Jesus had a succession plan for his ministry in the world. He selected twelve apostles and 72 disciples representing the twelve tribes of Israel and their 72 elders. He trained them during his public ministry by sending them out in twos ahead of him to the villages and towns he intended to visit. Jesus asked the disciples to rely on the providential support of the community they served. He gave them power to perform miracles, especially healing the sick and casting out demons. That training helped them to continue Jesus’ mission in the Church after Pentecost. He warned them that they would face persecutions and rejection just the way he himself faced during his ministry.
Jesus Sends out the Seventy-Two
(Lk 10:1) After this the Lord appointed seventy-two other disciples and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place, where he himself was to go. (2) And he said to them, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. So you must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to his harvest. (3) Go! I am sending you like lambs among wolves. (4) Set off without purse or bag or sandals; and do not stop to greet anyone along the way. (5) Whatever house you enter, first bless them saying: ‘Peace to this house.’ (6) If a peaceful person lives there, the peace shall rest upon him. But if not, the blessing will return to you. (7) Stay in that house eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house. (8) When they welcome you in any town, eat what they offer you. (9) Heal the sick who are there and tell them: ‘The kingdom of God has drawn near to you.’ (10) But in any town where you are not welcome, go to the marketplace and proclaim: (11) ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off and leave with you. Yet know and be sure that the kingdom of God is near.’ (12) I tell you that on the judgement day it will be better for Sodom than for that town.
Jesus had selected twelve apostles representing the 12 tribes of Israel. They later became pillars of the Church that Jesus established on the day of Pentecost. He trained the 12 as his succession plan to continue his mission in his physical absence from the world. That was his strategy to substitute Israel, which had become worse, reaching beyond recovery point, because of the adamant approach of its dishonest leaders. During the apostles’ training period, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Lk 9:1-2).
Later, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Their reply was, “John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen’.” Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter replied, “The Messiah of God.” He asked them to keep it a secret (Lk 9:18-21). Then he predicted his passion, death, and resurrection (Lk 9:22) and the impediments that his disciples also should expect by following him (Lk 9:23-27). Jesus was transfigured on a mountain in the presence of Peter, John, and James (Lk 9:28-36). Jesus then continued his teaching on discipleship while he travelled en route Samaria to Jerusalem.
(Lk 10:1) After this the Lord appointed seventy-two other disciples and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place, where he himself was to go.
According to Luke, two events happened prior to the selection and sending of the 72 disciples ahead of Jesus to the towns and the villages. One was a Samaritan villagers’ rejection of Jesus when he sent messengers ahead of him for his reception there. They declined it because his destination was Jerusalem and the Samaritans were at enmity with the Jews. Hence, James and John requested permission from Jesus to call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritans. He rebuked the disciples and travelled to another village (Lk 9:51-56).
The next event was the response of Jesus to three people who showed an interest in following him. To the first one, he responded, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Thus, Jesus reminded him of the sacrifice he would face while following him. When Jesus invited another person to follow him, he asked permission to bury his father first. Jesus replied, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” The third person asked permission to say farewell to his family. The reply was, “No one who sets his hand to the plough and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:57-62). By these, Jesus warned the disciples of the sacrifice and loss in this world for following him. For him, preaching the gospel must have priority over family ties and responsibilities.
The Lord appointed seventy-two other disciples
Just as Jesus selected 12 apostles representing the 12 tribes of Israel, he also appointed 72 other disciples. Some manuscripts give the number seventy in the place of 72. The numerals 72 and 70 have much significance in the Old Testament.
While Noah’s descendants settled in Shinar, they built a city and a tower with its top in the sky to make a name for themselves and stay as one nation with one language (Gen 11:1-4). The LORD confused their language and scattered them over all the earth, forming multiple languages and nations (Gen 11:7-9). Genesis chapter 10 gives the list of 72 (70) races emerging from the three sons of Noah that filled the world. They are 15 from Japhet, 30 from Ham, and 27 from Shem, according to Septuagint, the Greek translation. Some manuscripts count 14 from Japhet, 30 from Ham and 26 from Shem, thus 70. Hence, the number 72 or 70 represents all races or nations in the world. “These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their origins and by their nations. From these the nations of the earth branched out after the flood” (Gen 10:32). God assigned angels to each nation. “When the Most High allotted each nation its heritage, when he separated out human beings, He set up the boundaries of the peoples after the number of the divine beings” (Deut 32:8). When Jesus appointed 72 (70) disciples, they represented the future spread of the gospel to all the nations on the earth.
