Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 – (Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.) You reap what you sow. Do not become weary in doing good. I don’t boast in circumcision, but in the cross of Christ alone.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 – The sending of the 70: 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!’ 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…
The Sending of the 70
This week I had the great honor of meeting with Mikeal C. Parsons, a tireless scholar of Luke and Acts of the Apostles. This Baptist professor has taught religion at Baylor, in Waco, Texas since 1986. His wife is a professor of Italian Renaissance Art History.
A list of his books is dizzying. I’ll share a list here:
- Rethinking the Unity of Luke and Acts. Co-authored with Richard I. Pervo. Philadelphia: Fortress/Augsburg Press, 1993.
- “Acts.” Pp. 1-64 in Acts and Pauline Writings. Mercer Commentary on the Bible, Volume 7. Watson E. Mills, Richard F. Wilson, et al., editors. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.
- With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Infancy Narrative in Italian Renaissance Painting. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 2003.
- With Martin Culy. Acts: A Handbook on the Greek Text of Acts. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003.
- With Dennis Smith et al. Synoptic Stories About Jesus. Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible. Vol. 9. General Eds. Dennis Smith and Michael Williams. Abingdon Press, 2005.
- With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Public Ministry of Christ in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International, 2005.
- Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.
- Luke: Storyteller, Evangelist, Interpreter. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Press, 2007.
- With Heidi J. Hornik. Illuminating Luke: The Passion and Resurrection Narratives in Italian Renaissance and Baroque Painting. Valley Forge, PA: T & T Clark International. November 2007.
- The Acts of the Apostles. Paideia Commentary Series. Eds. Mikeal C. Parsons and Charles H. Talbert. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008.
- With Martin Culy and Josh Stigall. A Handbook on the Greek Text of Luke. Waco: Baylor University Press, 2010.
- Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity. Reprint. Baylor University Press, 2011.
- Luke: Storyteller, Evangelist, Interpreter. Reprint. Baylor University Press, 2014.
- Gospel of Luke. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament. Baker Academic. 2015.
- With Heidi J. Hornik. The Acts of the Apostles Across the Centuries. Oxford: Blackwell’s. forthcoming 2016.
- The Triune God and the Church’s Mission in Acts. Manuscript submitted for publication.
And this doesn’t even include his articles. The book I’ve used is his Paideia Commentary on Luke. I have relied heavily on Parsons and also Jeffrey’s Brazos Theological Commentary on Luke for today’s post. Watch for an article on my visit with Professor Parsons and some other theology faculty at Baylor and Truett Theological Seminary next month.
Here is the text for this Sunday.
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. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
“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.”
The portion above in grayscale is not part of the lectionary selection. These woes are frankly a bit of a tangent, but since Luke includes them in the text, I will too. This is a literary technique called an inclusio, where the author begins a story, moves to a different, but related story, and then returns to the original story to give us the conclusion. We see this same technique used in television dramas.
In my brief introduction to the Gospel of Luke, I suggest an outline for Luke’s gospel. After the birth narratives, John the Baptist and Jesus’ wilderness experience, there are three bodies of material in Luke: Jesus in Galilee, Jesus journeying to Jerusalem, and Jesus in Jerusalem. Our text is toward the very beginning of the Journey, what Parsons calls the “Travel Narrative.”
In our Revised Common Lectionary, we were in Luke 7-9 in June. We will be in Luke 10-12 in July, and Luke 12-14 in August. In other words, we have just completed Jesus’ time in Galilee and are now on the road with Jesus. Last week was the first text in the Journey/Travel Narrative, Luke 9:51-62, Jesus’ rejection by a Samaritan village, something that will be of importance as we look at this text.
Seventy are commissioned
David Lyle Jeffrey points out that a few texts, followed by the Vulgate, say 72 were sent. The difference between 70 and 72 is not critical, but Parsons points out 70 is an important symbolic number. The Septuagint, a word which means 70, is the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Luke’s gospel utilizes the Septuagint a lot. It may be that this number is symbolic of the mission to the Gentiles.
They are to go ahead of him to towns he will visit. The word used is apestelen/ ἀπέστειλεν. This word means to send or commission. You can see the word “post” in there. It is the root from which comes the word “apostle.” Jesus commissioned 12, then 70. The mission is ramping up. Jesus has a strategy and training to go with it.
Jesus sends the seventy out in twos. “The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jeffrey points out this commissioning is close to the October time of the Festival of Booths/Tabernacles, so the harvest references make sense. Parsons points out the eschatological judgment overtones (Joel 3, Micah 4). “I send you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.” They should not expect to get a warm reception, a lesson they would have learned in Samaria (Luke 9).
The instructions for the seventy echo Jesus’ instructions to the 12 in the previous chapter, Luke 9. The instructions in Luke 10 are longer, but notice the overlap.
Luke 9: Take no staff, bag, money, tunic.
Luke 10: Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.
Luke 9: Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there.
Luke 10: Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide.
Luke 9: If they do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.
Luke 10: If they do not welcome you, say, “Even the dust of our feet we wipe off in protest.”
Travel lightly. This will preach. It is best to travel lightly in life as well. Jesus warns of the lure of materialism. What does it profit you to gain the world, but lose your soul? Parables like the man who built barns warn us that life is more than the accumulation of things.
I keep thinking about my growing library of books, which I had to pack up in boxes and move when I accepted a new call. In time, they became a burden. I began to thin out my collection, realizing many of the books were never used, once read, and some were out-of-date.
We, who have invested our lives in ministry, have to remember, there’s no “stuff” that will make this work. It is the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in us that accomplishes the ministry. “Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting,” one professor said to me.
