Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, RCL
July 7, 2019
North Fork Ministries
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
The renowned biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan has noted the brilliance of the organizational strategy used by Jesus in appointing 70 followers to go to the places he intended to go, in groups of two or three, each group operating independently of the others. The earlier mission of John the Baptist, which had depended on the charisma of the prophet who ate locust and wild honey and preached repentance, came to an abrupt halt when Herod’s wife had John’s severed head served up on a platter. The followers of John the Baptist quickly dispersed, whereas the decentralized organization of Jesus gained momentum after Jesus’ death and the gospel was spread among the nations.
Jesus gave explicit instructions to the seventy, describing in detail how they were to be lightly provisioned and how they were to conduct themselves on the road and in homes. Jesus directed the seventy to emulate the kind of ministry that he had practiced himself, saying “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
I’m not sure it would be wise for a modern day missionary to literally adopt the blueprint for mission provided to the seventy. I would be reluctant to travel to a foreign land with “no purse, no bag, and no sandals”. And I’m not sure that we possess the same kind of power over the forces of evil, that Luke describes the seventy possessing. They were given authority to tread over snakes and scorpions. Whenever I walked through wooded sections of the North Fork this spring, it became quickly apparent that I haven’t even been granted authority over a few hungry ticks.
We may not possess the same kind of power and authority granted to the seventy, but we have been commissioned nonetheless. We are missionaries, charged with spreading the same core message that Jesus instructed the original seventy to share, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
But what, we newly commissioned citizens of the 21st century might ask, does that really mean? How exactly are we to convey to the people around us that the kingdom of God has come near?
If you were a 19-year-old young man in the Church of the Latter Day Saints’, you would understand that commission to mean that you would soon be wearing a white shirt and black pants and riding your bike around the streets of an unfamiliar city. Or if you were a faithful Jehovah’s Witness, you would spend your Saturdays knocking on doors and passing out pamphlets filled with terrifying descriptions of the approaching rapture.
I’ve not had a lot of luck with door knocking campaigns. I did try it as a church planter when first started holding church services in a new neighborhood. I quickly learned that it was going to be a tough sell when the woman who responded to my very first knock on a door, politely, but firmly, informed me that she was a Jehovah’s Witness, handed me a pamphlet about the end times, and quickly shuttled me out the door.
I’m inclined to think that we convey the gospel, proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near, more effectively through the way we live, than through the words we say. The great mystic, St. Theresa of Avila was on to something when she observed that,
“Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.”
The essence of Jesus’ commission to the seventy, and to us, is to follow his example. Yet there was more to the Christ than the good and righteous acts he performed. Certainly he healed the sick, fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger and urged his followers to do likewise, but there was also something, in his very being, that made it clear to those around him that the kingdom of God was near at hand.
Daniel Goldman, best known for his book, Emotional Intelligence, provides some insight into the quality of leadership that Jesus was expecting from the seventy followers that he sent out in pairs. They were called on to inspire, in the root sense of the word, “to breathe into.” The seventy were sent out to bring life, by their very presence, into every interaction, into every encounter.
In telling the disciples to “bring no purse, no bag, no sandals” Jesus wasn’t simply urging on them a strict asceticism, but helping to foster within them an attitude of reliance on spirit, rather than material things. So that those who the seventy encountered could see that the sense of well being they possessed was not a result of what they owned, but who they were.
Jesus told the seventy that whenever they entered a house, they should say, “Peace be with this house.” As people commissioned to spread the gospel, they were expected to bring with them, the same sense of peace that had drawn them to follow Jesus in the first place. The disciple’s capacity to move through life with a non-anxious presence, with a sense of peace, says more about the transforming power of Christ, than the most eloquent argument or well-crafted sermon ever could.
Jesus recognized that not every overture of these 70 new disciples would be positively received. When they found that they were not welcomed in a town, the seventy were instructed to “go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you.” In other words, shake it off. Criticism, negativity, unkind words, hatefulness – let it go, as if it were dust clinging to the bottom of you sandals. And proclaim, through your lack of attachment to outcome that the kingdom of God is nearby.
Daniel Goleman says that this kind of self-awareness serves as a kind of “ethical rudder” ensuring that what we are doing and the direction we are headed is “in keeping with our sense of purpose, our values, our meaning – our mission.”
Jesus told his disciples that "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” Maybe the laborers are few because we misunderstand what it means to proclaim the gospel, imagining that it might require knocking on doors or preaching from street corners. When all that is really being asked of us is an awareness of who we really are, as children of God. The kingdom of God is nearby. You hold it in the palm of your hand. You hold it in your heart. All else flows from an awareness of who you are. Peace be to this house.