Disciples’ Mission Trip

The readings for Sunday, July 3, 2015, Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle C, are
Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:14-18; and Luke 10:1-12, 17-20.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke all include in their Gospel a sending out (mission) of the twelve apostles. Luke’s Gospel has an additional mission of seventy-two (or seventy) disciples. He uses an unusual Greek verb here translated as “appointed.” This verb has the sense of “proclaimed as mouthpieces, town criers, spokespersons” for himself. Since no other Gospel has a mission of seventy disciples, a question arises as to whether this narrative is historical or primarily catechetical with some basis in history. Catechetically the number seventy, reflects first the seventy elders chosen by Moses to help him in the administration of God’s people. Secondly the number seventy echoes the seventy offspring of Jacob who came into Egypt in the time of the patriarch Joseph. With a background of the number seventy, these disciples would represent Christianity as the continuation of Israel.

“He sent them ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.” This sentence certainly reinforces the definition of “appointed” as town criers. Today we would call them advance men. In his instructions to the seventy, Jesus notes that the harvest is plentiful, but too few laborers to gather the harvest. In the Old Testament “harvest” is a symbol of God’s judgment on the nations, Isaiah 17:5; 27:12. In Acts 2:1, 41, Luke sets the first Christian harvest of “three thousand souls” on the Jewish feast of Pentecost — a harvest festival. In Romans 1:13, Paul hopes, “that I may reap some harvest among you.” Being sent as “lambs among wolves” suggests the hostility Christian missionaries encountered in Luke’s day, as they sometimes do to this day.

The equipment or lack of it: No purse, no bag (Rucksack), no sandals. At the Last Supper in Luke 22:35, Jesus will say to his disciples, “When I sent you out with no purse, no Rucksack, no sandals, did you lack anything?” The Lord of the harvest would see to their needs. They were to live off the land, so to speak, with the support of those whom they would serve by proclaiming the kingdom of God. “Greet no one along the way.” They must concentrate totally on the mission on which they were sent. This command echoes an injunction of the prophet Elisha (ninth century B.C.) to his servant Gehazi, 2 Kings 4:29, “If you meet anyone, do not greet him. If anyone greets you do not reply.” Gehazi was sent to represent Elisha on a mission of healing. He was not to be distracted in any way.

When they enter a house, “First say, ‘Peace be to this house.’” An ancient greeting found in 1 Samuel 25:6, “Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and to all that you have.” The missionaries must remain in the same house and share the food and drink offered. No moving to another house which may have better accommodations and thus scandalize the poor.

The disciples’ mission of proclaiming the kingdom of God includes not only words but also deeds. “Heal the sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you’” That’s the good news. Now the bad news. “Whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we shake off against you.’ It shall be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.” Tough love! Does this sound like Jesus? Yet we find similar statements in two other Gospels and in Acts of Apostles. Thus it seems to have been part of early Christian missionary practice. This severity conflicts with last Sunday’s Gospel, where Jesus rebuked James and John for their proposed revenge on Samaritans who would not receive them into their town. Also Luke 6:29, “To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” Did Christian missionaries of Luke’s time perhaps stretch sayings of Jesus into harsher forms? Careful editing might have been useful to Luke to avoid problems without solutions. Fortunately our gospel reading does not include the awful curses that now follow in Luke’s gospel, but moves on to the joyful return of the seventy.

“The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.’” The demons represent the various diseases they cured. It was not their power that cured disease, but the power of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, “in your name.” A closing statement: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” another Old Testament symbol. See Exodus 32:33; Daniel 12:1.