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 labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers 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 labourer 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.
We have already heard about the mission of the Twelve (Luke 9:1-6), now we have the mission of the Seventy (or is it 72?).
In all the Gospels it is an account that is only given by Luke although the charge referring to ‘the harvest being plenty and the labourers being few’ has its parallels . The commentaries make a number of useful points. Some texts give the number as seventy others seventy-two. The appointment of seventy elders is alluded to (Numbers 11:16,17). Then there is the list of the world’s nations, seventy in all (Genesis 10:2-31). So the mission of the seventy is thought by some to prefigure the mission to the Gentiles.
The mission to which the seventy are charged to go will be hard going. They will be facing hostility ‘like lambs in the midst of wolves’. They go without money, possessions and even without a decent pair of walking shoes. The way they are to live is much like the way Jesus and the twelve live dependant upon hospitality.
All that being said the story is a reminder that God’s mission is not only in the hands of the professionals (the twelve). It is about teamwork, the seventy go out in twos, so each is dependant on another, each are with the other sixty-nine, much like we are dependant upon each other in our churches today. we are disciples together. We are reminded that the success of the mission is dependant not only on the seventy that go out but also upon those who provide hospitality. As disciples today we have different tasks and responsibilities.
The mission is one of healing and service, churches remain healing and serving communities. We cannot however predict the outcome of our mission, that is dependant upon God alone.
Gracious God, as your disciples, may you protect us when we face hostility.
As your disciples, may we bring healing and peace, may we know and show your love.
As your disciples, may we not be dependant on what we have, but upon each other and upon Jesus alone. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr David Whiting, Minister. Sunderland and Boldon URC Partnership.