and persuades people of the truth. He casts out demons thereby liberating souls from what enslaves them. Then he heals the sick — mending bodies and communities.
In chapter nine of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus sends our his apostles (professional clergy) to do as he did. Perhaps we say, “That’s right, the clergy, that’s their job. They communicate. They do all of those great things. We pay them to do that. It’s not my job.”
If we only had chapter nine and not chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel, then you might be able to say that. But in chapter 10 Jesus gets 72 together. Not just the 12 Apostles, but also 72, the number in the Old Testament that means all the known nations. That means everyone, sent everywhere — kids, teens, moms, dads, grandpa and grandma are sent out.
To do what? Pope Francis published his first encyclical, called “The Light of Faith.” In it he said very powerfully, “Those who have opened their hearts to God’s love, heard his voice and received his light, cannot keep this gift to themselves … The Word, once accepted, becomes a response, a confession of faith, which spreads to others and invites them to believe … The light of Christ shines, as in a mirror, upon the face of Christians; as it spreads, it comes down to us, so that we too can share in that vision and reflect that light to others, in the same way that, in the Easter liturgy, the light of the paschal candle lights countless other candles. Faith is passed on … from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another … It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.”
The 72 is you. We are part of that beautiful chain of witnesses, binding us all the way back to Christ and the first 72 he sent forth. Whether others become part of that chain depends on whether we do our part like those before us.
Discipleship is a strange word. Think student. I am a student of Jesus. I am a disciple of Jesus, therefore I am a learner. And so are you. You never stop learning. Never. A student listens and learns and is willing to follow the teacher and do what he asks.
Notice three practical things about a disciple. First, discipleship is not an option. Jesus says that if anyone would come after me, he must follow me. There are not two kinds of Christians — regular Christians and disciples. To be a Christian is to be a disciple.
Secondly, discipleship is a journey. Luke notes that Jesus sets out on a journey toward Jerusalem — a journey of discipleship: “He sets his face to go to Jerusalem.” From that moment he begins his journey toward the cross and begins teaching about discipleship.
On the one hand, there is a decisiveness. You have to leave. Have you left? To go on the journey means saying, “I give up my right to self-determination. I will obey you no matter the cost. Period. I drop my conditions. They’re gone!” Not until you say that, have you begun the journey.
However, after a decisive beginning, the fact remains that discipleship is a journey. It’s a process that takes time. You’re not going to have it all together. It’s very important to keep that in mind, because if you think discipleship is the way of perfection, forget it — you’re missing the point. A disciple says, “I am not the person I want to be but, thank God, I am not the person I used to be.”
The third sign of true disciples is gentleness. Recall when Jesus’ disciples encountered people who rejected Jesus. They wanted to bring fire down on them. How did Jesus respond to the disciples’ misplaced loyalty to him? Did he tell them to “just shut up” because they didn’t get it? No, and here’s why. Committed disciples are harder on themselves than on other people too. They are able to say, “I have been there. We aren’t any different. Let me come alongside and share your pain, suffering hard times. We can work this out.”
Jesus is our merciful savior. The harder you are on yourself, the easier you are on other people. Jesus is saying that his true disciples are not terrorists or moralists who look down on others for not being as good or committed as them. True disciples don’t call fire down from heaven.
Jesus pushes his disciples to transformation and to a greater understanding of his mercy. You are students of Jesus. Are you becoming gentler? More merciful? More gracious with people around you? More kind? Follow Jesus. He’ll give you what you need. He’s a wonderful counselor. Follow him, and he will give you exactly what you need. Christ is the one with the gentle and humble heart. He will love you singularly. He will love the real you. He will love you into a whole new identity.
In Ephesians 2:10 Saint Paul says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” We should be aware that God has very specific plans for us. As you go out to preach and heal, there are people with needs that only you can meet. Only you. The 72 is you!
The writer has served as pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia. He is currently stationed in Alaska.