Jacob and his descendants, who migrated to Egypt, were seventy. “Together with Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt–two persons–all the people comprising the household of Jacob who had come to Egypt amounted to seventy persons in all” (Gen 46:27). This implied that the chosen people of Israel represented the 70 nations scattered all over the world.
Moses, at the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, had appointed minor judges to help him in settling disputes. He said to Moses, “You should also look among all the people for capable and Godfearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and set them over the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let these render decisions for the people in all routine cases. Every important case they should refer to you, but every lesser case they can settle themselves. Lighten your burden by letting them bear it with you!” (Ex 18:21-22) Thus, Moses selected trustworthy representatives from the tribes to help him in the administration.
God acknowledged the representatives Moses selected to help him and gave them the spirit to share power with Moses – “Then the LORD said to Moses: Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be elders and authorities among the people, 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” (Num 11:16-17).
Besides Moses and Aaron, they were 72 elders. “Moses himself was told: Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, with Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You shall bow down at a distance. Moses alone is to come close to the LORD; the others shall not come close, and the people shall not come up with them” (Ex 24:1-2). “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. Gathering seventy elders of the people, he had them stand around the tent. The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied but did not continue. Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in the camp, yet the spirit came to rest on them also. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; and so they prophesied in the camp” (Num 11:24-26). Thus, God anointed seventy-two elders. Representing them, Jesus selected 72 disciples to help him during his public ministry. Keeping the same number was symbolic of making his association with Moses and the continuity of the elders of Israel in his New Israel, the Church.
The Sanhedrin which ruled Israel during the Second Temple era comprised 70 plus the president. They added another at times to keep them 72. The Jewish leaders fixed the number of members in the Sanhedrin on the assumption that they were the successors of the elders Moses had appointed.
When Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 BC) took the initiative to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek in Alexandria, he assigned with the support of the high priest Eleazar, 72 translators, six elders representing each tribe. The translation is known as Septuagint, which means 70 in Latin.
According to tradition, these seventy-two whom Jesus selected and trained became bishops or presbyters in various Churches. Luke, who documented this, was one among them.
sent them two by two
The disciples in training would get mutual support when they minister as a team of two. Jesus sent the apostles also two by two at the initial stage (Mk 6:7). They could mutually consult on the teachings of Jesus and complement one another in the preaching. In case of challenges or persecution, they could console and gain strength from one another. Like John the Baptist, these 72 disciples prepared the people to receive Jesus and his message.
There are other instances in the Bible when two people were sent out as a team for a mission. God assigned Moses and Aaron together to approach Pharaoh for Israel’s liberation. Though Moses was the leader, he was “slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4:10). So, God gave Aaron as a spokesperson for Moses (Ex 4:1416). John the Baptist sent two disciples to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Lk 7:1819) Jesus sent two disciples to get the donkey for his solemn entry into Jerusalem for the feast of Passover (Mt 221:1-2). After a few days, he sent Peter and John to prepare the Passover meal for him and the disciples (Lk 22:8).
Ahead of him to every town and place, where he himself was to go
When Jesus sent the 12 apostles during his public ministry, he restrained them from entering non-Jewish territory – “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). He did not impose that restriction on the 72 disciples. They could go to any territory where Jesus was planning to visit.
(2) And he said to them, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. So you must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to his harvest.”
The harvest is abundant
Jesus applied examples from the experience of ordinary people like farmers, shepherds, and fishermen to illustrate the difficult to understand or memorable truth about the kingdom of God. Here, Jesus uses the experience of farm owners when harvest time arrives.
Though Jesus faced objections from a few elite Jews, he did enjoy wide popularity. A huge number of people came to listen to him and to seek favours from him. When Jesus and the disciples were in a deserted place, people hastened there on foot from all towns. As Jesus “saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:32-34). Since people listened to him for hours, he miraculously fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish. They numbered 5,000 men.
