It’s always all about Jesus
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 labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers 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)
If you were to imagine Jesus and his disciples walking the streets of Jerusalem or the hills of Galilee, how big is the group you’re imagining?
In this group, how many women are there?
My guess is that when we imagine Jesus and the scenes in the Gospel accounts we get fixed on some and they become rather standard for us. It is the same phenomenon, I think, with watching religious films and that is that we don’t really read the text. Our imagination or what we’ve seen the screen blocks our ears so to speak and we end up not noticing certain things.
So how many disciples with Jesus? I’m guessing 12. Anyone for a different number? (Why?) And as for gender … I’m guessing again that they’re all men. Right?
I’m not going to talk about gender – though I would ask you to recall the Gospel on 12th June – the little scene after Jesus forgave the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house – the first three verses of Luke 8. So yes, there were women in the group.
But back to our Gospel – a text often used in mission services – mission festivals and the like – the sending out of the labourers into the harvest field for the Kingdom of God. Often these sermons end with a ‘you go and do likewise’. I’m not about to suggest that we shouldn’t share the good news about Jesus with those around us but I am going to suggest that it’s not the point of our reading today.
But back to my first question … how many did Jesus send out? 70? 72? I’m going with the 72 – with its link with 12 – but is that the size of the group in your imagination? Where did they come from? We don’t know. But what we have is not a small band of merry men but a social movement – a religious movement – who are not going incognito for in our text Jesus sends them out two by two to gather in a harvest; to tell people about the Kingdom of God and more importantly how it is close, near, at hand – and in doing so they will be talking about Jesus – what he’s teaching and doing. And these disciples also do signs – mainly healing – so that people will take notice of God’s presence. They’ll notice God and Jesus because a group of 72 – even the news of 72 – is not hard to miss.
Why this reading is in our lectionary is interesting since so many congregations around the world don’t have 72 people in them! Because the Kingdom of God is not about numbers and nor is about miracles – mainly healing – and neither is it about supernatural power over poisonous creatures whether physical or spiritual. The Kingdom of God
is near and it is a message about Jesus. Back then it was about his ministry and how he was revealing God – personifying God almost – meet Jesus, meet God sort of thing – and people are then left with a choices, decisions, more questions maybe, and then later whether that be 5 minutes or 5 or 50 years these people who have heard about God’s kingdom, heard about Jesus will behave in a particular way – either relating to and following Jesus or rejecting Jesus and following someone else.
Our text doesn’t give us a time frame – a day, a week, a month, the non fishing season of the year? But it gives the goal of time – that people’s names are written in heaven. These 72 return and they’re excited – stuff happened – healings, exorcisms – they’re on a high and in danger of missing the Kingdom of God themselves by wanting the gifts but not the Giver. Jesus acknowledges again his power – he is human but more than human – he says he saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven – Satan’s power is crumbling and he is being deposed from the Earth by the stronger man. And Jesus directs them back to the mystery that God has written their names in heaven – and that action is to be the source and the occasion of our rejoicing.
Jesus is not meek and mild Jesus here. He is a military leader sending out his troops into enemy territory and telling them that he will provide the provisions that they will need for their mission. His words to the local towns – his acknowledgement that some people will reject the 72 and that means rejecting him and that means rejecting God is an audacious claim. There he is again linking himself to God! And there a judgment coming for those who reject the Word – all these words about Jesus.
We know who Jesus is because we know what happened next to Jesus. His ministry continued. Conflicts increased. At Capernaum at the synagogue when Jesus talked about eating his flesh and drinking his blood having eternal, many who were following – maybe many of the 72 – left Jesus.
And that’s what this text is drawing us to see – that in hearing about Jesus, we meet a message about God, a unique message not interchangeable with other faiths for Jesus himself says that no one comes to the Father – to God – but through him. Meet Jesus, meet God.
There is so much we could say about aspects of this text but let me finish with one. In all the religious discussions and squabbles that can happen, in all the excuses and fights about religion, in all the pushing God away for an independent life there is only one message that can be given – not a magic bullet of conversion – but a mustard seed that grows – we know not how but we know the Holy Spirit uses words, water, bread and wine to grow faith. And the words always have their focus on Jesus.
In all the theology books and sermons; in all the challenges Christians get today about suffering; in all the criticisms levelled at the followers of Jesus, the clergy, and the Church; in all the excuses people give to keep Jesus at arm’s length the only answers the 72 would have talked about were God and Jesus – and they would have made them sound as if they’re one! Jesus understands. Jesus suffered too. Jesus wept. Jesus died. Jesus helps. Jesus was hungry. Jesus didn’t get his way all the time. Jesus forgives. Jesus heals. Jesus challenges. Jesus rebukes. Jesus is alive after he died and he will never die. Jesus is Lord.
Luke 10 is a picture far more of organised ministry – pastors and clergy – than it is about the laity, the congregation. Denominations have used this passage as part of the way to organise themselves and how clergy are to function. So the text is directly more for me than it is for you.
Nevertheless it gives us a window into discipleship that our deeds are not what we should get excited about but that God’s grace has saved us in Jesus – us sinners – and what Jesus has done for us is rock solid.
And this text encourages us to remember that in all the words said about religion – oh, they’re so many! – the heart of our words is Jesus and we want to introduce him to those around us. We can’t argue or debate or cajole or trick people into the Kingdom of God but we can point them to Jesus. And we can trust God to reach out and give life to this world because his Son Jesus has died and risen again. That is why more than 72 are still talking about Jesus today.
- Luke 10:1 - 20