Luke 10.1-20 | Trinity 3C

John Michael Gutiérrrez, PhD
The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them;
if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to
house. 8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near
to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to
you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the
heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. 16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to
overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in
heaven.”

Luke 10:1-20

The Gospel of the Lord

Lectionaries, plans for reading Scripture, have been a consistent element in
Christian worship for many centuries.  In ancient times, they took the form of
excerpts from the Epistles and Gospels. In modern times, lectionary plans have
been expanded to include readings from the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms. The
point of expanded lectionary readings is, of course, to let Scripture speak for
itself, and to promote familiarity with its teachings in a broadly coherent way. 
One of the defining activities of the Anglican tradition, perhaps its prized activity,
is the way it reads Scripture when a community is assembled together for
morning/evening prayer and/or the Lord’s Supper.  Which is to say, without a lectionary, the corporate and ecclesial identity of Anglicanism would be much
diminished.


In spite of historical and ecclesial strengths, American lectionary renewal, at least
since 1928, has increasingly omitted sections /sentences from scripture readings.
Ironically, their removal seems only to draw more attention to them. In the past,
this morning’s Gospel reading has felt the liturgist’s surgical steel removing vss.
12-15. Although never said outright, the reason seemed to be the omitted
passages might not go down well with American sensibilities about “all you need
is love, love is all you need”.


Speaking as a biblical academic, there are serious problems with removing
sections of biblical texts. So I am relieved they have been returned to the
lectionary in our prayer book. In the middle of Luke 10, Jesus begins to sound
some definite notes about those who reject the Kingdom message. As far as all
the Gospels are concerned, Jesus’ threats weren’t hiccups in his teachings. He
isn’t always the inclusive Jesus former lectionary compilers tried to create by
cutting out the “other” stuff. The purpose of lectionary readings is to proclaim the
mystery of the Gospel in a theologically coherent way. Removing sections
diminishes, even abandons coherence altogether. Reading/hearing Scripture in
its final forms, lets every faith community grapple with difficulties posed by such
texts.


Luke’s introductory, “After these things” (vs.1a) ties the start of the 70’s ministry
to the immediately preceding interactions with the 3 would-be disciples (9:57-62)
And it repeats on a “grander scale” the ministry of the 12 from ch. 9 (vs. 1-6).
Now those with an “ear” for Moses will hear in the 70 and the 12, Luke’s literary,
thematic and theological cross-referencing. For you see, in Luke’s worldview
Jesus is in one way like Moses. He’s resetting Israel. So his 12 were like the 12
Patriarchal clans and his 70 like the 70 clan leaders of the Exodus/Wilderness
stories (Ex. 24.1, 9-14; Num. 7; 11.16-30). But remember Luke clearly presents
Jesus as LORD, someone far greater than Moses.


Luke’s second introductory phrase “sent them before his face” (vs. 1b) builds on
the Gospel’s vision of discipleship. Remember again Jesus has just “set his face
toward Jerusalem” (9.51). Everything in the journey to Jerusalem is intentional.
The 70 are examples of those who participate in the journey to Jerusalem, even
if they didn’t grasp the details.


The rationale for 70 and their ministry: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers
are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his
harvest field.’” (vs. 2).  Here is a glimpse into Luke’s brilliance. The “LORD of the
harvest” is a two sided coin. Theologically it clearly refers to Israel’s lord YHWH
who harvests (vs. 2b). But note carefully in numerous contexts and when the 70
return, Luke refers to Jesus as “LORD” (7:13, 19; 10: 20, 39, 41). So Theophilus, other readers/hearers like us could be forgiven for concluding this Jesus who
sends out the 70 is also Israel’s “LORD who harvests”.


