For the benefit of “the other”…

The twelve had already gone out – to some success – (they caught the attention of Herod (Luke 9: 1-8); crowds have been fed, demons have been tamed,and a pattern for the struggle has been set (whoever is not against you is for you.” – Luke 9: 50 Good News) but now, Jesus widens the field.  Seventy two, sent out in pairs too ‘go ahead of him’ into the towns along the route to Jerusalem.

When it comes to ‘equipping the faithful’ we would like to think Jesus is the expert – his great commission asks us to ‘go and make disciples…’ after all.  So here are a large crowd sent to prepare the way for Jesus as he slowly works his way toward Jerusalem, and let’s consider how well prepared they might be…

Take nothing with you, he says.  Everything they need is either waiting for them or found within them.  They are sent barefoot and penniless, no luggage, no ‘props’ – completely dependent on the hospitality of the town.  Jesus suggests that this might be a dangerous way to go – they will be like “like lambs among wolves”, he says – but they will know when it is safe to stay.  They are to seek those who share in peace – This is the only advice that seems even remotely cautionary; otherwise they are to be carefree!  Take what hospitality is offered – stay as long as you are welcome –  and while they are welcome, they are told to heal the sick and, say “The kingdom of God has come near you.”

If this were the only model for ministry, I wonder what the church would have become?  If you were to ‘shake the dust from your feet’ every time a town or household does not welcome the message you bring, how many towns would have heard the good news?  And what about the dire message offered for the towns that will not hear, or for those that do not listen?

It seems to me that if it were that simple – if the world were really divided between those who show hospitality and accept the news of the kingdom, and those who will not listen, who offer no welcome to the messengers of the kingdom – then the kingdom work would have been finished long ago.  But the work to which Jesus calls us is endless – timeless.  The peace that Jesus invites us to seek and to share continues to be elusive in the world.  The kingdom has come near, and still we struggle to find ways to share that news; we struggle with the mission that urges us, “…in the spirit of humility, as beggars telling others where food is to be found, [to] point to life in Christ.”

We struggle with Jesus’ call to share the good news for many reasons.  We don’t know how to measure ‘success’ in this venture.  Jesus hasn’t sent the seventy (two) out to start churches; there will be no monuments or memorials left to mark their mission.  And Jesus joy in having heard of their exploits (“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us”) suggests that they did not understand the mission perfectly.  “…do not rejoice…that the spirits submit to you, but that your names are written in heaven.”  The indication of success is hard to see, in other words.  So how can we know that we are on the right track?  Having answered God’s call to share the gospel, will we ever able to recognize progress in that mission?

I’ll suggest that there is one test of success – though it isn’t exactly obvious in the text.

After suggesting that some will welcome neither the messenger nor the message, Jesus suggests there are consequences: “Woe to you Chorazin!  Woe to you Bethsaida…”  Those towns that will not / cannot / do not listen, and counted as cursed.  Luke’s gospel lays out the boundaries of belief – from “whoever is not against you is for you (Luke 9: 50), to “whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me (10:16) – and the consequences of that rejection are severe.  Here, however, is the “test of success” – If the deeds and miracles had been performed in “Tyre and Sidon”, they would have repented long ago…How is this a measure of success, you ask?

Would it help to know that Tyre and Sidon were settlements beyond the borders of Jewish lands.  The suggestion is that even the outsider – even the supposed enemies of God (the gentiles) would be able to recognize a message from God – a message offered in humility and simplicity; offered by those who had nothing to gain and nothing more to offer than words of peace or compassion to those who were suffering.  Success, it seems, can be seen in the response of those whom you imagine to be your enemies.

So what if that were our only model for ministry?  What if our witness in the world – our evangelism and our outreach – was offered so that it moved our ‘enemies’ to repentance?  What if, instead of vilifying those who are different, we acted in ways that were irresistibly attractive to them?  Any announcement of the coming of God’s kingdom should be so attractive – so compelling – that even those most different from us, and most distant from God, are unable to resist the words of peace we speak.

Too often we measure our mission according to the safe – the known – the familiar.  We think we know what the church should look like – we think we know who is missing.  But the gospel has the power to move those who are not like us – those who are strange and challenging and unfamiliar – and bring them safely inside the circle of God’s grace and love.

Such is the power of our message – the power of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – that enemies of God become apostles, and exiles become citizens, so that by the light of Gods love in Christ we recognize with Paul that there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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