Luke 10:1-24

 Cultural Context – Personal Simplicity

Luke 10:1-12  -  Jesus Sends the Seventy on Mission

1 After these things,
the Lord appointed seventy others
and sent them out before him in twos
to every town and place where he would go.

The passage is unique to Luke, and was written no doubt for his own community. In Luke’s mind, the apostles had no monopoly on the Church’s mission, even when the mission, in this case, had a limited scope: like the Baptist, they were to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

Jesus had already sent the twelve on mission [9:16]. Now he sent a further group of seventy. The number seventy echoed the number of elders who shared the mission of Moses in the formation of the original People of God in the desert.

So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel,
whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; 
bring them to the tent of meeting,
and have them take their place there with you. 
I will come down and talk with you there; 
and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; 
and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you 
so that you will not bear it all by yourself. [Numbers 11.16-17]

Luke gave no reason why the seventy went in twos. There were obviously practical reasons. However, there may have been an added reason. Without clear self-knowledge, people’s involvement in the apostolate can in fact serve their own unconscious needs rather than be a work of genuine disinterested love. The call to discipleship was a call to community. By going in twos, the disciples embodied this message, and showed to the world the possibility of genuine collaboration. This witness to love can in fact be a greater source of hope than good deeds done from possible self-seeking.

2 He said to them, "The harvest is great,
yet the workers are few;
so ask the Lord of the harvest
to send workers into his harvest.

Their prayer was not a request for more ministers within the community (such as priests or religious). The seventy were sent out to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. They were to pray for companions on that mission to the world.

Why ask God, when the mission is precisely in response to the call of God? Perhaps such prayer served two purposes:

  • It reminded them firstly that the mission was indeed the initiative of God, not their own. 
  • The continued asking also focussed their own concern for the urgency of the mission.

Discipleship essentially means openness in love to the world. It cannot be centred simply on personal growth and improvement, or the well-being of the Christian community. It must reach beyond them.

3 On your way now, and look,
I am sending you out like lambs into a pack of wolves.
4 Do not carry wallet or travelling bag or sandals;
and do not greet anyone along the way.

They were to travel light, relying only on the support of God. They were to be vulnerable, adopting the way of non-violence. Such is the way of love. Yet they were to go: they were not to remain passive. They were to be single-minded and undistracted.

5 In whatever house you enter, first say,
"Peace to this house".
6 If there is a peace-loving person there,
your peace will come down on that person;
but if there is not, it will return to you.

Their own approach as well as their message was one of peace. In the face of rejection they were not to retaliate but simply to “cut their losses”. They were not pursuing personal goals. They were to sit lightly with “success”.

7 Stay in that home,
eating and drinking what they give you.  
Workers are worth their wages.

By showing generosity people were to be enabled to share in the mission of the seventy. Love for others did not stop merely with doing good for them. It sought to empower them to love in turn. Essentially, to love is to empower another to blossom and unfold.

Though not a burning issue for Luke’s Gentile community, Jesus made the point that “kosher” food was not to be an issue. They were to eat what they give you.

Do not keep moving from house to house.
8 In whatever town you enter that welcomes you,
eat the food that they serve up for you.

The seventy were not “to feather their own nests” but to be focussed on the importance and urgency of the mission.

9 Take care of the sick that are there,
and tell them, 'The Kingdom of God has come to you’.

Their mission reflected the initial mission of Jesus who healed the sick and proclaimed the advent of the Kingdom.

10 In whatever town you enter where they do not welcome you,
go out into the streets and tell them,
11Even the dust from your town that sticks to our feet
we wipe off in protest.  
Yet know this,
the Kingdom of God has drawn close.’ 

The provocativeness of their gesture aimed to make people more consciously aware of what they were doing and to invite their re-thinking. The response was not unlike what Jesus had encouraged earlier: To one who hits you on the cheek offer the other [6:29], not in meek submission but in bold non-violent confrontation, in the hope that possibly the inhospitable villagers might thereby recognise their fault.

12 I tell you that it will be more tolerable on that day
for the people of Sodom
than for that town.

Sodom had been destroyed because it had spectacularly dishonoured the responsibility of hospitality to Lot’s guests:

But before they lay down,
the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, 
all the people to the last man, surrounded the house;
and they called to Lot, 
“Where are the men who came to you tonight? 
Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 
Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 
and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 
Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; 
let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; 
only do nothing to these men,
for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 
But they replied, “Stand back!” [Genesis 19:4-9]. 

For Jesus, to close one’s heart against the offer of the Kingdom was to turn one’s back on life. It would be its own unfortunate punishment.


