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.”
Jesus’ sending of the seventy (which appears only in Luke) is full of symbolic language. The number 70, for instance, was likely a connected with Genesis 10, in which 70 nations are named. It is implied here that Jesus sends the seventy to cover the entire known world at the time, including hostile nations as well as hated ones. For this reason Jesus tells the seventy that they are to be “sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Jesus also instructs them to eat whatever is placed before them, which obviously wouldn’t be a concern had the seventy been sent out to other predominantly Jewish regions who ate the same things that they did! Implied here is that the pairs Jesus sends out will find themselves at table with pagans and gentiles, and in those instances they are to enjoy the food (and fellowship) of their foreign hosts.
Thirdly, this text is infused with eschatological imagery. Jesus speaks in terms of harvest time, the moment just before the fields are gleaned so that the grain can be separated from the chaff. It is understood that the seventy are to be laborers in this harvest, proclaiming words of peace initially, but then delivering their primary message: “The Kingdom of God has come near to you!” And that, I think, is really the point of this passage.
If Jesus’ sending of the seventy is a function of God’s Kingdom realized in Jesus Christ himself, then God’s Kingdom is exhibited in things like hospitality, outreach to strangers, compassionate healing, the proclamation of peace, and the ultimate sharing of good news. All to often today, we maintain inward-focused programs in our churches. We are far more concerned with what happens inside our walls than with what’s going on outside them. It’s the church members who get the attention rather than the surrounding community. Here in Luke 10, we see a different way of doing things. We also see a blueprint of sorts for the “missional” church.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of the missional church, here’s a short video that attempts to explain it:
Secondly, if you have some time, here’s Michael Frost’s excellent presentation on what it means to be missional:
If we take this text from Luke 10 seriously, then we’ll see the importance of sending. Being a church isn’t simply a matter of “if you build it, they will come”. There are plenty of churches that have been built, but no one is coming! We must learn to rethink church, and see it as a place from which people are sent into the surrounding community and the world with a mission: proclaiming peace, sharing hospitality, and telling the good news of the nearness of God’s Kingdom. I often wonder how many mainline churches see the community that surrounds them as a mission field.
Perhaps we’re missing how near the Kingdom really is.
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First Look is a weekly commentary on the upcoming lectionary gospel text written by Rev. Lee A. Koontz. It is usually published on Mondays.