Who was Luke and what was his message?
Luke 10: 1-9
According to the web site Britannica.com Luke flourished in the 1st century CE, and his feast day is celebrated today, October 18. Christian tradition has it that he is the author of the Gospel and Acts; he was a companion of the Apostle Paul, and the most literary of the New Testament writers. Tradition based on references in Paul’s letters has regarded him as a physician and a Gentile. His medical skills, like Paul’s tent making, may have contributed to his livelihood; but his principal occupation was the advancement of the Christian mission.
Luke may have spent considerable time in Palestine working with Paul gathering materials for his future two-volume literary works. In any case, two years later he appears with Paul on his prison voyage from Caesarea to Rome and again, according to Paul’s letter to Timothy, at the time of his martyrdom in the imperial city. We dip into Luke’s gospel today to see how the disciples began their training.
When we think of Jesus’ followers we think of the twelve apostles, but there were more. This story speaks of the seventy whom Jesus sent out. This was a kind of “internship,” a training ground while Jesus was still with them. The mission was the same as Jesus’ own ministry to “cure the sick” and “say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.’ ”
Jesus sent them “ahead of him … to every town and place where he himself intended to go.” He was on his way to Jerusalem and would have travelled through villages where he had not been before. Rumours of what Jesus was would have undoubtedly spread into Samaria so the seventy emissaries were to announce his coming by giving people a preview of his own work. It is also a preview of the ministry Jesus gives us today. We go “ahead of him,” bringing his message wherever we go.
They were to travel “in pairs.” We think of groups doing mission work door-to-door, always with two people, such as the Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses. We can assume that Jesus’ directive was for safety and for mutual encouragement. If we have to do something dangerous or risky, we want to have somebody with us. It’s also a sign that “we’re in this together” as followers of Jesus.
“The harvest is plentiful” is as true today as it was in Jesus’ time. In questionnaires that ask about religious affiliation today the “nones” are the fastest growing group. Church attendance is down, especially among young people, with the exception of London. One of the characteristics of today’s so-called “postmodernism” is that people come up with their own religious views, not wanting to simply to accept what others believe.
Non-Church goers often say “I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. ” Just my own little voice … It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. And, you know, I guess, take care of each other. I think He would want us to take care of each other.” This is shorthand for a kind of religiosity, a rather do-it-yourself well-meaning mish-mash of religious views, often from strands of many religions.
Those are many of the people Jesus is sending us out to today. Jesus warned the seventy to expect resistance and rejection, and it’s the same today. More Christians are being persecuted for their faith today than at any other time in human history, including the Roman persecutions of the first century. If not persecution, we might meet other various views. Or we might meet indifference of those in our increasingly secular society. I remember a friend who quit going to church because “I don’t need all that anymore and you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian.”
Jesus’ advice on the mission was to “go light.” In our terms the equivalent advice would be, “Don’t let stuff get in the way or conflict with your ministry of the gospel.” Once you find like-minded people, work with them.
“The labourers deserve to be paid” is one of the few sayings of Jesus that Paul speaks of in his letters to Timothy and also to the church in Corinth. In this context it means that those sent out should let others support them while they doing their mission work. Ironically, Paul often didn’t follow that advice, supporting himself by tent making.
Notice how Jesus only tells them what they should do and doesn’t say anything about measuring their success. If people don’t accept your message, he says, shake their dust off your feet and move on. In our congregations it’s difficult to avoid measuring success. We live with numbers on our parish list, stewardship, budgets, annual reports, and so on. It’s very easy to measure our work by these figures and that’s how many people will measure and value our ministry too but that’s not what this text is saying.
Verses 12-15 are omitted from this Sunday’s reading. If it’s meant to remove a stern note to soften the text, then it’s unfortunate. However, the lectionary compilers probably decided that these verses may well have been inserted into the gospel, and that the story about the seventy reads smoothly from verse 11 straight to verse 16. In either case, the point of the verses is that judgment and punishment aren’t our business.
Verse 16 echoes the opening of the story: the ministry and the message we bring is the ministry and message Jesus was doing. What we do and say is about him and from him. Is there a note of surprise in the report the seventy brought back to Jesus? Isn’t that because they didn’t know or expect what would happen? Isn’t that like our ministry, when we are surprised what happens as a result of our work? The gifts we share throughout the year, I am thinking about Mary’s Meals, Toys for the children, the Food Bank, Christian Aid and our annual local charity, they all are part of our sharing in the love and care that Jesus gives to us.
The story closes with another note about success. We are not to rejoice about our success in our various ministries, but to rejoice, “that our names are written in heaven,” that is, that we are part of this kingdom of God which we are proclaiming.
I will share with you a quote from St. Teresa of Avila’s well-known saying, reminding us that now we carry on the ministry that Jesus gave us:
Christ has no body on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out to the world.
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless others now.
The Rev’d Maureen Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 18/10/2020