by Fr John Wijngaards
Isaiah 66, 10-14 Galatians 6, 14-18 Luke 10, 1-12 17-20 THE Gospel of Luke recounts the sending out by Jesus of 72 disciples in pairs "to all towns and villages he himself was to visit." All the Gospels mention the fact that Jesus chose 12 apostles to whom he entrusted his mission. Only Luke highlights the sending of the 72.
It is likely that Luke has a special reason for recalling this second event. In the early Christian communities the original 12 apostles were regarded with reverence and awe. They had met Jesus face to face. They had been hand-picked by him. They had been instructed by him in person. But the respect given to the original apostles had its drawbacks. Wherever the apostles went, they selected able men and women to succeed them in the various ministries of the Church. To the faithful it might seem that such new incumbents, who were chosen from their own ranks, were only second best. They could never come up to the level of a "real apostle", they might have felt.
This is where Luke's story of the 72 comes in as a corrective. "Apostle" means "a person who has been sent". Luke stresses that more people than the original 12 were sent. He emphasises the figure "seventy-two" which, with "seventy", was the number of all the nations of the world.
The second wave of disciples sent by Jesus thus represents the whole phalanx of successors who would continue the mission among all existing races and cultures. Notice how Luke brings out the sameness of the mission by repeating Jesus' instructions to the 72 identical words to those given to the 12 (Lk 9, 1-5).
Every single bishop is a successor to the apostles. Each and every bishop receives his ministry and ministerial power directly from Christ. Human beings play an intermediate role: the line of bishops who filled the see before him, the persons who selected the candidate, the ordaining bishops.
This even applies to Rome. According to our present Church practice, a list of candidates is drawn up locally, but the Vatican makes the final selection. Although this system has its weaknesses, it can serve a good purpose. It may save a local Church from internal conflict. But the "appointment" of a bishop by the Pope does not make him a bishop. Ordination does so, and then it is Christ himself who confers it on the candidate. This means the bishops' mission is as fresh and undiluted as when Christ gave it to the first apostles.