"The fundamental polarity of human life between what is and what ought to be, between lack and fulfillment, between determination and freedom, is not abnormal; it is the norm. Every person is exposed to it because of the inescapable structure of human formation." (Adrian van Kaam, The Transcendent Self, Dimension Books, 1979, 172.)

Gospel for the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (7 July 2019)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
JGospel

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 – NRSV).

Introductory notes

General

Luke continues his journey narrative.

Luke is the only Gospel to tell us of a second mission and that it involved 70 disciples. Some manuscripts have the number as 72.

All three Synoptics tell us of the mission described initially by Mark 6:7-12. Luke’s account is found in 9:1-6 and Matthew’s account in 10:5, 8 & 9-14. Each of these accounts contains instructions by Jesus. Mark 6:8-11 records those instructions as follows: “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them’.” Luke 9:3-5 is obviously dependent on Mark: “He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them’.”

Today’s Gospel repeats much of the foregoing if not verbatim certainly in concepts. However the instructions of Jesus as recorded by Luke are very similar to those recorded by Matthew 10:7-16. One commentator notes that Luke, from 9:51 onwards, “stops following Mark, returning to it as his main source again only in 18:15. The material in this long section comes from Q (shared with Matthew) or L (Luke’s own source or composition)” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 163).

One commentator writes: “It seems best to regard 9:1-6 and 10:1-16 as one sending” (W J Harrington OP, “St Luke”, A New Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Reginal C Fuller et al, London: Nelson, 1969, 1007).

Specific

Lord: Luke has introduced the title, Lord (kyrios), in 7:19. It is “a distinctive feature” of Luke’s Gospel (see Luke Timothy Johnson, op cit, 118).

harvest is rich: We find this same expression in Matthew 9:37-38 and in the same context. John 4:35 also has the expression. No doubt it was an immediately recognizable and effective metaphor for Jesus’ listeners.

I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves: Matthew has a similar comparison – see Matthew 10:16. Both Luke and Matthew use the Greek verb apostellō which means “to send with a commission: they represent the prophet” (Luke Timothy Johnson, op cit, 167). The Greek verb used just before this – “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers” – is ekballō and it literally means “throw out”. When Jesus is sending the disciples out, the new verb gives a very different sense to what is happening. First of all, the disciples are not being “thrown out” – as if they are being abandoned. Rather they are being called to identify with Jesus Himself. Thus, secondly, their being sent shares the very mission – the being sent – of Jesus. And thirdly, like Jesus, they are vulnerable. They do not go as warlords or political strategists or ideologues – definitely not ideologues! – or would-be messiahs. On the contrary they are – like Jesus – vulnerable to the various military and political and ideological henchmen of this world. The power by which their mission will be accomplished does not come from them but from the Spirit. Through their very vulnerability they will triumph.

greet no one on the road: An obvious explanation for this seemingly inhospitable instruction is that the disciples are not to be sidetracked. They must maintain a clear focus. Luke Timothy Johnson adds: “There is a good narrative reason for this new element which is unique to Luke. In contrast to the mission of the Twelve in a Galilee receptive to Jesus, the present mission is in dangerous Samaria, which has already been shown in the narrative (9:53) to be hostile” (Ibid).

Reflection

It can be uncomfortable being a Catholic today. To many of our fellow citizens the Catholic Church is variously perceived as a corrupt organization, an oppressive institution, an institution that has never emerged from medieval times, etc. The fact that these are misrepresentations is not the point. The point is that Catholics are often the butt of ridicule and mockery in our society. This can be particularly painful when it permeates the culture where one works. There is a vulnerability in this. Yet, it may also be a moment of grace.

In today’s Gospel – Luke 10:1-12 & 17-20 – we hear Jesus tell his disciples: “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves”. Matthew records the same expression but he adds: “so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). Both Luke and Matthew use the same Greek verb for “send” – apostellō. It means, “to send with a commission: (the disciples who are sent) represent the prophet (Jesus)” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991, 167). The Greek verb for “send” used just before this, in Luke 10:2 – “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers” – is ekballō and it has quite a different meaning. It literally means “throw out”. When Jesus is sending the disciples out, the new verb – apostellō – carries a very specific and different sense.

First of all, the disciples are not being “thrown out” – as if they are being abandoned, left to their own devices. Rather they are being called – invited – to become one with Jesus Himself. Thus, secondly, their “being sent” shares the very mission – the “being sent” – of Jesus. And thirdly, like Jesus, they are vulnerable. They do not go as warlords or political strategists or ideologues or would-be messiahs. They wear no armor. They have no worldly protection. On the contrary they are – like Jesus – vulnerable to the various military and political and ideological henchmen and power brokers of this world. The power by which their mission will be accomplished does not ultimately come from them or sources in this world, but from the Spirit of God. Far from being a dire prediction, Jesus’ words reveal a profound and life-giving paradox: Through their very vulnerability they will triumph.

Listen to those experiences when you are marginalized, demeaned, ridiculed, overlooked or put down. Recall the wise words of the late Les Murray: “If we say God and Christ stand by what we’ve said, we don’t stand alone, but we do have to expect some splinters in our shoulders. We should not, I suggest, be tempted to see ourselves as a team that has to win for God; He is not helpless – and anyway His idea of a win is the Cross” (Les A. Murray, “Some Religious Stuff I know About Australia” in D. Harris et al, eds., The Shape of Belief: Christianity in Australia Today, Lancer, 1982, 26).