We at www.womenpriests.org are looking for 72 new supporters to help us keep the website running so we’ve turned to the Scriptures for inspiration and found it in the example of the sending out of the seventy-two.
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, “The harvest is rich, but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke10:1-3
Often when we think of the people who surrounded Jesus during his earthly ministry we tend to remember the Twelve apostles, his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and possibly a few others, men like Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. However, Scripture tells us that the people who followed him were a much bigger group than this. Jesus attracted many followers along the way, many of whom went on to become members of the first Christian community after the resurrection. We can learn much about the call to follow Jesus by following the fortunes of this larger group of disciples as they flit in and out of the background of the gospel narrative. In this story, recorded by Luke, “the other disciples” come to the forefront, for once, as Jesus makes a decision to involve many of them in his ministry. He appoints 72 people to go ahead of him and to spread the word of the good news about him in all the places he intends to visit. He knows they will be vulnerable and at risk so he teaches them to cope with being sent out “like lambs among wolves”. They have to be aware that sometimes they will get a warm welcome, sometimes rejection. However, by their labour they will prepare people to receive the Lord into their towns and homes and gain a rich harvest for the Kingdom of Heaven. He teaches them to become active in their discipleship. In this story we get the first indications of the kind of people Christians will be expected to be. From the first 72 onwards, the task of the Christian is to be sent out, to bear good news and to be good news.
I have a question to ask you about these 72 disciples: do you think they were made up of men and women or just men? I wonder, just wonder, if women were included in this number? I really hope so, because women are called into discipleship just as much as men and this passage, which includes the famous words of Jesus about the harvest, is one which inspires young women, as well as young men, to consider their vocations to priesthood, religious life and lay ministry in the Church.
Why do we need 72 disciples today? Because we need people ready to run the risk of going ahead and preparing the way for Jesus to be seen in all our Catholic Churches through the ministry of both male and female priests. If women are to be recognised as equal partners in discipleship, able to bring Christ to others as priests, then the Church needs people of great courage and love who will run risks in order to make that happen. The harvest is great but the labourers are few.