In the Gospel today, Jesus appoints the “Seventy-Two” disciples other than the Twelve, whom he will send out on mission. They are to go to the various towns and villages and begin telling the residents about Jesus and getting them stirred up to meet him when he arrives. So often we think of the Twelve as the entire community of disciples, but there were in fact thousands of followers of Jesus in his own lifetime. This is one of the reasons that the Pharisees and the Romans were threatened by him. He had great power over the crowds.
As we look at the Seventy-Two and the Twelve, we see the differing roles within the Church. The Twelve represent the clergy and the Seventy-Two represent the laity. Each has a specific and significant role within the Church. The Second Vatican Council stated that the ministry of the clergy exists to support and empower the ministry of the laity. All too often, we have gotten this backwards, to the great detriment of the Church and her mission.
The laity is the front line troops of the Church. They, more than the clergy, are the ones who are to evangelize the world. They live their mission within the family and within the community and in the marketplace. Within the family, the most important work of evangelization takes place as parents and grandparents educate their children in the faith, teaching them about Christ, about what is right and wrong, how to pray, and what are the expectations that Christ has of his followers. Within the community, the laity are to be witnesses to Christ by the way in which they live and in how they treat others. They are to help build up the Kingdom of God in the world. In the marketplace, the laity are to live their Christian faith within the workplace, in how they treat their employees, their employers, and those who they work with side by side. In decision-making circumstances, they are to help their fellows find business solutions that respect the values found in the teachings of Christ. In the political realm, if they serve in public office, they are to do so according to the teachings of Christ and faithfulness to Christ and his message should guide and determine how they vote.
The ministry of the clergy exists to support and assist in the ministry of the laity. Through teaching and preaching and through the celebration of the Sacraments, the clergy are to help the laity come to a deeper understanding of the teachings of Christ, of how to apply them to their lives, and to give them through the Sacraments the grace and strength that they need in their particular apostolate.
The quote from this week’s Gospel, “The harvest is rich, but the laborers are few” has usually been understood to mean that we are to pray for more priests. I am all in favor of more priests, but this passage is not just about the official ministers in the Church. In addition to more priests, we desperately need more laity who understand that, as followers of Christ, they are the real evangelizers of the world and those who have the power to transform the political sphere and the local community.
–Fr. Mike Comer