Gospel Reflection for July 3, 2022, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

While we often think of the Twelve as the constant companions of Jesus, there were many others who included the company of his disciples. We know that there are some women who were part of the group, and many others who seem to have been with Jesus throughout his public ministry. 

As Jesus was moving from village to village proclaiming the Kingdom he deemed it necessary to prepare the villages along the way for his eventual arrival. In a sense, what we see is Jesus sending out advance teams to introduce his message, offer healing and consolation for the people there, and lay the groundwork for Jesus to preach and perform mighty deeds in those villages. 

We expect that news of the miracles and teaching of Jesus spread throughout the regions of the Galilee along the shores of Lake Tiberius. Yet, many of these villages Jesus would likely never reach on his own, so by sending out his disciples to them this would also be the only contact that they would have directly with the message and mission of Jesus. 

This decision on the part of Jesus was to ensure that the kingdom was being proclaimed, and that the disciples would be prepared for that moment when they would assume the responsibility for proclaiming the Gospel on their own.

By sending them out in pairs he not only protected them from assault, he also assured a sense of checks and balances with their preaching and performing mighty deeds.   

Jesus was necessarily concerned that those whom he sent forth did not become inflated with their own importance or take advantage of the people to whom they were sent to minister. They might even begin to think that they were acting on their own authority or power instead of his. As the sin of pride is always a danger in ministry, and Jesus was well-aware that his disciples could fall into that trap. 

As a necessary demand, then, he instructed them to travel and live modestly and to accept no gifts or accolades along the way. They were to accept what was given to them, and even to endure whatever resistance they faced and to move on quietly to the next village. 

As the disciples undertook their mission, the great power of Jesus became clear to them as they saw the demons subject to them because of the very name of Jesus.

For us, we need always to be careful and wary of those who assume that because the Lord has bestowed gifts upon them that they deserve the accolades and deference of others, or even those who assume that the power they have is on their own, and not a gift from God for and to the community.

The Lord warned his disciples that although there is a great harvest there are few laborers to reap that harvest. When we think about what is potentially lost — the spiritual enrichment and salvation of many — it is especially painful to think about. Yet, as Jesus has warned that the gate is narrow and the way is difficult, so it would naturally flow that those called to work the vineyard would also be few and find the way difficult. 

Now we see the contraction of both the vineyard and the laborers for the vineyard. The way is difficult and increasingly counter-cultural. 

Today we feel the pain of the diminishing vocations to the priesthood and to the life of the religious brothers, sisters and nuns. Even the number of men discerning the diaconate has diminished significantly. 

There are those who have varying opinions as to the why, and most of those are forged by pre-existing ideas about the church to begin with. Some believe that some of the disciplines, such as universal celibacy, should be lifted. Others feel that the life of the priest and religious has become too lax and therefore not attractive, as it does not stand as a sign to the world. 

While in truth we enjoyed bountiful vocations sixty years ago, the decline was beginning even then, and has moved forward at a considerable place in recent decades.

Jesus not only placed a heavy burden on the shoulders of his disciples, he also gave them the tools — indeed the one tool — that they needed to do his work: he sent them the Holy Spirit. 

As disciples of Jesus we must want shepherds — faithful disciples to serve and minister to us — enough to sacrifice for them. To pray and work, not only to evangelize the world, but to encourage and foster vocations from our parish communities and within our families. 

This is a hard task. Much is demanded and more will be demanded from priests, deacons, and religious in the coming years. Yet, it is not going to be easy. Let us continue our prayers for our priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and those who are discerning a call.

Father Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.