Lectionary Reflection—3 July 2016
After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. Whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”
Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. Nevertheless, don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you. Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”
The typical way of understanding the passage is, well, evangelical. That is, it’s about “saving souls” before the supposed “rapture” or the supposed “end of the world.” That is, this passage is supposed to be about our time (sometimes called the “church age”). However, I think there are plenty of indicators that this isn’t about our time at all but about their time—i.e., the first century followers of Jesus.
First notice that Jesus picks 72 “other” followers. This seems to be people other than the disciples or his immediate followers; those on the “outside,” if you will. So, immediately, our context is very limited to those people and the first century. I mean, the historical Jesus picked these people! There’s no way he’s talking about us today.
Second is the idea that God’s Realm (or Kingdom) was being birthed at that time. When the 36 pairs would go into a community, they were to announce that somehow God’s Realm was (or would be) spreading into that community. Again, this was a one time phenomenon. God’s Realm was inaugurated at the resurrection of Jesus and fully established at the fall of Jerusalem. Since that time till now, God’s Realm has been flowing out into all creation and continues to do so.
Third, is the overthrow of Satan’s realm. Again, this was taking place during Jesus ministry and the ministry of the early church. Once the “Old Creation” was finally broken in 70 CE, the “New Creation” was fully established. That is, the poetic imagery above is about the breaking in of the “New Creation” (God’s Realm) into the “Old Creation” and releasing those imprisoned. However, this shouldn’t be seen as the full removal of the satanic system at that time but the beginning of the end of that system—the promise of things to come!
As we noted a couple of weeks ago, this passage, therefore, has to do with the covenantal change that was coming. The coming of God’s Realm meant that the Old Realm, the Old Creation, would cease to exist. The reason it would cease to exist is that it had become so corrupt that Yahweh would have to judge it. Therefore, “saving” had everything to do with being on the side of Yahweh when the judgment came. And, since I don’t know how to put this delicately, that meant if you were on Yahweh’s side, you weren’t on Israel’s side. It was Israel, the Old Covenantal people, who had colluded with the ways of the world (Luke 19.41ff). Jesus—like John before him and the disciples after him—warned the Jews of his day that God’s wrath was coming upon Israel because they wouldn’t listen to the mercy of God (Matthew 23). That system had become so corrupt that Jesus—and John before him and the disciples after him—said their “father” was “the devil” (John 8.31ff; especially verses 42-47). The message of God’s Realm was something like, “God’s promised Realm is finally coming! But it’s coming through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He’s God’s Messiah!” But, Jesus wasn’t what people were thinking of when they thought of the Messiah. Jesus wasn’t a soldier. He wasn’t a man of violence. He didn’t talk about political and military revolt against the Roman “heathens”. No. Jesus was a man of peace. The one who was labeled a “glutton and drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11.19).
In other words, it’s a very hard sell! Jesus didn’t fit the ideology of what that whole thing was to look like and his followers had the nerve to ask their fellow Israelites to side with him when the time came. Well, as we know, that didn’t really happen. When Jesus was falsely arrested and taken before the courts, he was beaten, lied about, spat upon, and humiliated publically. All the while the people, encouraged by their leaders, shouted “We have no king but Caesar! Crucify him!” (John 19; Luke 23).
So that’s what’s going on in this passage. It’s about covenantal change. It’s about the first century Jews turning from their preconceived notions. It’s about not keeping with tradition for tradition’s sake. It’s about them being on God’s side when judgment came. And none of that has anything to do with us. We’re not in the “harvest” time! That was their time. We’re in the aftermath of the harvest. We’re in the “expansion” project!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC