Gospel for the Fourteenth Sunday (3 July 2016)
Gospel notes by Michael Whelan SM
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)
This is one of the so-called “doublets” in the Synoptic Gospels – an occasion in which the same story is told twice within the same Gospel. Luke has already told us how Jesus sent the Twelve to preach and heal – see 9:1–6. That earlier passage depends on Mk. 6:7–12. See also in Matthew 9:37–38 and 10:7–16. Fitzmyer writes: “Since none of the other Gospels knows of a separate sending-out of ‘other’ disciples than the Twelve and since what is addressed here to the ‘others’ is already found in part in the charge to the Twelve in Matthew, Luke has clearly created this literary ‘doublet’ from the ‘Q’ material that is parallel to Mark 6:6b–13. Information that was preserved in the ‘Mk’ and ‘Q’ sources about a sending-out of disciples by Jesus has been used by Luke to fashion two separate mission-charges, one to the Twelve and one to the ‘seventy(-two) others’. Further support for this conclusion is found in Luke 22:35, where Jesus, addressing the Twelve at the Last Supper, asks them, ‘When I sent you out without a purse, knapsack, or sandals, was there anything that you lacked?’ That question, including ‘sandals’, refers not to 9:3, addressed to the Twelve, but to 10:4, addressed to the ‘others’. In other words, the double sending-out of disciples during Jesus’ earthly ministry is a Lucan creation.” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, S. J., The Gospel according to Luke X–XXIV: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28A), Yale University Press, 2008, 843.)
Some manuscripts have Jesus sending “seventy two”, others have “seventy”. Johnson puts a good case for the latter: “This translation chooses ‘seventy’ because it coincides with the image of Jesus as the prophet like Moses which is so important thematically for Luke. Moses picked seventy elders (Num 11:16–17) to share his work with the people, and they shared the spirit of prophecy (Num 11:25). In Exod 24:1, 9–14 the seventy elders also accompany Moses on the mountain. In light of the clear allusion to Num 11:26–30 in Luke 9:49, so close to the present passage, the choice for seventy seems reasonable.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, The Liturgical Press, 1991, 167.)
Perhaps Luke is making the point that the mission of proclaiming the kingdom belongs to any and all disciples, not just “the Twelve”. Luke makes his last mention of “the apostles” – whom he identifies with “the Twelve” – in the Book of Acts 16:4. The mission to announce the kingdom has gradually involved a much wider range of people by this time. “Luke is able to show that the task of mission was not confined to the Twelve—a fact which is not unimportant for his conception of witness and apostleship. Although the content of the sayings is related to mission in Palestine, it is possible that Luke regarded this mission as prefiguring the church’s mission to the gentiles.” (I H Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text, Paternoster Press, 1978, 413.)
Note that, in both accounts of mission, the focus is not on the apostles or disciples but on Jesus and his instructions.
where he himself intended to go: Somewhat like John the Baptist, “the seventy” are sent on ahead. In 9:1-2 we have been told that “the Twelve” were sent to preach and heal; in 9:51 the messengers were sent to prepare a place for Jesus and the disciples to stay. This seems to suggest that Jesus is preparing the disciples – ie the Church – for a new relationship with him in their work after the resurrection.
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few: Matthew 9:37-38 has the some saying and John 4:35 something similar. As with the parables, Jesus uses imagery that is familiar to his audience. Such an image as harvesting awakens deep and familiar feelings in people whose lives depend heavily on it. In this instance, what might those deep and familiar feelings be? It seems reasonable to suggest that this image would have evoked a sense of urgency.
I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves: This imagery intensifies the communication. We have already read in 9:53 the hostile reception Jesus and the disciples got in the Samaritan village because they were on their way to Jerusalem. There are real dangers in proclaiming the kingdom. Don’t be naïve or romantic about it!
Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals: These words reiterates what has been said earlier to the Twelve – see 9:3. The message is clear: the disciple’s focus must be the kingdom, he/she must be ready, willing and able to respond with freedom and trust. That calls for a radical detachment. Simone Weil reminds us of a fundamental human vulnerability that might interfere with anyone’s calling to bear witness to the kingdom: “Attachment is a manufacturer of illusions and whoever wants reality ought to be detached.” (Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, Octagon Books, 1981, 59.) We are also reminded here of the description of John the Baptist and his mission as outlined in 3:1-20.
Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’: In Zechariah’s prophetic song at the birth of John the Baptist, we read: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (1:78-79). It is also the greeting of Jesus in the post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in 24:36 – “Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’.” This greeting is more than the common Jewish greeting; it is an announcement of the kingdom. Fitzmyer writes: “In the OT, šālôm expresses not merely an absence of war or hostilities, but much more the state of bounty or well-being that comes from God and includes concord, harmony, order, security, and prosperity. See Isa 48:18; 54:10; Ezek 34:25–29; Pss 29:11; 85:8–10; Jer 16:5; Num 6:24–26. In time ‘peace’ became the mark of the awaited messianic kingdom, derived from Isa 52:7 (the heralds of peace). In Acts 10:36 Luke reflects this notion: ‘the word which he sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (he is the Lord of all!)’.”(Fitzmyer, op cit, 224-225.)
