Being Left Out
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus picks seventy-two people to send out on a challenging preaching mission. They travel from one city to another, by foot, without money or other provisions. Think about all the stuff we take when we travel, and you will see how difficult their mission was. But Jesus doesn’t leave them helpless. He gives them power. They can cure sicknesses and cast out devils. That is a lot of power!
Jesus handpicked the seventy-two people he gave this power to. What would it have felt like to be a disciple who was not picked? How left out must such a disciple have felt?
But guess what? These seventy-two disciples were left out too. They may have done miracles, but they were left out of the company of the twelve apostles. The Gospel says that Jesus appointed seventy-two others—other beside the apostles, that is. Even though the seventy-two come back rejoicing that the devils are subject to their power, they still don’t rank being added to the twelve apostles. And, of course that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus took John and Peter with him to witness his transfiguration. The other ten apostles were left out.
How can Jesus leave people out in this way? Is everybody supposed to suffer some sense of abandonment by Jesus except those lucky enough to be in the innermost circle of the twelve? Or the even smaller circle of the two?
The solution to this puzzle lies in what a person wants. The seventy-two come back rejoicing in their power. But then power is what they want. Jesus rebukes them for it. Don’t rejoice in your power, he tells them; rejoice rather in the fact that you will be united to God in heaven.
If you want not to be left out of something, your desire has to do with yourself and your status. Those who felt left out, because they weren’t chosen to be among the seventy-two, wanted to be honored by being part of that group. And maybe that is why they weren’t picked.
And maybe the seventy-two were passed over when Jesus was picking the twelve apostles because what the seventy-two cared about was power and their own status as powerful people handpicked by Jesus. If what you want is power and status, your desire is for yourself, isn’t it? It isn’t for Jesus.
So maybe in the end it is Peter and John who come with Jesus to see his transfiguration, but what they want more than anything else is being with him. If what you want is Jesus, you will never be left out.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University