OUR BIBLICAL text for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost comes to us from the inkwell of Saint Luke. Within the reading, we read how Jesus laid out a sound method of evangelism for his infant church…
“After this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. And he said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
Go your way..; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and salute no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you.
And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages; do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'
But, whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, 'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you; nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on that day for Sodom than for that town. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Beth-saida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Caperna-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" And he said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:1-20)
Proclaim the Word…
Our text today from Luke begins with Jesus sending his disciples into the mission field. Much of this reading receives multiple attestation from the other scriptural gospels, because we find the event is also written of in Mark and Matthew (Matthew 9:37-38; 10:7-16, and Mark 6:7-11) However, we note in the other readings an interesting difference, that the initial sending included only the twelve apostles. In Luke we read of a more numerous sending. In Luke, we read that seventy are sent. Take note here that a textual variant also does exist, in that some ancient texts of Luke, record that seventy two that were sent. Consequently, in either instance, the comparative evidence shows that Luke’s gospel contains a more expansive evangelical impetus.
In all three witnesses, we note that the travel made by the evangelical teams, consisted of going out two by two through town by town, and the impact was intended to be rapid. This may indicate how the apostolic remembrance reminded that there was not much time left… the end of all things was thought to be near. In haste, the disciples were told to take only what was necessary. They were not to delay. They were not to visit on the road with anyone. With quick centeredness of purpose, those who proclaimed the gospel were commissioned to go ahead of Jesus empowered by faith in the good news.
A warning was given concerning the forsakenness of those who would not hear, and rejected the apostolic message. In answer, the disciples are told to shake the dust from their feet as they left behind those who would not respond favorably to the good news.
In our Lord’s lament concerning this demonstrated lack of faith, Jesus pronounced great malady shall come upon those who would not respond, listing those who had historically paid the price of self-centeredness, and would receive destructive recompense of sin in the future. He proclaimed against those who would reject the feet of those carrying the gospel. He tells his sent ones…
. “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
As those disciples sent out returned to him rejoicing, Jesus immediately told them of great triumphal and prophetic signs of victory that had been shown to him, and of their certainly belonging to the eternal kingdom. In the subsequent prayer of thanksgiving, not in this Sunday’s reading, Jesus gives thanks to the Father for providing this wisdom to those lowly persons who do his work.
Why Seventy and More?
As we examine this descriptive story from Luke, I believe that we are prompted by the Holy Spirit to note a very important historical anomaly. By the power of that same Spirit, we see that Luke deviated to the higher number to state a different, increased number of “sent ones”.
When we consider this, if we note the normally accepted setting and time of this gospel writing… we know that Luke wrote to the communities of the dispersed Israel. Thus historically, we know that these diaspora communities across the ancient Roman world were receiving many proselytes to their faith who were not Jews.., but were instead were Gentiles. Thus I must consider the thinking that Luke stressed the greater number deliberately… to fit his context… so that mission out into the Gentile nations would be more greatly stressed. Therefore, being more inclusive from a Jewish faith community that was originally rather exclusive in the commissioning of the original twelve apostles, the scribal pen of Luke described the mission driven to reach much farther… to seventy, or seventy two tribes.
Obviously, today we find the last days were further off than first thought. But we know that the Lukan figure represents the historic Hebrew numbering of tribes that were “not” Israel. In this way, Luke related to his churches that the apostolic mission was to go far beyond anyone’s previous myopic human horizon. The church mission, according to Luke, is far more universal in its field.
We must note with importance, however, that what applied to the twelve disciples, also applied to the seventy plus... for our Lord stressed that some will hear and some will not. This included Israel and beyond. Thus it is that we, as disciples today even further removed in time, also shall experience unbelief, hardship, persecutions and all the woes of those who believe. We too work forward in a sin-ridden, unbelieving world. Yet, far be it that we should experience forsakenness in mission. You see, though sinful ourselves and prone to stumble, we can rejoice that through no merit of our own we have been forgiven and are chosen for mission in this modern, heavy-laden scientific society. By power of the Holy Spirit, we of the church are called yet to proclaim. We know that even though we are more numerous than our predecessors in the faith, and may open constantly our mouths to boldly declare the good news of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection for our sake.., that this word we speak shall be heard, but not received by all.
Finally, know this! By the grace of God, the throne of Satan and his demonic powers shall be unseated as our collective voice rings out. Knowing this final result, though not always extant to us because of our own sin and stubbornness, we are gently reminded of the love of Christ by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are reminded that as prophesied by our Lord Jesus, and written from St John’s Revelation… that our names are indeed written in heaven. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End… and He shall reign forever and ever. Thanks be to God!