Luke 10 adds the comment about not talking to people along the way. Parsons sees this as a time saving measure. Oriental greetings could be quite long. The seventy were to have a clear focus and mission. Don’t lollygag. Get to work. This brings to mind the saying about not looking back once you’ve set your hand to the plow and also the angel’s comment after the Ascension: “Why do you just stand there staring up into heaven.” Get to work.
When the seventy enter a house, they are to offer peace. Parsons points out this is a common practice (Judges 6:23; 19:20). If Jesus is the Prince of Peace, his followers should embody that. Parsons also calls to mind the resurrected Jesus’ word of peace to the disciples in Luke 24.
Visitation is an important part of any ministry. We aren’t digging deep in community if we aren’t in each other’s houses. This is hard these days, because people guard their homes more than ever. Small groups meeting in homes are a sign of deeper community. When you enter someone’s home, be sure to offer a word of peace to that home, and embody that peace. Your presence will be a blessing.
Stay in one house
The seventy are to stay in the same house while they are there, rather than moving from house to house. We did this when I was on a Lutheran Youth Encounter Team in the Midwest. For a year we travelled from town to town, singing and leading youth events. It was a great year. We traveled in a van and stayed in host homes. These homes provided us with generous hospitality. This created a bond among us.
Eat what is set before you. There are hints of Peter’s sheet of unclean foods here. Eat what is set before you, even if it violates your dietary restrictions. The mission to the Gentiles will require a different relationship to food – a new freedom based on gospel, not law.
We followed the instructions to “eat what is set before you” when we visit the Lutheran Churches of Ethiopia, Peru, and the Central African Republic. In the CAR, we ate a lot of goat. Sometimes we weren’t sure what we were eating. This was a sign of respect to them. It was an acknowledgement of their great hospitality. In a society that struggles to get enough calories, they killed a goat for us.
Cure the sick and tell them the reign of God has come near
If you don’t have healing gifts, then it is enough to pay attention to the sick and to tend to them. The gifts of presence, smiles, and prayer, do more than we can imagine. Sickness can be isolating. Jesus’ followers are to visit the sick and those in prison, and then remind them that this new community is a sign of the reign of God breaking into our world.
Earlier, in Luke 9, Jesus was rejected by a Samaritan village. We read this gospel text last Sunday. James and John ask if Jesus wants them to call down fire from heaven on this inhospitable village (Luke 9:54). Jesus rebukes them. How do we respond to those who do not receive the gospel? Jesus rejects a violent reaction, and instead suggests they shake the dust off their feet and move on. Parsons points out, if the hosts had been hospitable, the guests would not have dust on their feet anyway. Jesus says it will be worse for them on judgment day than for Sodom (confirming, by the way, that the Sodom and Gomorrah text is about hospitality).
Over the years, I have encountered many who were wounded by the church, and could not return. To respond to them with anger would accomplish nothing. In fact, it might just confirm their impressions. Our response must always be one of welcome. The atheist spouse of a church member is always welcome. The Buddhist spouse of one church member came frequently and meditated during worship. He often had comments about the sermon. Whether or not they believe, the reign of God has a way of breaking in. All are welcome.
We often feel we have done something wrong if people do not believe the gospel we preach. If the parable of the sower and the seed has anything to say, we should only expect about 25% of the seed we scatter to fall on good soil. Scatter away. Expect rejection.
This rejection strategy causes Jesus to go into a bit of fit. He hurls woes at Chorzin and Bethsaida. Miracles were performed there, but they did not receive him apparently. Bethsaida is near the feeding of the five thousand, on the north side of the Sea of Galilee, though efforts to locate it definitively have fallen short of the mark. Chorazin (or Chorazim) is also in northern Galilee. Clearly, Jesus himself was not accepted everywhere. We should not expect we will be either.
The seventy return
The seventy returned with joy. Mission trips often yield amazing results. “Even the demons submitted to us.” Jesus’ response is likely a well-preserved, if not enigmatic saying of Jesus. “I saw Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” He goes on to say he has given them power to tread on serpents and scorpions without harm. Taking this passage literally has led some Christian sects to practice snake-handling.
Satan falling from heaven is likely an apocalyptic image. This sounds like much of Revelation. It also reflects the future as many of the Old Testament prophets did. We may be seeing a glimpse of the mysterious way that Jesus spoke, like many seers. In my view, it has to be a reference to the “spirits submitting to the seventy.” Satan is bound. This is how a first century preacher/healer would speak.
The good news is that the reign of God, more traditionally “the kingdom of God”, is not pie in the sky when you die. It is right here. It is breaking into our world.
Nevertheless, the seventy are not to rejoice in the reaction they got in healing and performing exorcisms. They are to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. We should not rejoice in the various victories of ministry, no matter how life-changing. We are only instruments of the divine, on the world stage for only the blink of an eye.
Preaching Luke 10
This is a phenomenal text for Lectio Divina. Read the text three times, with silence afterwards, and then an opportunity for people to reflect on what they are hearing each time, the final time reflecting on how God is calling us to follow Jesus and be sent into the world today. In a small congregation, this could be the sermon.
In a traditional sermon, it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to preach the mission of the gospel. The harvest today is plentiful. The laborers today are few. Are we not also sent into the world to bring hope and healing? Reflecting on this text would provide an excellent opportunity to train people to bring hope and healing into the world, and also to invite them into deeper training, to be hospital visitors, homebound lay Eucharistic ministers, and evangelists. How are you equipping the saints for ministry? How are you inviting them to hone their skills for this work? How are you preparing them, as Jesus did?
In what ways has the reign of God come near you? In what ways has the reign of God broken into your congregation’s ministry? In what ways has it broken into your community? Tell stories. Point to the God who shows up in the everyday stuff of everyday life.