Many of you are probably familiar with the magical comedy duo Penn & Teller, but fewer of you might know that Penn Jillette (the talking one) is also an avowed atheist who has very few nice things to say about religion. Still, he holds an interesting opinion: he says that he does not respect Christians who do not try to spread their faith. The way he puts it, if you believe that there is a Heaven and a Hell, and that people could actually be going to Hell, how much do you have to hate somebody to not try to get them into Heaven? Or, put another way, if you believe that eternal life is possible, why wouldn’t you want everyone to have it? Now Penn is very clear that he thinks Heaven and Hell are made up, and that religion is a bad influence in the world, but somehow this godless heathen has come to the realization that, if Christians really do believe what they say they believe, they are compelled by love to try to spread their faith.
And he is absolutely correct. We possess the truth of Jesus Christ, who is the supreme sign of God’s self-giving love, the ultimate source of happiness, and the exclusive source of life. The more you know Jesus, the happier and more full of life you will be, both now and into eternity. Those who know Jesus are no longer enslaved to sin or dominated by death. Those who know Jesus are free forever and united with their Creator in a greater intimacy than we can ever imagine. How could we not want everyone to share this joy, the hope, this life? How could we not want everyone to know Jesus. The greatest act of love we can ever show another human being is to bring them into a relationship with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Knowing this, knowing that those who know Jesus are compelled to preach Jesus out of love, our Gospel about the 72 disciples tells us important truths about how to spread the faith. Notice first that these disciples were sent to towns that Jesus himself intended to visit later on. The disciples were not sent to preach about themselves, or even to convert people to a new religion; they were sent to prepare the way for Jesus. The same is true for us. It is our job to talk about Jesus, to tell people about the joy he brings to us, to break down any emotional or intellectual barriers people might have to Jesus, but in the end we are just making room for Jesus himself to enter into their lives, and he will do so in his own time.
Notice also the odd phrase Jesus uses about peace. He says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” It seems to me that this is Jesus’ way of saying not to worry about the effects of the preaching. If someone becomes open to Jesus because of your influence, then the peace of Christ has spread from you to them. But there are plenty of people who will reject Jesus by rejecting you, and I think Jesus wants us to remain peaceful anyway. Remember, ultimately this is Jesus’ work, not yours; you are just preparing the way. If you are rejected, find peace knowing that the Lord will be responsible for that person in other ways.
Another thing that is striking about this Gospel is the absolute trust Jesus requires of his disciples. They are not allowed to take money, food, or extra clothing. They can expect to last exactly one day on their own, unless someone comes forth to help them. But Jesus implies that God will provide through other people, who will feed and house the disciples. Jesus also sends these disciples in pairs, never alone. It is abundantly clear here that the message of Jesus can never be spread without a community of disciples relying on the Holy Spirit. And this is exactly the role the Church plays today! We are all united in one mission, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, and we must rely on each other and the Holy Spirit if we are going to be effective.
Now, it is all well and good for me to stand up here and explain the need to preach the Gospel, but it is a really scary idea. Most of us picture someone on a street corner with a megaphone. So let me provide you a few slightly more helpful suggestions. First, do not be afraid to use the name of Jesus. Most of us find talking about religion very awkward, so we gloss over it by using the more abstract terms “God” or “Lord”. But is it Jesus, a factual, historical man, that we worship, and there is power in his name. Instead of saying you love God, trying saying that you love Jesus and see what happens. Second, be honest and open about the importance of your faith. Most of us give witness to our faith through our actions, like coming to Church on Sunday, and hope that will be enough. But it is also important to say out loud, to your spouse, to you children, to your siblings, to your friends, how your relationship with Jesus gives you strength, makes you a better person, fills you with joy, and makes everything make sense. Unless we say it out loud, everyone else will only be guessing. Finally, do not be afraid to invite. I have heard many, many stories of people who eventually found Jesus because they were invited to a simple Mass, or a simple youth group, or a simple Bible Study. It never, ever hurts to invite. If they turn down your invitation, so be it, and let your peace return to you.
As a closing thought, some of us are blessed to have seen our friends and family convert because of our influence, and some of us may never see that. God works in mysterious ways, so do not be discouraged! Remember, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you. Rejoice instead because your names are written in Heaven.