On another occasion, people were immersed in listening to Jesus for extended hours, incurious of their necessities. He told his disciples, “My heart is moved with pity for the crowd, for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat” (Mt 15:32). He again multiplied food and fed them. “Those who ate were four thousand men, not counting women and children (Mt 15:38). So, Jesus and the disciples were convinced of the thirst of the people to listen to the Word of God.
The workers are few
When the harvest time arrives, the farm owners will desperately search for harvesters to do the job. Though the crops are plentiful, the shortage of reapers would lead to a wastage of crops.
After Jesus’ discussion with the Samaritan woman, possibly looking at the nearby villages, Jesus told his disciples, “I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest” (Jn 4:35). Out of pity for the enormous number of people whom the God-assigned leaders had abandoned, Jesus decided to save them by selecting dedicated labourers, training and assigning them to faithful service. They would replace the irresponsible and unfaithful leaders of Israel.
You must ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers to his harvest
John the Baptist and Jesus Christ had been preaching and baptizing people to prepare them for the Kingdom of God that the latter was about to establish on the day of Pentecost. They had sowed the seed for the harvest. A huge number of people were ready for it when the Church was set up for them. Jesus wanted his Father’s support to get enough pastors for the sheep that must be brought into his sheepfold from all the nations of the world.
Jesus did everything only in accord with his Father (Jn 5:19). The Father sent him as the “Sower” of the divine Word. He wanted more labourers to cultivate God’s field and to reap a rich harvest. That also was a motivation for his disciples to promote vocations for full time or part-time ministry of the Word of God.
(3) Go! I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
According to the popular belief and nature of animals, the wolf is cruel, cunning, and powerful, whereas the lamb is harmless, innocent, and vulnerable. A lamb is a baby sheep that cannot defend itself from wild animals. The disciples might encounter false prophets who are “in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). Paul, in his farewell speech at Miletus, warned Christians, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
Matthew gives more details of this teaching from Jesus, who assured the disciples, the divine support during their persecution. “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Mt 10:16-20).
By the time the Gospel was at a completion stage, the early Christian community faced persecution. The members also experienced divine providence and strength in suffering for the Church.
(4) Set off without purse or bag or sandals; and do not stop to greet anyone along the way.
Set off without purse or bag or sandals
The missionaries should not be concerned about material possessions and precautions. They have to start instantly trusting in God, who would provide everything they need through the very people whom they serve. When Jesus sent the twelve apostles, his instruction was, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staff, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic” (Lk 9:3). “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The labourer deserves his keep” (Mt 10:9-10).
At the Last Supper, Jesus asked the apostles, “‘When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?’ ‘No, nothing,’ they replied” (Lk 22:35). Thus, God’s providential care was with them during their ministry. However, at the Last Supper, Jesus changed his policy because of the long-distance journey and opposition stating, “But now one who has a money bag should take it, and likewise a sack, and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one” (Lk 22:36).
Do not stop to greet anyone along the way
As per oriental tradition, the salutation involved time-consuming embraces and other inclinations. Because of the urgency of the mission, the disciples do not waste time greeting and socializing along the way. They have to focus on their target.
The Prophet Elisha gave similar instructions to his servant Gehazi when the prophet sent him from Mount Carmel to Shunem to raise the Shunammite woman’s son – “Get ready for a journey. Take my staff with you and be off; if you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff upon the boy” (2 Kgs 4:29).
(5) Whatever house you enter, first bless them saying:
‘Peace to this house.’
A greeting of peace during a house visit was a traditional custom. When David sent his ten young men as his representatives to meet Nabal at Carmel, he instructed, “Go up to Carmel. Pay Nabal a visit and greet him in my name. Say to him, ‘Peace be with you, my brother, and with your family, and with all who belong to you” (1 Sam 25:6). Jesus, during his post-resurrection appearances to the disciples, greeted them saying, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19, 21,26).
(6) If a peaceful person lives there, the peace shall rest upon him. But if not, the blessing will return to you.
