Before sending them out on mission Jesus instructs an additional seventy-two disciples, warning them about dangers and giving them basic attitudes appropriate for traveling through life. Luke shows that missionary work is not limited to the Twelve. So he gives us here a “doublet” of the rules for missionary activity already set forth for the Twelve in Luke 9: 1-6. The worldwide task is too great to limit it to so few. The number seventy-two or seventy in some manuscripts, probably symbolizes all the nations of the world. It also reminds us of Moses’ gathering seventy men, two more, Eldad and Medad, were left behind in the camp but were also given his spirit, to receive some of his spirit to lead the people in his absence Numbers 11: 16-25. Thus, like the Twelve, the seventy-two are related to the origins of Israel. Like Jesus and the Twelve, these seventy-two were endowed with the Spirit. They prefigure the elders of the Church who will lead the communities founded in Acts. Empowered by Jesus and representing him, they will make the kingdom present in healing, exorcism and the bestowal of messianic peace. In verse one, the Lord appointed seventy-two, In Genesis 10 the nations were counted as seventy in the Hebrew text and seventy-two in the Greek translation. The meaning here is that Jesus is commissioning disciples to go beyond the confines of Israel to the whole world.
In pairs: The purpose of pairing was not merely to provide mutual support and help, but also to meet the Law’s requirement of two witnesses for validity. In verse two, the harvest is abundant: “Harvest” is a metaphor for the final gathering of God’s people. Elsewhere it is carried out by the angels or the Son of Man in Matthew 13:39 and Revelation 14. Here, however, Jesus shares it with his disciples who will preach in his name. He needs more workers because the crop must be quickly picked before it spoils. Ask the master of the harvest to send laborers for his harvest: The very people Jesus is telling to pray for more help are the very ones he sends. Even more will be needed. The harvest is a worldwide task which will take countless centuries to finish.
In verse three, like lambs among wolves, these disciples are not to let themselves become overwhelmed by “first fervor,” which quickly fades in the face of difficulty. They are not to let their dreams of instant and easy success substitute for real commitment. Their task will not be easy. Their trials will not be enviable. Their enemy will not be immediately obvious. They must be realistic, not naïve.
In verse four, they are to depend on no equipment of their own- no wallet, purse, suitcase or sandals, presumably a spare pair. They are to go “as is” and not dally over inconsequential frivolities, single-mindedly set on the goal. Remember this is set in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, his goal, begun in Luke 9:51. Thus they will show by behavior their trust in God and show by their poverty and peaceableness they have the character of the beatitudes.
In verses five to eight, peace, “Peace” would be the normal greeting in any event. But Christ’s peace is a gift to be accepted or rejected. If rejected, the blessing is forfeited. Move on. If accepted, stay. Do not pick only the most expensive homes to stay in. Peace, not comfort, is the criterion. Eat what they have in disregard for the food taboos of the Law as well as personal preferences. The work is too urgent to let lesser values determine or deter activity.
In verse nine, cure the sick and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” Healing and preaching amount to the same thing. Even physical cures must be used for the sake of bringing a person into the kingdom. Physical health is not enough for them.
In verses ten to twelve, Shaking the dust from one’s feet is a symbolic action of complete disassociation from those who reject the preaching. For in rejecting the messenger they reject the message with all the ensuing consequences that entails. If there is no hope for Sodom, there is even less hope for a city or any group of people, that rejects the gospel. Rejection of Jesus has dire consequences. In verses thirteen to sixteen, this point is expand on.
In verses sixteen to twenty, The Return of the Missionaries, these verses are meant by Luke to speak to the situation when the disciples of Jesus could no longer imitate and reproduce his mighty works. The power was no longer so strong, obvious or easily done. The point Luke makes here is that they should rejoice nonetheless that their names are written in heaven, that is, they are saved.
In verse seventeen, returned rejoicing, Despite Jesus’ warnings their experience this time did not include too many rejections. They even cast out evil spirits as Jesus did. Jesus did not mention this in his preliminary charge to them. Thus they were surprised. No doubt the demons were as well.
In verse eighteen, Satan fall like lightning from the sky, to the casual observer all that happened was that a few men did some miracles. Jesus saw it differently. From the eternal perspective this represented the defeat of Satan altogether, a defeat sudden and unexpected, like a flash of lightning, surprising even Satan himself. This may have been an actual vision of Jesus, but more likely it is a symbolic way of saying that Satan had suffered a notable defeat, with many more to come.
In verse nineteen, power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, the evil spirits are described in this passage as serpents and scorpions. No doubt Jesus had nothing against these creatures of God as such. They were widely accepted as signs, sources even, of evil when they attacked humans. They are used here in this sense. If the disciples actually had been granted a pass when bitten by these creatures and did not suffer the natural consequences, clearly that exception is no longer generally granted. If there ever was a time when disciples were immune from poison, that time has passed. Clearly, what has not passed is the power over evil in the form of sin.
In verse twenty, rejoice because your names are written in heaven, even then the disciples were not to rejoice for the wrong reasons. Power over evil spirits is great but not nearly as great as experiencing eternal salvation, that “your names are written in heaven” means: these dramatic powers will serve their purpose and pass away. Salvation will not; nor will the disciples’ power to bring salvation to others. Only Luke tells us of this missionary charge to the seventy-two disciples. True to his universalistic, inclusive outlook, he wants to highlight the point that every disciple, and not merely the Twelve, shares in the missionary effort of the Church. This charge to a group representative of disciples the world over echoes the same charge to the Twelve in Luke 9: 1-6. They report back to Jesus that they got the same results as the Twelve did. Jesus rejoiced because he could see in their success his very own power, power he exercised through them, his whole purpose in life coming true, Satan was being defeated before his very, eternal, eyes, if not before the eyes of the world. His methods were working. And what methods were they? What weapons was he using to defeat Satan? In a word, the Beatitudes! This missionary charge is another form of the Beatitudes we find in Luke 6: 20- 23 see also Matthew 5: 3-12. Luke gives the clue to understanding this scene in the light of the Beatitudes by stressing in v. 17 the rejoicing of the returning disciples and the rejoicing of Jesus in verse twenty-one.