Jesus’ flurry of instructions – the setting aside of standard travel gear- sounds a
cautionary note. The 70 are to take no supplies: wallet, suitcase or extra sandals.
And then in a time saving measure underscoring the urgency, they are to “greet
no one along the way”. They will not be going exclusively to the “lost sheep of
Israel” like the 12 (for example,Matt. 10:5-6). In this ministry, they will be “like
lambs surrounded by wolves” (vs. 3). Geographically Luke has placed Jesus and
the disciples at the borderlands of the Galilee next to Samaria. So the 70 are
being sent into villages having Jewish/Samaritan populations. And also sizable
non-Jewish populations. Pay attention how the 70’s ministry is set out in a string
of indefinites: “Whatever house you enter… if anyone there…remain in the
same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide…whenever you enter a
town and its people welcome you, eat whatever is set before you…”
On the one hand, all in all these instructions might seem to heighten uncertainty.
And please note uncertainty and caution are not fear. Yes, they will be engaging
society in an unconventional way. Yet even with supposed disadvantages, they
will be armed with a prophetic message: “The kingdom has come near” and a
priestly blessing: “Shalom” – well-being for those who open their households.
They are to aid those who are weak as a basic practice of Kingdom ministry.
Jesus, who ate with “tax collectors and sinners”, tells the 70 they will need to be
more relaxed regarding dietary regulation. They are to eat what is given to them.
It seems to me in Second Temple Literature, dietary observances were hit-n-miss
among ordinary Jewish folk. Samaritans, regulated by Torah, were hit-n-miss
also. Is it too obvious to say anything about any dietary restrictions in Gentile
households?


So the 70 are about to disappear two-by-two over the dusty horizon as kingdom
harvesters. They will proclaim the prophet’s Kingdom and priest’s Shalom to
those who offer them hospitality as well to those who do not. They are still well
shy of Jerusalem. Yet the disciples will experience something of the rejection
Jesus will soon experience. They will come to know not everyone will appreciate,
to say the least, hearing the Kingdom is near. And think back, the 70 have the
same dramatic gesture in their back pocket as the 12 did (cf. 9.5). “Shake dust
from their feet”. A response to those who reject them. For if they had been proper
hosts, who washed the feet of their guests, there would be no dust to shake! 
The 70’s imminent departure is of enormous significance and emotion. The
prophetic-like woes on the Jewish villages/towns in verses 12-15, just might be
the point of this scene. These are Jesus’ final words to the 70 about the burden
of their responsibility. They are to do all they can to ensure the positive reception
of kingdom and blessing. Using Jewish villages/towns as reference points Jesus
emphases Israel’s opportunities. And, therefore, its greater accountability. Don’t
look to the Jewish Bethsaida, Capernaum or Chorazim, where he did great things, and think they’re a cut above. Position, privilege, influence and pride are
not the right starting places. Rather it’s humility, reception and hospitality. In
reality, these towns could be worse off than even the legendary inhospitable
Sodom. Because these Jewish towns’ pride of being on the A-Team can blind
them to the hospitable reception of Tyre and Sidon who “had come to hear Jesus
to be healed of their diseases. For in them those who were troubled with unclean
spirits were cured.” (6:17). Lastly, Jesus makes it clear that any rejection of the
70 is actually rejection of him, and, in turn, a rejection of the LORD who harvests
(vs. 16). Here’s the intention: In the fading echo of the woes, then, Jesus wants
the departing 70 to feel the heavy weight of Israel’s classical prophets: rejection
of the kingdom and its shalom is an opening to the tragedy of divine judgment.
The 70 come back to Jesus addressing him as “LORD”. They were wildly
successful, or so they think, since “in your name even the demons submit to us!”
(vs.17).  They appear to have been completely caught off guard. Jesus, also,
seems overjoyed by this development “I was seeing Satan fall like lightning out of
heaven” (vs. 18). It’s an indication one core feature of Jesus’ messianic mission
is a spiritual-cosmological tug-o-war. Satan is more than an idea, a “myth,” or
medieval superstition. Satan and demons were/are a real force committed to
damaging and destroying Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles. Through Jesus, the
kingdom is advancing with the intention of disarming all demonic forces. Jesus
reminds them discipleship and ministry is about the name and authority of the
One the 70 represent rather than what they are able to accomplish.


