This is the second of a four part series of posts in which David Williams shares some historical and theological observations on the Bible passages studied in the Urbana12 business track. The first post of the series is The Call (Luke 5:1-11). The third post is The Lost (Luke 15:1-10). The final post is The Found (Luke 19:1-10). ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director of ESN.
The Kingdom (Luke 10:1-24)
The time was short and the disciples needed to make haste. As Elisha instructed Gehazi when a child’s life was on the line, they were not to stop to greet anyone on the road. When Moses had commanded the Israelites to hurriedly eat the Passover in preparation for their flight from Egypt, he instructed them to do so with sandals and staff at the ready and with their money in hand (Exodus 12:35), for God’s rescue was coming swiftly and the Israelites needed to be set to go when the big moment came. But when Jesus sent out his disciples on their mission he directed them to travel even lighter, carrying none of these things, for the extreme nearness of the Kingdom made their mission all the more palpably urgent.
We cannot say for sure whether Jesus sent out seventy disciples or seventy-two — the manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel are pretty evenly split — but in either case the number is suggestive. In Numbers 11 the Lord empowered seventy (or seventy-two, depending on whether you count Eldad and Medad) with the Spirit that was upon Moses, that they might prophesy and assist Moses in leading the people. Perhaps, just as Jesus’ selection of Twelve disciples signaled the reconstitution and restoration of Israel’s twelve scattered tribes, so too the commissioning of the seventy(-two?) suggests that he and his followers are leading Israel in a second exodus, an exodus of much greater urgency and gravity than the first. Indeed, the moment which many prophets and kings had longed to see had finally come (Luke 10:24).
As we saw in our last post, the time had come for the Lord to send out his fishers of men as forerunners and pre-figurations of his final global judgment to cast wide the good news of the Kingdom and to gather in errant, straggling Israel. But judgment in Israel is always understood as judgment between — between the just and the unjust, the accuser and the accused, the exploiters and the exploited, the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad — and the mission of the fishers of men was no different (cf. Luke12:51-54). As we see in Luke 10, two groups emerge: those who are of peace and who receive the disciples’ peace (Luke 10:5-6) and those who do not receive the disciples and who, in turn, have woes pronounced upon them (Luke 10:13-15). The difference between these two groups, says Jesus, is their reception or their rejection of his messengers which is tantamount to a reception or rejection of him and the God who sent him:
The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me. (Luke 10:16)
As with his forefather Abraham, one’s reception of Jesus is the criterion for one’s recipience of God’s blessing or of God’s curse (cf. Genesis 12:3), for Jesus, the Son, just is the revelation of his heavenly Father:
All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Luke 10:22)
Like a great rock jutting out of a rushing river with water breaking to one side or the other of him, Jesus stands in the midst of this broken world at this climactic moment, dividing “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother,” dividing sons of peace from recipients of woe.
Who is this Jesus? He has given his disciples “authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” He has pronounced the downfall of Satan. He claims that “all things” have been handed over to him by God the Father. Who is this? He is not, despite his astonishing claims of authority, a harsh, despotic autocrat, but, surprisingly, a homeless, wandering field-preacher. He is a healer of the sick, a friend of tax collectors and sinners, and a bringer of good news to the poor. He is the one who had “set his face to go to Jerusalem” where he knew he would “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22, 51) He is the one who has been anointed with the Spirit of God, not to establish a dictatorial theocracy, but rather to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. He is the one who wept over the city that rejected him and forgave the men who crucified him. This, this is who this Jesus is.
It would be easy to misread this passage as justifying a frantic mission, rushing from person to person and place to place without building relationships, and taking time with people. But the moment here narrated is not our moment. Israel was at crucial turning point and Jesus knew that if they did not learn “the things which make for peace” soon, the nation’s fate would be sealed — as indeed it was when the Romans sacked Jerusalem only a few decades later. Hence, the moment necessitated the hurried urgency of the mission. But their moment is not our moment. In our moment, God has granted us the gift of time, and with it the ability to patiently walk with those whom we serve. Though the Seventy-Two’s moment is not our moment, nevertheless, their Lord is our Lord, and as we modern-day disciples faithfully embody and articulate the good news of God’s reign in Christ, we still present our friends, families, communities, workplaces, and world with a difficult but necessary choice. Let us do so with grace, earnestness and the solid assurance that “all things” are in Christ’s hands.