Jesus tells them and us to pay less attention to the miracles they worked and more attention to the fact their and our names are written in heaven. “Name” means character or nature in Scripture. Our characters or nature are heavenly, “Blessed,” if we exhibit the behavior of the Beatitudes. Jesus’ charge to his disciples was but another version of them, be poor in spirit, merciful in healing, peacemakers, single-minded, etc. Jesus told them, in effect, that these behaviors would be more effective in the long run than any dramatic miracle performed for its own sake. In Luke verse nine, he said that they were not to neglect preaching the word to those they healed miraculously. In Jesus’ perspective, physical good health is not enough for happiness or wholeness. We can only understand Jesus’ stress on material poverty, as an external sign, of spiritual poverty, that is, detachment. While disciples are to use any moral means at their disposal, including material goods, to advance the Kingdom, they are not to use them to make themselves more comfortable than they need be. Indeed, the Beatitudes whether in Matthew’s form or Luke, stress the importance of being quite the opposite, being uncomfortable for the sake of the Kingdom. If the disciples immunize, insulate and isolate themselves against the discomforts that the people they minister to experience all the time, they will lack the necessary credibility to effectively deliver Christ to them. While disciples need food and shelter just like everyone else, they neither need nor deserve the extras. While Jesus promised his disciples a hundredfold return even in this life, they are not to actively seek it or pursue comforts for their own sake. When a disciple “suffers persecution for righteousness sake” as Matthew puts it he or she is to move on, keep moving, and not get bogged down by hurt or resentment. This response arises from the same attitude as that of being “poor” in material goods or “poor in spirit,” as Matthew puts it. The disciple is to travel light, even physically. Discard excess baggage, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Do not be fussy about food, furniture, living conditions or clothing. The situation is too urgent, too important to become mired in such inconsequential matters. A disciple loses his or her most important asset-credibility- if he or she shows concern for the sort of things pagans do. Rather, one is to adopt the stance of a “reaper,” hopefully not “the grim reaper,” gathering a harvest before it spoils. One should be intense about that without being tense about the inconsequential. Being persecuted, hated, excluded, insulted, denounced as evil, is but another form of the same “poverty,” as material poverty and the outlook of Jesus on both is the same, endure it for now and you will be rewarded, both now and later.
Like crops ripe for the picking, Jesus saw people in the world as itching to be touched, by the soothing, healing power of God. He saw the world, as like a harvest and time as running out. He saw those who have already accepted him, the first fruits of the harvest, the chosen, the picked, as his helpers in seizing the opportunity to prevent Satan from letting people rot on the vine by becoming themselves the pickers or, as Jesus also characterized it, as fishers of men. Jesus not only gives his disciples a job to do, he also gives them the power to do it by sharing with them his own power. Jesus was simultaneously engaged in the world and detached from it and he expects his disciples to be the same way. The spirit of detachment or spirit of poverty empowers a disciple to stay or leave a locality, a job, a house, a table depending upon the presence or absence of Christ’s peace. Rejoicing must be for the right reasons or it is merely boasting.
Running Away vs. Walking Away: Jesus teaches us that we are neither to run away from every inconvenience or opposition nor to stay and fight no matter what. It all depends upon whether we sense the presence of, the peace of, Christ himself. Another way of putting that is whether we discern any hope in a given situation. When there is no peace in Christ, at that point Jesus tells us to “shake the dust from our feet” and get out of town. Though it may not always be obvious to the observer, there is a big difference between running away, skipping town at the first signs of anything negative or challenging, and walking away, deciding after much thought and effort, to leave the situation and or let someone else try. Jesus has promised us that his Spirit will tell us when to do what and what to say or not say, if we let him, if we consult with him, Luke 12: 12.
Sidetracked: Besides the issue of staying or remaining, the disciple who remains in a rather stable situation, that is, everyday life, can easily get sidetracked from the essential mission. First, there are the “issues” of the day. These can even include “church issues” like liturgical correctness, doctrinal precision, church finances, social solutions to world problems, political involvement, etc. While disciples of Christ always apply his teachings to the policies and procedures of the church and to the social and political issues of the day, Jesus also warns us against giving them an importance they do not deserve in the eternal perspective of the Kingdom. He does not want his church to be reduced to a political platform of reforming society, good and desirable as that might be in itself. He taught that evil is to be expelled not reformed and that is done by living the Beatitudes, not by mouthing pious platitudes or designing platforms of reform. Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes puts it this way, be single-minded. The “issues” of the day have always been with us. They cannot really be “solved” until the evil that fuels them is dissolved or exorcized by the power of Christ acting through those who let him act through them. Wasting time and energy in trying to solve them is like staying too long in a place long after it has become clear that they are intractable. Idle Chatter: Jesus further admonishes his disciples not to get sidetracked by idle chatter. When he says, “Greet no one along the way” he is referring to the custom of long and frequently flattering greetings for ingratiating sake, to the marketplace chatter that shares gossip and the pretentious arguments containing much ego and little truth. While none of these activities would ever be fruitful, they are particularly otiose in the light of the short time available. Spend your time much more wisely, says Jesus. And much more joyfully. A reaper is only gathering in what God has planted and grown. God does and has done the hard work. Reaping is the easy part. Amen.
A Message from Dr. Jerry Morrisey brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project