Several things occur to me about the 70 and their discipleship. The 70 would
seem to have accepted the three disciple-ing challenges in the previous scene
(9.57-62). No longer in families or crowds, they have been singled out, sent out
to proclaim the kingdom, to bless with Shalom, to eat with all kinds of folk, to care
for those who have lost their strength. In stepping out they were transformed
from bystanders to active participants.


In Jesus’ unfolding journey, Luke urges Theophilus and us to walk with Jesus
and with the 12/70. His narrative intention is to speak to every generation of
would-be disciples. Like the 12/70 we’re not to withdraw from society but we’re to
walk in it very differently. Like the 12/70, my discipleship can send/has sent me
into unknown territory. Like the 12/70 I can, if I’m not careful, use my theology to
keep doors closed and tables unoccupied, absolutely sure of my privilege and
certain in my judgments. And it is ever so easy for me to stay in the anonymous
crowd safe from real engagement with the issues Jesus calls me to face.
However, in the footsteps of the 12/70, not actually knowing where I’m going, I
can become a low-maintenance member of any household welcoming me,
bringing wellbeing, learning to listen to and aiding those who are weak.
By sending the 12/70 out in pairs, Jesus made sure they learned discipleship and
ministry involves community. By sending them out in pairs, Jesus taught them
they were not alone. Jesus was telling them “You’re going to need each other”.

I’m sure they didn’t always get along. Sometimes teams have a tough time
working together. Sometimes they get stones in their sandals. It seems to me
there was more than one disagreement among the 35 pairs about table manners.
Still, they learned they needed each other. Here’s Luke’s point: discipling is not
an individual endeavor. I need you, we need each other. It seems to me,
kingdom ministry is served by seeing how we can “pair” ourselves with each
other. It also seems to me, in light of their joyful experience, there are few things
more satisfying and life-giving than sharing with others, giving and receiving in
humility, and all the while being united more closely together as a community.
Lastly, Jesus warned the 70 to expect resistance, rejection, danger. Like Luke’s
audiences, we know the reference to lambs and wolves described danger (vs. 3).
The similarities between the Greco-Roman setting and ours are striking. Then as
now, proclamation of kingdom and blessing is for neither “the faint-hearted nor
the impatient” disciple. Now here comes a couple of long sentences. The
intensifying assault on biblical faith/practice in America is prosecuted by a
secularism promoting ethical-moral autonomy, actually insurrection. A
considerable swath of the polarized, political Right and Left, academic, legal,
media and entertainment industries, supported by corporate America, produces,
justifies, spearheads and finances assaulting Biblical truth, attitudes, behaviors,
thoughts and speech. The driving narrative is policed as an extension of “my
lived experience” and “justice”. A Christian’s refusal to affirm the cultural
ideology, what Orwell called “goodthink doublespeak”, is identified as phobia,
bigotry or hate. Like the early Christians, identified disciples will soon find it
difficult to live peaceably within this progressive society, unless, of course, you
shut up.


Know this: the substance of our supposed “intolerance”, like that of the early
Christians, was allegiance to the Lord Jesus, choosing to think and behave with
mercy, holiness, Spirit guided virtues, forgiveness, reconciliation and moral
boundaries. In the troubled waters of America, Christians are increasingly seen
as threats to social stability because we won’t harvest for their lords. So the
Jesus ministry will require more and more alertness, looking intently for anyone
opening a household door. And it seems to me, like the 12/70, believing
communities must begin to find ways to be actively hospitable and grace-filled in
this country. Like the early Christians, being identified as Jesus’ disciple will yield
a far greater harvest because it will come at a far greater cost. Disciples and
would-be disciples would do well to walk the Jesus journey with eyes wide open
looking for, on the one hand, opening doors and on the other expecting rejection.
And I’ll close with this exhortation from the Ep. of Jude: “Be merciful to those who
doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed
with caution—hating even clothing stained by corrupted flesh (vs. 22-23). In other
words, returning again to vs. 12-15, there is no place in the prophetic harvest of
the kingdom and its shalom for a disciple to be indifferent to the tragedy of divine
judgment about to come down on this world and the world to come. One heart,
one mind, one household at a time. Amen.

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