After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet 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 will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer 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 will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! 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 will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.
“The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
The seventy-two 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 on 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 ESV)
When it comes to thinking about Jesus and his disciples and their time together, I have the feeling that we all stick to the number 13. We have the 13 up in Galilee. 13 in Jerusalem. We find Jesus and his disciples – we think 13 – walking, on the sea, in the Upper Room – and again, we have the image of a small group with flashes or moments of wider recognition by towns, crowds, regions, authorities as a group which should be watched – maybe joined, maybe not, but definitely watched.
But what happens if we expand the numbers? What happens if over the 3 years, Jesus and the 12 disciples – the 13 – are the inner circle of a much larger group? This much larger group fluctuates in size – large, very large – imagine the catering needed – and then there are times when people leave as well. Is the John 6 scene, when so many stopped following Jesus, noticed precisely because Jesus – everyone – is used to the group being much bigger. Congregations that used to be large can find being smaller a challenge at times.
I think it is Luke who points out that Jesus was more of a social phenomenon that people had to take notice of – and that there was more social disruption happening wherever Jesus went. In chapter 8, Luke tells us that there were some women involved with Jesus and the Twelve who provided for them out of their means – also that Jesus’ mother and brothers can’t reach him because of the crowds. In chapter 9, Jesus sends out the Twelve to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal and they seem successful because soon Jesus is feeding more than 5,000, talking about his suffering and death, dealing with arguments about who is the greatest, getting rejection in some quarters and there is an issue emerging about what it costs to follow Jesus which culminates in the last week’s gospel account of Jesus’ reply to the person who wants to follow Jesus but first wants to say farewell to his family, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). And now in chapter 10, Jesus appoints 70 or 72 – the manuscripts have both numbers with scholarship falling slightly more on the side of 72 – I’m partial to the 70 – to go two by two to places Jesus was
about to go as lambs among wolves and tell the people that ‘the Kingdom of God has come near to
you’ – and it will come closer when Jesus arrives. If there ever was a text that expands our view of
Jesus and his followers then it has to be this one. People are often surprised that the number of Jesus’
followers waiting for Pentecost – given to us by Luke at the beginning of his second letter to
Theophilus is 120 (Acts 1:15). The three years of Jesus’ public ministry involves a fluctuation of
numbers – small and growing, large and larger, decreases, increases – so I think we should be
cautious about sticking to the number 13 over the 3 years.
This means that the size of the groups associated with Jesus have always grown and waned over the
years. The Church has looked to this text and similar ones for its model or guidance of ministry – that
those whom Jesus sends need physical support from those who receive that ministry but also that
those who are sent are not to fleece the flock of their assets.
Luke records a clarity, a certainty, maybe it comes across even as arrogance that the messengers are
declaring that the Kingdom of God is coming to near to them, not because the messengers are there
but because the message is – the words – focusing on Jesus. Where peace exists minister there. Where
the message is not accepted – remember the lambs among wolves description so which do you think is
the more common scenario? – then clearly say to those who reject – the same message! ‘The
Kingdom of God has come near to you’. Only this time – at that moment – the consequences are
different as there is no peace with God. Peace may come tomorrow through other messengers but for
that day – that rejection – if it is the view of people who come before God will have its own
Jesus is confronting. Just as water or medicine is confronting to thirst or disease, so those who push
Jesus away, don’t want him, won’t ‘take him’ then have to deal with the consequences of their choice,
their behaviour. That is why Jesus speaks the ‘woes’ to the towns of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and
Capernaum – and we don’t know whether Jesus was talking to the towns or addressing the towns in
the presence of the disciples only – that their rejection of him and his message (his messengers) has
deadly consequences. Of course we would say that even Jesus ‘woes’ – telling the truth about the
consequences of rejection – have the goal of repentance – and so we have the hallmark of Christian
ministry whether public or privately that those who hear Jesus’ followers when they are talking about
and on behalf of Jesus are hearing Jesus. If people believe the message – wonderful. If people reject
the message, they are rejecting also Jesus that day.
Next Luke records the return of the 72 all excited because it would seem that they had success and
Jesus calms them down – settles them – curbs their enthusiasm – it is easy for ministers to have egos
and think it is all about them – when instead they – and everyone – should rejoice that their names are written in heaven – that they are saved by God’s grace. For me, the serpents and scorpions are
metaphors or allegories about all the things that tempt, sting, wreck, and kill the ministry and the life
of a disciple but Jesus promises that ultimately such serpents and scorpions shall not win and kill
salvation or heaven for us.
In Genesis 10 the symbolic number of the nations of the world is 70 in Hebrew and 72 in the Greek
version of the Old Testament and perhaps Jesus here at this moment was making a clear point that his
messengers, his Kingdom of God, and himself personally is for the whole world. The harvest is
always plentiful and Jesus’ followers are called first of all – not to go out – please note this – but first
to pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out the labourers. Ministry, mission, sharing the gospel,
evangelism – whatever you want to call it – is not about you or me – it is about looking at the harvest
and praying – and then doing what we believe the answer to prayer is all about. And should we be
sent – whether publicly or privately – then we know we will be sheep among wolves but do not fear
because Jesus is with his people and he wants all people to be in his Kingdom – and that is finally
what counts – that those who speak and those who hear know that it is Jesus who has come near, that
it is Jesus who saves, and that it is in Jesus that we have forgiveness, life and salvation – and this
Jesus disrupts and changes our perceptions about life and living – but there is no better way to live.
- Luke 10:1 - 20