Instructions for Evangelists: 14th Sunday OT

After Mass will be our third session in an evangelization series. I've really enjoyed the first two and I think they're going well... please come over if you can! Our Gospel today is timely for that topic of evangelization. That word comes from the Greek for “Good News,” which in old English was “Gospel.” So Evangelization just means sharing the Good News that God has become man and dwelt among us, died to save us, and rose to open Heaven, where He has prepared a place for us and offers us forgiveness, new life, freedom, in a relationship with Him that transforms us.

There are two reasons someone might not want to share the Gospel with your neighbor. One: you don’t really believe it. Maybe you feel like you get something out of church, maybe you feel at home here, but you don’t actually believe that a relationship with Jesus Christ is the best and most important thing that could ever happen to somebody. That would be one reason not to want to share the Gospel with your neighbor. If that's you, I'm glad you're here! Especially glad, actually, because you're one of the people I want to evangelize. I pray that Christ touches your heart in this Mass in a new way. The other reason someone might not to want to share the Gospel is that you just don’t love your neighbor at all; you don’t actually care whether they know the Way, the Truth, and the Life. If you don’t feel any drive, any fire in your belly to share the Gospel, it’s because of one of those two reasons. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but, let’s be honest, I dare you to give me a third reason. There isn’t one.

What if you do really want to share the Gospel, but you aren’t doing it? That’s even simpler: there’s only one reason. It’s because you don’t think you can. You doubt yourself and your ability to make a difference, or you doubt your neighbor and you’ve given up on them.

So there are three reasons, and only three, why we might not be evangelizing, and they’re all about Faith, Hope, and Love. Do you have faith that the Gospel is true? Do you love your neighbor enough to want it for them? Do you have hope that the Holy Spirit can use you to make that happen?

In our Gospel reading from Luke 10, Jesus sends His disciples out on this mission to evangelize, and He gives them instructions. Our mission is the same, so I hope we’re all eager and alert, leaning forward, on the edge of our seats, ready to hear these instructions! Let’s go through them.

First, he sent them in pairs. This is critical, and hardly surprising coming from Jesus. Even Jesus Himself, the Son of God, started his ministry by assembling a team. It's still true today: no one here is all alone in your mission. Many - probably almost all - of us have people in our lives whom we dearly love, whom we desperately want to see come to Christ, and it just isn’t happening. I’m not telling you to give up. I’m not telling you not to move heaven and earth to bring someone to Christ. But I am telling you that if it doesn’t happen, it isn’t all on you. We do this together.

Let’s look at the next detail: where does Jesus send them? He sends them to all the places He is about to visit. They’re His advance team — their job is to prepare for Jesus to arrive in person. We have to understand this about sharing our faith: we are only really doing prep work. The prep work is important, or Jesus would not have put them through all the trouble, but it is really just preparation for the main event. What’s the main event? The arrival of Jesus Christ. We do well to remember that when we’re trying to share our faith: our job is to prepare His way. We don’t make Christians, Christ makes Christians. We don’t give the gift of faith, Christ gives the gift of faith. 

A lot of Catholics are intimidated by this Gospel commandment to make disciples. This is that obstacle of Hope, when you want to share Jesus but you don’t feel adequate or qualified. Maybe it would be less intimidating if we realized that our work of evangelization is really about arranging a meeting. It’s about making an introduction. The important part is what happens when Christ arrives; our role is to arrange that meeting and clear any obstacles and prepare His way. Someone hasn’t converted when they know a lot of facts about Catholicism. They’ve converted when they have become friends of Jesus Christ. So if there’s someone in your life who could use some of that Gospel light, don’t get intimidated and start thinking it’s your job to totally change their mind and change their life. Jesus does that. You just have to arrange the meeting.

Jesus’ next instruction for evangelists: pray. Ask the Lord to send laborers. A moment ago I spoke of the mission of evangelization as something we are all commanded to undertake. It’s true. If you are a member of Christ’s Body, then you are on for the work of proclaiming his Kingdom. But there are different ways of doing that. You can see it in the Church’s two patron Saints of evangelization: Francis Xavier and Therese of Lisieux. St. Francis Xavier crossed the globe. Even aside from his holiness, he would rank as one of the great explorers. He introduced entire civilizations to Christ. It’s no surprise that he is one of the patron Saints of evangelization. 

But what about the other, St. Therese? She traveled almost not at all, entered the convent at age 15, and stayed there until she died at age 24. She is a patroness of evangelization because of her life of prayer. So there are different ways to take up the mission of the Gospel!

Back to Christ’s instructions: he gives them a packing list. I love this because I love setting out on
journeys. I love the process of paring down to the bare essentials, getting rid of everything except what will fit in the car - or better yet, on the back of a motorcycle - or better yet, in a backpack. When you’re setting out  with only what you can carry on your back, there’s an incredible feeling of freedom. That’s the kind of freedom Jesus wants for his disciples when he sends them out. It’s about being ready to go where God calls you, anytime, anywhere. It’s about being unencumbered. Evangelists have to be free and unencumbered and ready to follow the call.

Next instruction: “Let your first words on entering a house be ‘Peace to this house.’” Is that the first thing people hear from Christians? There may be much else to say. Like, stop sinning. Repent and believe. Knock that stuff off. But - the first thing to say is ‘Peace.’ A shallow way to say this is that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. But it’s more about our motivation and what’s in our hearts when we speak of Christ. I remember the street preachers on the quad at college. They had these megaphones and were shouting at all the students about what scum we all were and how really disgusting we were to the Lord God. Well, they were right about the need for moral conversion on a college campus. But their first word should have been “Peace.” We don’t share Christ because we’re so offended by someone’s life and need them to change. We share Christ because we’re so fond of someone that we want the best for them. ‘Peace’ - that’s our first word. Jesus preached his Kingdom to sinners because he liked sinners. If you hold others in contempt, or strong dislike, you’ve got a more basic problem to address before you go trying to preach Jesus Christ. Let your first word be ‘Peace.’

I need to start wrapping up, but Jesus has some further instructions. Cure the sick among them, he says. Even if you can’t perform healing miracles, know that taking care of people is basic to evangelization. You can’t preach the Gospel while ignoring people’s basic needs. The Church’s evangelization on behalf of people’s eternal lives has always been intertwined with her work for the care of their earthly lives. It’s a pattern we learn from Jesus Himself.

And finally, Christ’s instructions conclude with this bit about shaking the dust from your feet. We should be ready for failure when we try to share our faith. We will sometimes be rejected. There is a time to walk away. It takes wisdom to know when that is. I don’t think this means giving up on people: did Jesus ever do that? But maybe it means knowing when to admit we can do no good here, at least not right now. We never give up for good, though. We’re always watching and hoping and praying for an opportunity.

The passage ends with the disciple’s return and a sort of debriefing. They were rejoicing that even the demons had been powerless against them when they came in the name of Christ. And Christ promised that His disciples have nothing to fear on earth, we have nothing to fear even in hell. Rejoice, He said, that your names are written in heaven.

None of us knows what everyone here is going through right now. I know that for some of us it’s really tough. Try not to be afraid. Even when you suffer, try to find that deep place where there's a joy that no demon in hell can take from you. Your names are written in Heaven. That’s where we find strength. That’s where we find peace. That’s what we want for every infinitely precious human being, and that’s why we should burn with the desire to be evangelists for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.


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