by Jeremiah Bartram on 01/07/10 at 8:37 am
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.’ I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.” ….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.” Luke 10, 1-12; 17-20; reading for Sunday, July 4.
A. E. Harvey notes that all three gospels report that the 12 disciples were sent out on a mission of proclamation and healing, but that only Luke has a further such mission, involving a much larger group of 70 people. Their instructions are almost identical to those given to the 12 in Matthew, but there is added urgency to their instructions.
“After their return, they play no further part in the story. What is their significance?” he asks.
Answering his own question, he surmises that Luke, as a professional historian familiar with the later evangelical history of the church, wanted to establish a larger corps of missionaries than the 12 disciples. He also notes that 70 is an important round number in Jewish legend and history.
Hugues Cousin reaches a similar explanation by a different path. He thinks that Luke is working from two different sources – Mark and an unknown manuscript that collected together many of Jesus’ sayings. He speculates that rather than synthesize them, as Matthew did, Luke kept them distinct.
“In working this way, he made himself into a theologian,” Cousin comments, because Luke wants to show that Jesus did not limit missionary activity to the apostles – and that the same powers accompanied a vastly larger group, also directly commissioned by the Lord.
Hence the astonishment of the 70 when they return: “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”
Hence also Jesus’ response: “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.”
Gospel for gays
Last week, the reading was about the call of Jesus, and the focus was on the hesitations and second thoughts of a sample of anonymous would-be followers.
This week, Luke’s attention shifts to the large number of recruits (70, a symbolic number) whom Jesus sent out to prepare the way for his own immanent arrival in the towns and villages of Judea.
He gives them instructions very similar to the earlier missionary excursion of the 12 disciples, in Galilee: travel light, accept the hospitality offered to you, remain focused on the mission, and offer a greeting of peace every time you enter a house.
“[F]irst 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.”
They come in peace, and they leave in peace. If a village refuses to receive them, they are not supposed to call down vengeance on it (as John and James proposed in last week’s reading). Rather, they are to shake even the dust of the street off their sandals, taking nothing away – and leaving only a warning behind: “Remember this: the kingdom of God has come near – and you missed it, by your own choice.”
And what is the mission?
There is really only one. Proclaim the kingdom of Heaven, which is near: Jesus, the man himself, will soon be entering your town.
(There is a secondary mission of healing the sick; but that is not an end in itself. It is a sign of the new reality, the new world order, the kingdom of peace which is open to all those who welcome it.)
Two things strike me here: the gift of reciprocal peace; and the gift of power. Both are signs of the kingdom, which is here, and yet to come.
The 70 are to offer a blessing of peace when they first enter a house – and if there is someone in that house who shares the peace, the blessing will “rest on that person”.
What happens then?
I know by experience what happens then: the fruits of inner peace (light, happiness, sharing, healing) increase; community is created; and the kingdom of heaven is realized, in that house.
If there is no one who shares this mysterious peace – no harm done: “but if not, it will return to you”.
That is, the blessing simply returns to the one who offered it.
The one who offers the blessing of peace is, thus, unharmed: he has nothing to fear, he loses nothing, his inner peace will remain intact. But it is not shared, and the fruits of peace, especially community, are not present in that house.
The gift of power follows. Luke doesn’t say this with the clarity I here propose, and neither do the other gospel writers. Therefore, I treat it only as a thesis, my own opinion.
But with that qualification, I say this: community is the necessary condition for the miracles of healing that fill the gospel accounts.
The 70 were astonished to find that they could heal, and that even devils were subject to them. But the necessary first step was the blessing of peace, offered and accepted, just as the risen Jesus would later offer peace to his followers.
We need community.
I think this is a real problem for gay Christians – at least for this gay Christian.
Because the reciprocal relationship offered within our specific church communities either omits or avoids the core of my identity; while the community offered by specifically gay communities ignores (or rejects) the faith.
In each case, the offering of peace seems incomplete and unreciprocal to me, and the miracle of community is, therefore, frustrated.
I wish I were wrong about this – but that’s my experience.
But let’s end on a hopeful note.
The instructions of Jesus begin, very interestingly, with prayer. That’s the first thing he says:
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
The prayer intention here cited is specific: pray for more laborers, a prayer usually interpreted as one for more vocations.
And that’s fine.
But prayer is prayer and “vocations” narrowly conceived are not the only thing intended by this instruction.
Those of us who hear the Lord’s call, and who also share the frustration that I here describe, continue to pray for community, continue to pray for a sharing of the mutual peace that both prefigures, and is, his kingdom of happiness and healing.
And that prayer sustains us. As Jesus notes in response to the excited wonder of the 70 when they return: “… do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”