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.
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
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.’
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 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.’
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’
It’s not the twelve, but the seventy (or is it 72?) others, who now step up. We still need to learn that evangelism isn’t just the business of the in-group: the anonymous have their place in the story too. And if we in our turn are prompted by Jesus, we too will have practical things to sort out. Just where are we going? What are we taking with us and what should we leave behind? How do we share ourselves around? Attitudes it seems can be as significant as the message itself.
Does Luke already realise that he is writing a two-part work? Is he preparing us for the mighty story of the spreading of the good news, starting here in Palestine, and reaching to the very ends of the world? As we are often reminded today, rather than talk too much about the Church’s mission, we need to recognise that it is God who has a mission, and that the Church is simply part of this. And if we then discover a role for our anonymous selves, let us hope that our hesitant steps and tentative plans for sharing the gospel may be rooted in something more than lessons in the latest communications techniques.
As the enthusiasts return from their mission, they are given this precious moment of insight – a thanksgiving prayer on the lips of Jesus (and the most profound statements of belief all arise from thankfulness) which seems to lead us into the very heart of God. And most precious of all is the assurance that what we might have heard as some deep theological truth, accessible only to the wise and intelligent, is in fact hidden from the likes of them and revealed instead “to infants”. Time then to nurture our inner child!
God our Saviour scattering the proud and bringing down the powerful lifting up the lowly and filling the hungry with good things keep us childlike and ever receptive to your grace in Jesus.
The Rev’d John Durell, retired minister, member of Waddington Street, Durham