Although Jesus had his inner circle of three disciples – Peter, James and John – and the larger group of The Twelve, he also sent a group of seventy out on mission to do much as the disciples did, armed with the same power and authority. He is still sending people out on mission and that includes us. Listening to his advice to the seventy can help to equip us for the work he asks us to do today.
The noon service on Sunday had Psalm 66:1-8, Galatians 6:1-16 and Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 as the readings. My reflection is given below:
Jesus had a very good way of working which seemed designed to create the best possible team in preparation for when he was no longer around. When I use the words ‘best’ and ‘team’ you might wonder if I am a little misguided. The people gathered around Jesus were a strange assortment of people whose main gifting seemed to be that of getting the wrong end of the stick or being totally at a loss about what Jesus meant most of the time – hardly a definition of the best. When you consider James and John asking to be seated on the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom or of the discussion between the disciples on who was the greatest, there is little sense of team. Yet this is the material that Jesus worked with.
You may have heard the story before about the angel who asked God what would happen to his mission if the disciples failed in their task. What was God’s Plan B if that happened? God replied that there was no Plan B. Plan A had to work.
Jesus had an inner group of three disciples, Peter, James and John, who witnessed the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus’ daughter. These three went further into the Garden of Gethsemane than the others to support Jesus as he prayed for strength before his arrest (though even there they fell asleep!). It was to John that Jesus entrusted his mother and to Peter that he entrusted his church.
We are familiar with the group of twelve disciples, in fact we usually think of the disciples as being ‘The Twelve’. They travelled with Jesus and often got extra explanations about the meaning of parables. These twelve were sent out by Jesus with power and authority over demons and disease. They were to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. They were to take nothing with them but to rely on the hospitality of those whom they met. They went off and returned with lots of news to share about all that they had done.
That sounds very familiar but it’s not the same incident as we have in the gospel reading today. This time seventy (or seventy two in some translations) are sent out. You might wonder who they are. They obviously must be people whom Jesus trusted, who knew his message, who were suitable (or as suitable as possible) for the task they were given. If we look far enough back in the gospel of Luke we find Jesus spending a night in prayer after which he ‘called his disciples and chose from them twelve whom he named apostles’. We can see that early in his ministry Jesus had a lot of disciples, those who wanted to sit at his feet and learn, and from those he chose his twelve. It seems however that he had not lost the others who had not been chosen in this way. He had at least seventy available to send on a mission.
This choice of a wider group shows that being sent by Jesus is not just a task for that inner specialised group. Not being chosen for that most particular position did not mean that these people were not of value in the mission of Jesus. I would say that we are like this wider group, part of Jesus’ mission to the world which is still ongoing now. What can we learn from this group of seventy?
Jesus appointed these seventy people after he had explained the cost of discipleship. It could mean being without a home, leaving family responsibilities and persevering even if tempted to look back to life as it used to be. Those who were still following Jesus had counted the cost and found it to be a price worth paying. It was from these that he chose. If we are still around following Jesus, having counted the cost to us, we too are available to be sent out on mission.
Jesus gave very detailed advice to this group, very similar to that given to the Twelve but with a few extra details. They were not sent alone but in pairs. It’s risky to do ministry alone as there is no one around to pray with us and support us. There is also no one to hold us accountable for our actions, to challenge us when we seem to be straying from the right path, to pick us up when we fall or fail. Jesus made sure each had a companion. I think we are particularly vulnerable in SL when we go on mission. There are so many temptations which can lure us. We should take care to find someone to share and pray with as a defence against falling into sin or becoming despondent when things don’t go right for us.
Jesus assured these disciples that he was close behind them. They were preparing his way for him. What a responsibility and a privilege! He assured them that there was plenty for them to do, plenty of people to be gathered into his Father’s barns. That didn’t mean that they could go without prayer though. They were told to pray earnestly for labourers to bring in the harvest. Each generation’s prayers help a new generation of workers to be appointed. If we find ourselves sent out into the harvest it is on the strength of the prayers of the previous generation. The harvest is still plentiful so the need for prayer is still there, as vital as ever. We need as many workers as possible in this generation and the next.
Having prepared through prayer, the seventy were sent on their way. Jesus didn’t underestimate the risks involved in being sent. He was never one to hide the truth. Going as lambs among wolves sounds very scary indeed. They were not to take anything to help them. They were to go just as they were, in the clothes they stood up in and with no means of supporting themselves. Perhaps for some people now that is literally what they are called to do but not for all I suspect. If nothing else, we are expected to be vulnerable rather than bolstered with weapons such as brilliant programmes guaranteed to bring converts flocking at our call. Simplicity, vulnerability, and availability are the hallmarks of those sent. When St Paul wanted to be free of his ‘thorn in the flesh’ he pleaded with God but God said ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. This is part of the upside down way that the Kingdom operates, flying in the face of human logic.
Once we are ‘out there’ on mission Jesus’ approach is simple. First and foremost we are messengers of peace. So very many people have no peace in their lives; we can meet them every day in SL and in RL. They look for the next thrill to cover over what they are suffering or they turn to medication or addictive substances or behaviour to dull the pain. Jesus sent the seventy and sends us with a message: ‘Peace be to this house!’ We may not be entering a literal house, even an SL house, but we enter the personal space of other people and we are commanded to carry peace into that space. Often those with little knowledge of Christianity expect condemnation from Christians. Paul makes it plain in his letter to the Galatians that this is not to be the case: ‘My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.’ He warns that we too could so easily be in the same position.
The peace we carry is ‘Shalom’, wholeness in every way – physical, emotional, spiritual peace. If a person is able to receive from us we stay with them. Eating with someone indicates a closeness, time spent, words listened to, stories shared, love given and received. This ministry of peace is a ministry of getting alongside others, being there for them. There are so many people who are isolated and burdened, who need someone to listen and someone to pray with them – think how many prayer requests we get.
Many come into SL hoping it will be better than RL and often it is but not always. We can be part of the good side of SL. Jesus says, ‘heal the sick’. Only then does he ask us to share with the person why we are doing what we are doing, because the Kingdom of God is near. We are to earn the right to share the Good News. Some will simply not be ready to receive us. We are told to walk away.
We hear that the seventy did as Jesus commanded them and returned rejoicing. They had made a difference by using the power Jesus had given them. Jesus rejoiced with them but warned them not to concentrate on success or failure but to remember their eternal destination. Sometimes things will go well, sometimes not so well, but nothing can ever take the promise of eternal life from us.
I pray that each of us will take nourishment from our community here at the Cathedral and then go out in the strength of that to love others in Jesus’ name. Let us follow Paul’s advice and ‘Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor