The Spirit of the Seventy
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
July 4, 2016


14th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C 
(Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20)
06/07 July 2013 – Blessed John XXIII Parish 

The gospel of Luke is sometimes called “the gospel of the Holy Spirit,” and the Holy Spirit is definitely present in today’s gospel passage.  We celebrate how Jesus commissioned a group of disciples to be his “advance team” to the villages he planned to visit.  Some translations say that Jesus commissioned seventy disciples; others say seventy-two.  I think it was seventy, because of an event that happened at Mt. Sinai in a book of the Bible called, ironically, Numbers:

“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel… and bring them to the tent of meeting. When they are in place beside you, I will come down and speak with you there. I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself.’” (11:16-17)

Perhaps the seventy Christian disciples received a share of Jesus’ Spirit just as the seventy elders received a share of Moses’ spirit.  How graced we are!  How filled we are with the Holy Spirit!

In last week’s gospel passage, Jesus was rejected by the people of a Samaritan town.  Samaritans and Jews hated each other fiercely.  Each group claimed that they were the true descendants of the ancient Israelite people.  What would happen to the Jewish disciples whom Jesus was sending into other Samaritan towns?  The people first hearing Luke’s gospel would have been even more alarmed.  In the year 52 AD, a group of Jewish pilgrims traveling through Samaria were ruthlessly murdered.  

Who were these seventy disciples commissioned by Jesus?  Did they have special gifts or skills?  No.  Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles that approximately one hundred twenty people were traveling with Jesus, so the seventy were probably around two-thirds of the people going with Jesus to Jerusalem.

Sometimes, it’s scary to be a Christian disciple. While many of our other Christian brothers and sisters here in Tennessee are open-minded, others expect us to worship God in a certain way and to believe certain things.  In some ways, our contentions with them are over issues similar to the conflicts between the Jews and the Samaritans.  I celebrated Mass earlier this weekend with the guys in prison. For them especially, I guess that there’s a lot of pressure to be tough, macho, and independent … three qualities that go against the Christian virtues of being gentle, humble, and concerned for others.  Has the Holy Spirit given those guys in prison – and all of us — the ability, the strength, and the courage to be lambs among the wolves? 

Yes.  The Holy Spirit has given us the necessary gifts.  All of us here know a lot more about Christian discipleship than the seventy people commissioned by Jesus.  The seventy had only recently met Jesus, they had no exposure to The Catechism of the Catholic Church (because it hadn’t been written yet), and they didn’t know how the story would end.  Unlike the seventy, we know that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.  We’ve all heard the gospel.  We know that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead and he will serve as judge on the last day.  

There’s a popular retreat movement that started in Spain called Cursillo.  It’s used throughout the world, with adaptations.  Our students put together a Cursillo-style retreat twice a year called “Awakening.”  Other retreats based on Cursillo are called “Search,” “Cornerstone,” and “Cum Cristo.”

The great thing about Cursillo-style retreats is that they encourage every person to envision themselves as one of the seventy disciples commissioned by Jesus.  Each person goes through the retreat with a group of five to seven people.  Throughout the weekend, participants share their stories of faith with other members of their group.  Four years ago, my friend Jim was leading a retreat called “Kairos” at a prison in central Ohio.  In the middle of the retreat, an Anglo prisoner in his fifties, named Vernon, came to realize how much he needed the support of his fellow inmates.  He suddenly stood up and approached another member of the group, a much larger, African-American man named Heywood, and said, “I have to know Heywood.”  Amazingly, Heywood stood up, with tears in his eyes, and gave Vernon a hug.  Not a typical interaction in prison!  

The seventy disciples were not expected to travel alone.  They were to go to the villages in pairs, so that they had the support of one another.  But that wasn’t much when facing a possibly hostile Samaritan village, with no money bag, no sack, and no sandals.  Jesus simply told them to greet the people in peace.

Not everything went well for Vernon on that day of the retreat.  When he returned to his bunk that night, he found his property strewn all over his cell.  Someone had stolen the matches used to light the candles on the retreat, and the guards were searching everyone’s cells for the matches.  Whoever had them would spend time in the “hole.”  The guards decided to move Vernon to another cell.  Vernon was upset.  How could they move him from the people in the prison he knew best?

Vernon’s anger turned to rejoicing when he arrived at his new cell, to discover that his new roommate was… Heywood!  Just as the seventy disciples succeeded in their mission beyond their wildest dreams, Vernon saw the face of Jesus Christ that day in prison, in the face of his fellow inmate, Heywood.

God is not in some remote heaven.  Jesus Christ is right here with us in our gathering together, in the Scriptures we hear proclaimed, and in the Eucharist.  And just as God shared Moses’ spirit with the seventy elders, we have a share in Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit.