One of the biggest reasons why most Christians have difficulty evangelizing effectively is that most lack the requisite freedom and simplicity of life to carry forth the task consistently and coherently. In Sunday’s Gospel, the Lord offers some counsel on what is required for effective evangelization.
As we read a Gospel like this, it is tempting to think that it speaks only of specialists such as missionaries, religious, priests, or deacons, but doing so ignores the fact that everyone is called to evangelize: clergy to people, parents to children, elders to youngsters, siblings to siblings, friends to friends, neighbors to neighbors.
This Gospel is for all of us, and it summons us to a greater freedom that will equip, empower, and enable us to evangelize more effectively. Let’s look at the Lord’s counsels.
I. The Freedom of SUMMONS – The text says, Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
It may not be immediately obvious how a summons is freeing but consider that when we know we are called to do something by someone in authority, we are often more courageous and diligent in doing it, even if it is hard. A commanding officer may have to ask his troops to engage in a difficult battle, but because he knows that his own commanders have ordered it and that it is part of a wider strategy, he tries to rally his troops. He speaks not only with his own authority but that of others, and thus he is courageous, and his words have weight. Even if his troops protest or seem unenthusiastic, he remains strong because he understands his duty and knows that he is doing what is right.
Yes, being under a summons is freeing and empowering. If we know that the Lord has summoned us and sent us to evangelize (and he surely has (cf Matt 28:19)) we can go forth with courage to rally God’s people and summon them to the Lord’s team. Even when people react poorly we need not be discouraged, for we know that we are under the orders of God Himself and that what we speak is right.
As a priest, I am often called upon to speak on topics that some do not want to hear. Yet, to the degree that I know I have been called to speak it, I do so with courage. When the Lord and His Church bid me to address something, I speak not only with my own authority but with that of God. Some may grumble that they don’t want to hear me talk about money, abortion, religious liberty, or sexual sin. Yet to the degree that I know that I am called to speak on these things, I still do so and do so with courage. Yes, I am summoned. I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! … for God has given me this sacred trust (1 Cor 9:17).
Do you know that you have been summoned? Have you experienced this call? Do you see it as a mandate, as something you have been summoned to do? Priests and deacons need to recognize our call to preach the Word of God unambiguously. We are under orders from the Lord. As Scripture says, In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Tim 4:1-2). Can any of you who are parents not see that you are called to do the same for your children? Who of us can say that any but perhaps the youngest are exempt from the summons to preach, to declare the Word of God?
Knowing and experiencing that you have been summoned is freeing!
II. The Freedom of SIMPLICITY – The text says, He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick— no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic.
One the fundamental reasons that people do not evangelize is that they have way too much baggage. What kind of baggage? Consider that our lives are
CLUTTERED – We have too much stuff, and stuff needs attention, maintenance, and money; it takes up space and ties us down. We also have the baggage and clutter of too many commitments. We’re overscheduled and overbooked. We have many wrongful priorities such that we spend too much time worrying about things that don’t matter all that much in the end, and what does matter gets put on hold. Read Bible stories to your children? No time for that; we’ve got to get to soccer practice! Yes, our lives are cluttered with distractions. What is a “dis-traction”? It’s something that gets you off track and makes you lose traction in what really matters.
COMPLEX – Most of our lives are so cluttered and choked with excess baggage that we don’t even know where to begin to simply it. We don’t know how to break the cycle, how to say no. We end up becoming enslaved to the many demands.
COMPROMISED – All of this extra baggage weighs us down and entangles us with the world. In this way, our values are not the values of the gospel. Instead, we are tied down to the world, loyal to it, invested in its thinking and its ways.
We need to be free to preach the Gospel and to evangelize. The Lord says, simplify! Obsession with money, food, clothes, possessions, and popularity will hinder you.
Think of a runner in a race. He does one thing only and carries nothing extra that would weigh him down. Travelers, too, do not take all their possessions with them, only what is necessary. Remember, in terms of this world, we are just traveling through.
Most of us just have too much stuff. Because of this, we are tied to this world and lack the kind of freedom necessary to witness prophetically to what is beyond it. Ask the Lord to help you gently but persistently simplify your life so that increasingly it becomes centered on the one thing necessary.
III. The Freedom of STABILITY – The text says, He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.”
Stability is the freedom to accept what is and work with it rather than to be constantly looking for something better. It is the freedom to bloom where you are planted and to use what God has given you rather than waiting for something better.
There’s a real freedom to staying put and developing the deeper relationships that are usually necessary for evangelization to be effective and lasting.
One of the bigger problems with handing on the faith today is that there is very little stability in families, communities, and parishes. When things and people are passing and ephemeral, how can values rooted in lasting things be inculcated?
Preaching the gospel often depends on well-founded relationships, patience, perseverance, and taking the long view of life. Running here and there and living life only on the surface will not cut it. Shallow soil does not sustain taller growth. Only deep roots can do that.
Ask for the freedom to stay put and to be less anxious about the possibility that there may be a better job, a better community, a better deal out there somewhere. There is value in being grateful for what you have and working with that, in setting down deep roots and lasting relationships. This is the deeper and richer soil in which evangelization can happen.
IV. The Freedom of SURETY – The text says, Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.
Here is one of the greatest freedoms of all: the gift to be free of our obsession with being liked, approved of, and popular. We care too much about what others think of us, at the expense of the truth of the gospel.
Jesus implies here that rejection will surely happen, and He counsels that when it does we should shake it off, let it pass over us. Speak the truth and don’t worry about rejection; expect it! This is a very great freedom.
Too many parents are desperate to have their children like them. They avoid discipline and difficult teachings. It is necessary to be free of this “need.” The Lord can give that to you.
We are not talking here about becoming sociopaths, caring not one whit what others think. This is not an invitation to be impolite or to fail to groom ourselves and be presentable. Rather, it is an invitation to be free of our obsession with popularity so that we can shake off the rejection of the gospel that we will inevitably experience. The Lord can give that to us.
V. The Freedom of SUBSTANCE – The text says, So they went off and preached repentance. The Twelve drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
There is freedom in knowing what to say and what to do. This freedom flows from the substance, for we do not preach ourselves, but Christ crucified. This is freeing, for we cannot be compelled to change or adapt the message that has already been set for us. There is a freedom in sticking to the message proclaimed once and for all. The world demands compromise, insists that certain passages of Scripture be modified. We, who in no way can do this, are free of such compulsion.
Only those who are enslaved to the times and to the mentality of this world can be so compelled. To the degree that we know we are summoned, sent, and given the substance of what to preach, we are free to announce, and free from coercion to compromise.
Substance was “repentance.” The Greek word μετανοῶσιν (metanoosin) means more than simply to clean up one’s behavior. It means “to come to a new mind,” or “to change one’s thinking.” Hence, the evangelizer seeks to appeal to the whole person. It is not only a person’s behavior that is important, but also how he thinks and what is taking place in the deepest part of his soul.
The Lord seeks to heal the whole person from the inside out. Thus, the apostles and those of us free enough to be true evangelizers are not seeking merely to inform but to transform.
Note that the text describes them as driving out demons and curing the sick. Is this merely some exotic ability of the early apostles? No. By this proclamation, we too drive out the demons of sadness, meaninglessness, ignorance, misplaced priorities, atheism, agnosticism, worldliness, materialism, and so forth. We also bring healing and peace to those who accept the power of the Word of God into their lives. These healings are very real. I know them in my own life and have seen them in the lives of others.
Are you free enough to evangelize, to preach the gospel, and to bring healing and peace to others? Are you free enough to be a means of God’s transformative Word??