Outcome of Non-Response

Luke 10:13-16  -  Consequences of Unrepentance

13Grief awaits you, Corazin!
Grief awaits you, Bethsaida!
If the deeds of power done in you were done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have sat repentant in sackcloth and dust.
14 Moreover, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon
in time of judgment than for you. 
15 And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to Hades.

Jesus’ commission to the seventy had concluded with his comments on how to handle possible rejection. Jesus’ recent experience of rejection by the people of Galilee had no doubt deeply hurt him. It had also hurt them. His lament was not threat, but reflected his deep sorrow at his powerlessness to share his message of peace and life with them. (Luke particularly emphasised the cities of Galilee, Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum – because inevitably the city was the point of reference of his community).

The Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon regularly featured in prophecies, where they were seen as symbols of resistance to the People of God. The prophets had spoken of their fate with colourful language and imagery. Hades was a concept more familiar to Gentile ears than Jewish, and in the Hellenistic culture of Luke’s community it referred to the shadowy half-existence of the realms of the dead.

Through these references to the unresponsive cities of Galilee, Luke was reminding his community of the stakes involved in people’s response to their mission: nothing less than the possibility of finding or losing the fullness of life God wants for the world.

16Whoever listens to you, listens to me,
and whoever dismisses you, dismisses me.

The message and possibilities brought to the world by disciples are precisely the message and possibilities announced by Jesus, who in turn drew his vision and truth from the God who he knew had sent him.


Outcome of Response

Luke 10:17-20  -  The Seventy Return

17 The seventy came back full of joy declaring,
"Lord, even the demons submitted to us in your name"!
18 He said to them
"I was watching Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.
19 Look, I have given you power
to stand on snakes and scorpions,
power too over all the might of the enemy,
and that nothing might hurt you.
20 Yet, do not rejoice about this
that the spirits submit to you,
rejoice rather that your names are inscribed in the heavens."

The joy of the disciples was indication of their experience of the Kingdom. The image of Satan falling from heaven was to be found also in some of the non-canonical literature of the time. It figured also in the Book of Revelation (9:1). Snakes and scorpions likewise were symbols of the power of evil (mentioned in the same chapter from Revelation - 9:3 and 9:10).

Luke needed to remind his community that they, like the seventy, shared in the authority of Christ over evil. The source of Christ’s authority was his integrity and inner truth along with his constant responsiveness to the will of God. The disciples’ authority, while sourced from the risen Christ, would also be a factor of their own developing integrity and truth and their closeness and sensitivity to Christ.

The promise that nothing might hurt you needs to be read in context, and refers essentially to the inviolability of their deepest self. Satan succeeded in eliminating even Jesus, but was totally powerless to injure his inner truth and integrity.

Power, however, remains a constant temptation, even when originating from Christ. It can easily become a source of personal pride. Jesus warned the seventy to keep their focus clear. The reference to names inscribed in heaven was to be found also in the non-canonical literature of the period (Numerous references to the Book of Life occur in the Book of Revelation). Their joy was not to lie in their authority over spirits, but in the experience of their present and future intimacy with God. 


Love as Service

Luke 10:21-24  -  Jesus Rejoices

21 At that time, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit
and said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent
and have revealed them to children.
Yes, Father, since that has given you pleasure. 

Mention of things hidden and revealed continued to echo themes also found in the Book of Revelation. The joy of the disciples triggered a similar joy in Jesus. His prayer echoed in some respects the hymn of Mary on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth. Jesus too rejoiced in the God who scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.. and lifted up the lowly [1:51-52]. Insight into the heart of God crowns the path of simplicity and emptiness. The disciples who travelled lightly were able to experience the joy of the Kingdom.

22 Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father;
and no one, other than the Father, knows who the son is,
and who the Father is, other than the son
and those to whom the son wills to reveal him.”

After praising the Father, Jesus spoke to the seventy. Luke had shown Jesus at prayer after his baptism when he heard the words: You are my son, the beloved. Jesus had related to God as child to father. Any child/parent relationship is so unique, so close, that only the parties involved can experience and know it. To talk about it is to move away from the experience. However, Jesus claimed that he could and would reveal to others his experience of his Father – impossible through words and concepts but possible through immediate experience. Such was the destiny of disciples.

23 Then turning to the disciples, he said privately to them,
“Blessed the eyes that see what you see.
24 I tell you, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see
and did not,
and to hear what you hear
and did not.

To what was Jesus referring? Perhaps Jesus had in mind simply the coming of God’s Kingdom, present in his person and his actions, and also in the actions of those with whom Jesus shared his authority to stand on snakes and scorpions. He may also have included precisely that experience of things hidden from the wise and the prudent and revealed by God.

To be disciple is to be truly blessed. Luke invited the members of his community to live with an awareness of their privileged situation.

Next >> Luke 10:25-37