A few high-school students were assigned to a service project at a community outreach center in a neighborhood miles from their school. When they arrived, they saw a homeless man asleep on the front steps of the center. The students snickered and made some cruel jokes about the man and about the run-down condition of the building and the neighborhood. When they went inside the center, they found a note at the front desk: "Back in 10 minutes," it said. "Have a seat." They took their seats in the waiting area. A few minutes afterwards, the same homeless man wandered into the center. The students smirked as he fixed himself a cup of coffee. But their smirking stopped and turned to stunned silence when the man took off his shabby,
torn coat, and they saw he wasn't the homeless man they thought he was.
"Welcome," the man said as he turned to face them. My name is Tom and I am the director of this center." The students realized he had heard every one of their vicious jokes, and they sank into their chairs, totally embarrassed. "Let this be your first lesson in community service," Tom said quietly. "You cannot reach out to people if you judge them or make fun of them. A person's appearance has little to do with character," he continued. "We are all human beings who need each other's help at some time in our lives."
In today's Gospel, Jesus sends out 72 disciples. The number "72" is probably not accurate. Among the Jewish people, numbers are often symbolic. Since "72" is a multiple of the "12" : and 12 is considered to be the perfect number : "72" simply means that Jesus is sending out a really large number of pairs of disciples to the towns he intends to visit. Jesus not only sends them on this mission, but he also gives them detailed directions and instructions on how to proceed.
Jesus does the same for us today. At the end of every Sunday Eucharist, before we leave, Jesus invites, no, he commands, us to help bring his reign of peace and justice, mercy and thankfulness, to the people we live with, work with and encounter in our small but significant part of the world. As he did with the 72, to each of us he gives one small parcel of this earth that becomes our unique responsibility, that we alone can make bloom with God's Goodness. Just as Jesus' disciples were assigned specific towns and villages, we have been assigned to a particular time and place. If we falter or refuse the assignment, our part of God's reign will never come to be. No one else can do what we are meant to do since everyone has his/her own unique assigned time and place. That makes our task, yours and mine, essential to Jesus' mission. So we need to rid ourselves of excess baggage : our fears of failure, our anxieties, our prejudices : to complete the work Jesus gives us. It's not easy work proclaiming peace to a society in love with war, proclaiming justice to people who prefer financial profit, proclaiming mercy to a world violently unmerciful, proclaiming thankfulness to a world where thanks is considered a weakness. The redeeming point is this: we don't have to succeed. We just have to be faithful to the mission, and faithfulness is the unmistakable mark of a true disciple!