Jesus is warning us it is going to be difficult – that he is sending us out like lambs among wolves. Yet we are to bring nothing with us, not even a wallet or flip flops. We are to make no side trips along the way or greet bystanders on the way so as not to be distracted from our mission. When we enter a house, our message will be simply “peace.” The response we receive may be positive or negative. Either way, we are to know that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We are not to demand special treatment but eat and drink whatever is given to us. We are to stay in one house and are not look around for someone who can provide better accommodations. We are to ask a blessing for the sick as a sign that the Kingdom of God is at hand for them. If the locale will not receive us, we are to shake the dust from our feet and move on. Even in the case of such rejection we will know that the Kingdom of God is at hand.
In 2015, the world’s population was 7.2 billion. Of that number there were reportedly 1.2 billion Catholics in the world with over 40% of those in Latin America and the fastest conversion rate in Africa. Sounds like those early disciples clearly did not work in vain. Their “mustard seeds” grew from 12 into large branches, sprawling trees providing shelter for hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of souls living today – not counting all those who have gone before us. That invisible yeast worked its influence dramatically on the seemingly inert dough.
Among those who call themselves Christians, how many could be deemed active labors in God’s vineyard? The harvest is still great. There is still a large population which profess to be agnostic or atheist – who have not met or who deny the existence of God.
But a common perception of “laborers” is priests, or religious brothers and sisters, those who have a “vocation”. One hears people expressing regret that today there are so few “vocations”. What will the Church do? However, it is doubtful that Jesus was thinking of priests and religious when he spoke those words. In fact, in the world of the New Testament there were no priests or religious as we understand those terms today. In the mind of Jesus – and in the mind of the early evangelists – everyone who was known as a follower of Christ was expected to be a laborer in the harvest field.
How can one be a laborer? Jesus told us our task is to be bringers of peace. “Say first: Peace to this household.” In early June of this year, Pope Francis, in his introduction to priests’ on a 2-day retreat, spoke about the first steps in understanding and practicing mercy. He said: “If we start by feeling compassion for the poor and the outcast, surely we will come to realize that we ourselves stand in need of mercy.” I would suggest that the same principle applies to peace-making. If we start by providing a peaceful environment for our visitors and guests, surely they (and we) will come to realize how peace feels, how much we need it and how quickly it can spread among us. And, what better way spread peace than by modeling peaceful living by our demeanor and interactions with others – a quiet, contemplative atmosphere in the hallways, conscientiously using an agreeable, non-threatening tone of voice, and performing simple random acts of kindness for each other.
What Jesus recommends is not to weigh ourselves down with all kinds of baggage. Our security is not to be in material possessions, in what we have. It is not in our status and standing in the eyes of others. It is not in the power and influence that we can wield. Our security comes from deep within, a peaceful security that no one or no circumstance can take away from us.
I read a funny story the other day about competing. It seems there was a barber in a small town who had been the only barber in town for years. Everyone went to this barber to get their hair cut. Then, one day a big, modern name-brand hair salon came to town and opened up shop. They advertised, “All Haircuts $3.00” The old barber just couldn’t compete. In a last ditch effort to save his business, he hired a business consultant. The consultant spent a day pouring over the barber’s books and asking many questions. At the end of the day the barber asked the consultant, “So what do you think? Should I close up shop?” The consultant said, “Not yet. I’ll be back tomorrow.” The next day the consultant showed up with a huge banner that he hung in front of the barber shop that said, “We Fix $3.00 Haircuts!” The competition doesn’t always win, do they? We don’t need to compete – we just need to BE – be models of peace to each other, practice wise stewardship, believe in God’s goodness and mercy – and live it!