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide: The urgency of it all demands that they do not shop around for better accommodation or better food. It is enough to have the hospitality that is given.
greet no one on the road: This may be a question of focus – “Don’t get side-tracked!” – or it may be an acknowledgement of the hostility in this Samaritan district Luke has noted earlier. Either way, it continues the theme of radical detachment and total availability.
heal the sick people: As in 9:1–2, 6, 11, the preaching of the kingdom of God is signaled by the power to heal (cf. also Matt 10:7–8 for the same combination at this point).
Not all scholars agree that there was this sending out of disciples by Jesus with the kinds of instructions we find here. Fitzmyer writes: “Since sayings of Jesus in both chaps. 9 and 10 sound like community regulations for missionary work, especially with an air of expectancy about the approach of the kingdom, it has often seemed that they reflect the early activity of the Christian community rather than a historical sending-out of disciples during Jesus’ Galilean ministry. R. Bultmann (HST 145) thought that, since these regulations were no longer applicable to missionary endeavors in Mark’s day, he made them into a charge to disciples during Jesus’ own ministry. Though no one contests that early Christians were convinced that their missionary activity was rooted in a commission of Jesus, or at least of the risen Lord, the issue is rather whether these regulations, related in the Synoptics to a mission during the Galilean ministry of Jesus himself, reflect actually a historical sending-out by Jesus during that ministry. Other sayings from early church practice have at times been retrojected into that ministry and put on the lips of Jesus. But, as J. M. Creed has recognized (The Gospel, 125), there is no conclusive reason to say that Jesus did not associate to himself disciples and prepare them for preaching the advent of the kingdom by sending them on this temporary mission. F. Hahn (Mission, 46) is also willing to trace the radical demands of the regulations back to Jesus himself. The only real problem with the rooting of these instructions in a mission-charge of Jesus’ ministry is that such a preparation would suggest a greater degree of allegiance to him than the disciples’ eventual defection would seem to tolerate. Hence the hesitation about such a sending-out during the Galilean ministry. That Luke should make two out of the tradition that he inherited is not surprising, since in the Lucan Gospel the disciples are never said to have deserted Jesus.” (Fitzmyer, op cit, 843-844.)
‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’: The disciples are not just bearers of information, they are witnesses to the coming kingdom.
in your name: The very name of Jesus, uttered in faith, has power. The use of the name of Jesus becomes a frequent theme in Luke’s Book of Acts. See for example Acts 3:6; 4:10, 17–18, 30; 5:40; 9:27. The connotation is that the power associated with the person of Jesus becomes effective through the invocation of his name. We are reminded of the hymn in St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:9-11: “God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning’: “This is Luke’s first use of the name Satan for the chief of the demons; he earlier used ‘the devil’ (4:2–13; 8:12). Through the rest of the Gospel, Satanas is his usual designation (11:18; 13:16; 22:3, 31). The role of Satan as tester is established by Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7; Zech 3:1–2; 1 Chr 21:1. The image of falling like lightning may continue the allusion to Isa 14:15 ....” (Johnson, op cit, 168.)
Last Sunday, we heard Luke say: “He set his face towards Jerusalem!” (9:51). There Luke invited us to reflect on the fact that we are all travellers here. It is important that we do not forget that. For every “Hello” there has to be a “Goodbye”. This Sunday, we hear Jesus tell the disciples: “Get on your way!” Here Luke invites each of us to reflect on the work of evangelization and our part in that work.
As Luke’s Gospel has it, the disciples are given a specific task – they must go to the towns, heal the sick and tell the people, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’. Obviously, we cannot all take up such a specific task. So how might we be truly evangelical?
The first thing to note here is that Jesus always takes the initiative. He is inviting the disciples – us – into his work for the kingdom of God. Evangelization is not our work but the work of God. Jesus is always the evangelizer through us, with us and in us. Pope Francis states it beautifully:
“In every activity of evangelization, the primacy always belongs to God, who has called us to cooperate with him and who leads us on by the power of his Spirit. The real newness is the newness which God himself mysteriously brings about and inspires, provokes, guides and accompanies in a thousand ways. The life of the Church should always reveal clearly that God takes the initiative, that ‘he has loved us first’ (1 Jn 4:19) and that he alone ‘gives the growth’ (1 Cor 3:7).” (Evangelii Gaudium, #12.)
In a culture such as ours, so dominated by functionalism, it is difficult for us to avoid the trap of thinking that usefulness is the measure of our worth. A corollary of this error is to believe that our identity is found in our work, that we are what we do. Being mindful of the primacy of grace – that the initiative always belongs to God – will help to cut through the thicket of unreality that functionalism inevitably creates.
Our baptism means that our very beings – our pilgrim lives – are our first and most precious contribution to the work of evangelization. The most wonderful gift I can offer the world is to become the person God has made me to be – not a second hand me but literally to be me. Each of us is a word of love – a unique word of love – spoken by God to the world. To be is to be sent.
“This conviction enables us to maintain a spirit of joy in the midst of a task so demanding and challenging that it engages our entire life. God asks everything of us, yet at the same time he offers everything to us.” (Evangelii Gaudium, #12.)