First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 7

Pentecost 7: 3 July Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Luke has already reported the sending out of the 12 in 9:1-6. There he is following Mark 6:7-13. Now in Luke 10 he is bringing similar material, this time drawing on Q, the source he shares with Matthew. Matthew chose to merge the two traditions together in 10:1-16. Luke retains the two separate reports. Last week we had the passage where Jesus sent messengers ahead of him into a Samaritan town which rejected him (9:52-53). That is barely 10 verses back when Jesus is pictured here sending out people again into every town and place he was going to visit (10:1). That is Luke’s way of linking this tradition to the great journey to Jerusalem. But when we look at the material in 10:1-12, it is not really about preparing people for the visit of Jesus, but rather about the mission of the disciples. Perhaps the figure 70 suggests the mission to the world of the 70 nations, but Luke does not see that happening until well after Easter.

The idea of mission is present in the image of the harvest. Harvest can be a positive and a negative image. John the Baptist is reported to have used the grain harvest to speak of judgement: burning up the chaff after saving the wheat. The idea of gathering in the harvest belongs to the expectation that when God’s reign is to begin, there will be a gathering of all God’s people for the new beginning. Many will come from east and west and north and south and feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:28-29; Matt 8:11-12). Sometimes it also included the hope that the Gentiles would also come, like birds coming to make their nests under shrubs of mustard bush. Jesus told other parables about harvest, the best known being the parable of the sower, expressing a defiant optimism about what God would do, despite the apparent failure of so much seed to take root.

The early Christians saw themselves participating in this great climax of hope. Paul appears to have developed his strategy of visiting the cities of the world (of his time) and bringing an offering from the Gentiles to Jerusalem against this expectation. His apostleship was playing a role in the divine plan of bringing in the Gentiles. Q preserved the instructions which were to guide such endeavours, probably developed at a very early stage in the church’s life, if not already during Jesus’ ministry. It is important to imagine our way back into their setting, before we consider our own setting and the possible connections.

It is very likely that Jesus instructed his disciples to emulate his own pattern of activity. That entailed travel. He would come to a town or settlement, then would need to find a place to sleep and be looked after. The pattern he sets out for the disciples insists that they travel as poor people, but, unlike the wandering Cynic teachers of his day, not even to carry a begging bag. Instead they were to come only with who they were and await local response. Larger Palestinian houses were such that you could freely enter the front half of the house from outside - it was public space. These disciples would then face the owners with the choice of being part of the kingdom movement by offering hospitality and enjoying its benefits through healing and teaching or of turning away these uninvited would-be guests.

The ancient world had strong customs about hospitality. The mission used these. The result was quite confronting: you either welcomed these people or you turned them away. It was accepted that enemies should not be offered hospitality, but were these enemies or friends? They claimed to be envoys of peace and wholeness, including healing. They claimed to be announcing the reign of God and by their actions, bringing its reality into life in the here and now. To receive them was to receive the one who sent them and to receive him was to receive God, to be open to the kingdom. To reject someone who is not an enemy, to refuse to offer hospitality, was shameful. It brought disgrace and promised misfortune. That is the expectation here, too. Reject these messengers and you reject Jesus; reject Jesus and you reject God; reject God and you invite judgement. Shaking dust off the feet is probably symbolic of such judgement.

This was a deliberate strategy. The alternative of dropping in on friends on the way to say, ‘Hello’, was forbidden. It would have thwarted the plan. The approach was quite confrontational. The verses left out, 10:12-15, illustrate the severity of the threat. Notice that Sodom is mentioned in 10:12. Its notoriety was not homosexuality, as later generations made it, but failure to offer hospitality.

The action plan of the disciples and doubtless of Jesus, himself, made hospitality central, especially the shared meal. The response of faith was about willingness to share food, to be together in mutual acceptance and fellowship at a meal. This was also a central symbol of hope. In their radical way Jesus and his disciples after him were precipitating hope in meals in the here and now. These became celebrations of hope, but also of inclusion and healing.

When the disciples return, they have got a buzz from their successes. Using apocalyptic imagery, Jesus shifts their focus to the heavenly book of life in which their names are written. This is symbolic way of saying: what matters most is the close relationship you have with God which is its own reward beyond all the successes - because with it you can also live through the failures which inevitably come. He also speaks of Satan falling from heaven, another apocalyptic image used to depict the dethroning of the serpent or dragon at the end of time. Hope comes to fulfilment now when people are liberated from the powers that oppress them.

It is a long way from this strategy of mission to our modern day. The architecture of houses in most societies does not lend themselves to this plan. But I wonder if the invitation to join the movement of God’s kingdom does not sometimes work like this. It is not about selling a brand name (‘Christian’), but sharing a vision of change in such a way that means real participation in making it real in the here and now. I suspect that there are many times that a fellowship of solidarity in commitment and work for change has been created when people who love because of the influence of Jesus, join others who love. People who really care recognise others who really care.

Households (half public communities in themselves) committed to caring in the name of Jesus became church communities. The travellers became ‘apostles’ (envoys), the link people. Link people and locals were a loose movement for change, people for the poor, people convinced they were participating in God’s initiative to bring hope. It was all about being bearers of this hope. As the movement grew the link people spawned local leadership patterns, which evolved into structures for order, now reflected in formal orders of ministry. They were never meant to be above the locals, but rather to engage them in the same mission. Their lifestyle was a statement against prevailing values, a kind of protest which defied the normalcy which insisted people remained bound to their locality, family and station in life and treated it as their reward. The strangeness of these early patterns may be accounted for by the vast chasm of time and culture; it may, however, reflect a high level of estrangement on our part from the values which drove them.

Epistle: Pentecost 7: 3 July  Galatians 6:(1-6) 7-16