The literal meaning of a peaceful person is “a son of peace”. He will be receptive to the message of peace from Jesus. During the Last Supper discourses, Jesus told his apostles, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (Jn 14:27). However, it did not rest in the heart of Judas but bounced back because of the evil plans in his mind. When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in Bethlehem immediately after the birth of Jesus, a multitude of heavenly hosts with the angel, praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Lk 2:13-14). So, all did not and cannot receive the peace of Christ. The recipient also should be cooperative. The disciples must be prepared to face unwelcoming hosts in the houses they visit. The children of darkness would reject the peace of Christ and would remain restless with worldly desires and motives.
(7) Stay in that house eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house.
Stay in that house eating and drinking whatever they give you
Since the disciples travelled without purse, bag, or sandals, they had to depend on hospitable people for their night stay and food. This the people gladly offered them because they were healing the sick, casting our demons, talking about the Messiah, and preparing them to receive him.
Jesus told his disciples, “Do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6:31-33). So, the apostles and other missionaries left everything relying on the providence of God and the goodwill of the people they served.
For the worker deserves his wages
According to Numbers 18:8-20, the priests, who did not inherit any land, had a share of the sacrifices offered to the LORD. Aaron was in charge of the contributions made to God. He and his sons shall eat the grain offerings, purification offerings, and reparation offerings in a most holy place. All those who were clean in the household could eat gifts to God, including the elevated offering. Aaron could take the oil, wine, grain, and ripened fruits that the Israelites offered to the LORD as their first produce. Aaron and his descendants could also take the right thigh of the firstborn of cattle, sheep, and goats. The LORD said, “To the Levites, however, I hereby assign all tithes in Israel as their heritage in recompense for the labour they perform, the labour pertaining to the tent of meeting” (Num 18:21).
Jesus wished for a similar arrangement for his disciples. They should not be bothered about acquiring worldly wealth; rather, the Christian community they serve should support them in meeting their necessities. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat [what] belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel” (1 Cor 9:13-14). Quoting Scripture, Paul said, “A worker deserves his pay” (1 Tim 5:18).
Provision for the servant of the Word of God is not just an act of charity but a justice that God determined to provide by taking care of the necessities of his servants. Jesus offered a reward for those who support his disciples. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:40-42).
Do not move from house to house
During the temporary stay in a house while preaching, the disciples should not change residence for better accommodation. They should gratify themselves with what the host provides and should not look for better lodging. Even Jesus was in such a situation. When a Scribe expressed his desire to follow Jesus, he replied, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Mt 8:19-20). Jesus reminded his followers, “No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master” (Mt 10:2425).
(8) When they welcome you in any town, eat what they offer you.
The disciple might go to the house of a gentile. The Jews could not eat meat offered in the pagan temples that was available for purchase in the market. According to Paul, in such a case, “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’ If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience” (1 Cor 10:25-27). The guest had to respect the limitations of the host.
(9) Heal the sick who are there and tell them: ‘The kingdom of God has drawn near to you.’
Heal the sick who are there
When Jesus sent out the twelve apostles, he asked them to heal the sick while proclaiming the kingdom of God to them (Lk 9:2). Matthew gives more details of the powers Jesus gave to the apostles. “Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give” (Mt 10:8). Speaking of the impact of the ministry of the twelve, Mark says: “So they went off and preached repentance. They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (Mk 6:13). The apostles and the other disciples worked miracles in the name of Jesus to help the less fortunate. That made their listeners hospitable to the disciples, trust in their message, and excitedly wait to welcome Jesus, in whose name they did the miracles.
Tell them: ‘The kingdom of God has drawn near to you’
Jesus sent the disciples two by two ahead of him with the same message that John the Baptist communicated. John preached in the desert of Judaea saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” (Mt 3:1-2) The same was the message when Jesus sent the twelve apostles ahead of him asking them to avoid pagan territory and Samaritan towns but go to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 10:5-7). Thus, John the Baptist, the 12 apostles, and the 72 disciples were heralds of the Messiah. Unlike the apostles and other disciples, John preached repentance and performed no miracle.
