Reaping is the easy part

Luke 10:1-10:20

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

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