The kingdom of God
The kingdom of God refers primarily to the rule of the Almighty over the entire universe with no territory, because everything belongs to God with no borders or boundaries. “The LORD has set his throne in heaven; his dominion extends over all” (Ps 103:19). In a specific sense, Israel was the kingdom of God because God’s kingdom is a spiritual rule over the lives and hearts of those who remain faithful to God. Jesus reconstituted it, forming the Church with Jesus as its head. This kingdom is spiritual, and that is why Jesus said to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (Jn 18:36). The Church is only a foretaste of the perfect kingdom of God that will happen later in its fullness when the time of redemption is over with the Last Judgement at the Second Coming of Christ.
God will govern His kingdom that is eternal, peaceful, free from any struggle, and is open only to the faithful children of God. “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). Thus, the Kingdom of God has different stages. It was initially established in the world at large, then among the chosen people of Israel, renewed later by Jesus through the Church, and will come to its perfection with the second coming of Christ.
(10) But in any town where you are not welcome, go to the marketplace and proclaim:
Many prophets before Jesus, and he himself, experienced rejection and persecution from the people. So, Jesus warned similar denunciation that his forerunners might experience so they would not get disappointed when that happens. The main reason for the denial was that people did not want to change their sinful life. They prefer material benefits and worldly achievements, for which, people break their covenant with God and hurt other humans through injustice and exploitation. While healing the sick, the disciples insisted on avoiding such a sinful life for the sake of the kingdom of God. That was a message most unwelcome to those living in sin!
Jesus experienced rejection from towns and villages, such as –
1. The people in Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, were the first to reject Jesus during his public ministry. While he preached in their synagogue, “they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away” (Lk 4:28-30).
2. When Jesus healed two demoniacs at Gadarene, the demons entered a herd of swine there. “The whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned.” “Thereupon the whole town came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they begged him to leave their district” (Mt 8:34).
3. On his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus was determined to journey through Samaria. He sent messengers ahead of him who entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his reception there. They denied welcoming Jesus because his destination was Jerusalem. Though James and John proposed to destroy the village by calling down fire from heaven, Jesus rebuked them, and they journeyed to another village (Lk 9:51-56).
4. Jesus lamented the impending destruction of Jerusalem because it rejected the Messiah. He said, “They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Lk 19:41-44).
5. Jesus reproached the unrepented towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, where most of his mighty deeds had been done. He said Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would be more tolerable on the day of judgement than these towns (Mt 11:20-24).
Those who rejected the emissaries of God rejected the message and the one who sent them. The reason was they did not want to change their sinful life. By their unwillingness to repent and accept the teachings of Jesus, they assumed their own eternal destruction. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (Jn 3:36). Jesus told the disciples, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Lk 10:16).
If the townsmen reject the disciples, they should go to the marketplace where all people gather for shopping and leisure, to let the people see their symbolic demonstration.
(11) ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off and leave with you. Yet know and be sure that the kingdom of God is near.’
It is natural that dust clings onto the feet of a pedestrian, especially on dusty roads. When the disciples travelled on foot from house to house preaching the gospel of Jesus, the same could happen. The Jews during that time had the practice of shaking the dust from their feet and clothes when they exit from a Gentile land. It expressed their disgust against the gentiles and to show that they did not want to bring anything pagan to Judaea.
When Jesus asked the disciples to apply this in their ministry, it had a slightly different meaning. If the townsmen would reject the Word of God, Jesus asked the disciples to shake off the dust from their feet in public in the town square to show that having done all they could for the salvation of the townsmen, the disciples were no more obliged by the fate of the land. The Jews could understand it because they had perpetrated such acts against the gentile towns.
Dust, from which man was created and to which he will return, is symbolic of earthly life and death. The dust the disciples wipe off would become a witness against the people for the rejection of the Messiah on the day of judgement. Because of the rejection, the disciples abandoned that town, and God would condemn them for their non-receptivity of salvation (Jn 3:36).
When Paul and Barnabas preached at Antioch in Pisidia, the Jews rejected them. So, they turned to the gentiles who gladly welcomed their exhortation. The Jews “stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium” (Acts 13:50-51). However, they did not take the rejection as a personal insult because they “were filled with joy and the holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).
The disciples had to give a final warning to the townsmen, saying, “Yet know and be sure that the kingdom of God is near.” Though God offered them redemption by sending down His Son, they had rejected him. They still have limited time to change their mind and receive him. It is their choice to receive salvation or subject themselves to eternal destruction.
(12) I tell you that on judgement day it will be better for Sodom than for that town.
I tell you
This means Jesus was telling a truth that was significant to his listeners. Unlike the Scribes, he was teaching with authority because he came down from heaven.
On judgement day
Jesus asserted that he would come again to judge the nations on the basis of their good and bad deeds (Mt 25:31-46). “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt 24:36). The Father has entrusted the judgement of the world to His Son (Jn 5:22). This judgement will be based on one’s own choice of belief or disbelief in Jesus. “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (Jn 3:18).
It will be better for Sodom than for that town
God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their malice. Formerly, God had destroyed all humans, animals, and birds except the family of Noah because of the great wickedness of human beings and their heart always conceived nothing but evil (Gen 6:5). Lot preferred to live in Sodom because it was fertile land (Gen 13:10-11). However, “the inhabitants of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Gen 13:13). So, “the LORD rained down sulfur upon Sodom and Gomorrah, fire from the LORD out of heaven. He overthrew those cities and the whole Plain, together with the inhabitants of the cities and the produce of the soil” (Gen 19:24-25).
The sodomites per se did not get a warning from any messenger of God, calling for repentance. When Jesus reproached the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida, he said, “If the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes” (Mt 11:21). He spoke similarly about Capernaum, “Will you be exalted to heaven? You will go down to the netherworld. For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the day of judgement than for you” (Mt 11:23-24).
So, Sodom was better compared to the towns where the disciples and Jesus preached the gospel and performed mighty deeds. Despite the Good News and favours they received, they continued to live in sin. Those who reject the gospel, after listening to the preaching of Jesus and his disciples, have no excuse on the day of judgement.
Return of the Seventy-two
Though there could be rejection from a few towns, the ministry of the disciples could be said to have been successful. “The seventy [-two] returned rejoicing, and said, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.’ Jesus said, ‘I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky’” (Lk 10:17-18). Jesus promised a reward for their service, saying, “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20). Tradition is that these 72 disciples were supporters and coworkers of the apostles for the growth of the Church.
1. Jesus had a succession plan to continue his mission through the Church until his second coming. He trained the twelve apostles and 72 disciples with hands-on experience. Do we have a succession plan for our families and parishes to hand over the torch of faith we have received to successive generations?
2. Besides the 12 apostles, who were committed full time to Jesus, he trained the other 72 disciples to continue his mission. They had a prominent role in the ancient Church. These 72 disciples are role models for the lay ministers of today.
3. Because of the sacraments of initiation, especially the sacrament of confirmation (chrismation), all Christians are part of Jesus’ succession plan. Let us devote ourselves the kind of evangelization that involves deepening our faith, practice of Christianity, proclamation of the gospel through words and deeds, and offering financial support for the missions.
4. When we work for Jesus, we do not have to worry about our needs in terms of our survival. As Jesus himself assured his disciples when he sent them out, we will get providential support from the community we serve.
5. When we work selflessly for Jesus and his Church, miraculous results can be obtained. When we labour for the kingdom of God, God gives results. Let us however retain our humility when we witness a good harvest as a result of our labour.
6. The disciples who serve the Church for Jesus might face rejection, false accusations, and persecutions as Jesus himself faced from his own people and the Jewish leaders. That should not discourage us, but empower us to work more ardently for Jesus.
7. Jesus asked the disciples to pray to the Father to send more harvesters. Let us pray and work for an increase in vocations to the priesthood, religious life, and lay ministries.
8. Jesus came to save, and he will come later to judge all the nations. Even when we face challenges or persecution, we should not retaliate as we learn from Jesus and his disciples throughout the history of the Church.
9. Jesus promised eternal reward in heaven for those who work for him in this world. Let us work for the Lord by serving our family, parish, and community.
10. Unlike Sodom, which did not receive a clear warning as such to repent from any messenger of God, the Messiah and his representatives are in our midst to help us and guide us. So, we have no excuse in giving up faith or continuing in a sinful state.