Please read today’s passage here: Luke 10:1-24
Luke records two occasions when Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the Kingdom. In the first he sent out only the Twelve (Luke 9:1-9), and in the second Seventy-two. Most people are aware of the significance of the number twelve. There were 12 sons of Jacob, who became the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel that were freed by God from Egyptian bondage and guided by him through the Sinai deserts to the Promised Land of Israel under Joshua. When Jesus chose precisely 12 men to be his inner group of disciples (i.e., students) and authorized witnesses after his resurrection, he consciously modeled this group after the 12 tribes. For they, as Jewish believers, represented the true Remnant of believing Israel.
When he sent out this second larger group of his followers, it numbered 72. It is less well known today that in ancient Israel of Jesus’ day there was a tradition that there were 72 nations in the Earth. So the number 72 probably reflects the worldwide mission of the Jesus community after the Resurrection. As a companion of St. Paul in his missionary journeys, Luke was intimately acquainted with this aspect of the Post-Resurrection Jesus Community.
It may be significant that in Luke’s gospel the sequence of events is:
- the sending out of the Twelve,
- the Transfiguration and the Predictions of the Death of the Messiah, and
- the sending out of the Seventy-two.
When historic Israel rejected its Messiah, it handed him over to the Romans to crucify and to be raised from the dead on the third day. This is prefigured by Jesus’ predictions of his death and resurrection (9:43-45) and by the Transfiguration (9:28-36).
After the resurrection, the mission of Jesus (through his disciples) changed from only to historic Israel to all nations under heaven, namely the 72.
In this second, larger mission, the disciples are to act as advance men. They are to go to towns and villages where Jesus would eventually come (v. 2).
Two lessons can be learned from this fact. First, they were not told to just pick places at random, but were called to go to specific cities that Jesus had plans to visit. And secondly, theirs was not the sole responsibility of teaching, since they knew that Jesus would follow them.
These two facts remind us as his disciples today that when God places a burden on our hearts to reach out to a particular individual or group, it means that he has plans to visit them spiritually through us or through another disciple who follows us. We can be sure that we are working with the risen Jesus and his disciples as members of a team, following a game plan that he has devised. Secondly, we can be freed from worry that we have not told the person or group all that needs to be said, since Jesus (perhaps in the form of another disciple) will always follow up. Commenting on this pattern, Jesus once said: "One person sows, and another comes along later and reaps" (John 4:35-38).
Jesus put the same restrictions on them as to what they could carry with them as he had earlier with the Twelve (v. 4). And they were given similar instructions about where to stay in the villages and how to respond to reception and rejection of their message (v. 5-11).
In Luke’s description of those instructions there is even more of an emphasis on the disciples’ blending in with the local customs. They are to eat what the locals offer them. Since these are still Jewish towns, there is no question that they would be given pork or other food that was forbidden by the law of Moses. Rather, the lesson is that a disciple of Jesus gratefully accepts what is offered to him. St. Paul later offered similar advice to Christians in the pagan city of Corinth about accepting hospitality from those whose meat might have been purchased in a local market where it had been taken from animals sacrificed to pagan deities. He said, “Eat without asking about the food’s origin. But if they say to you, ‘this was offered to a pagan deity,’ you may refuse.”
In the account of the earlier mission of the Twelve, we are told how the Twelve were to react to rejection of their message, but not how they were supposed to react to a favorable reception. In describing the mission of the Seventy-two, Luke gives both sets of instructions. To towns that accepted their message they were to say: “The Kingdom of God has come near you” (v. 9), with the implied conclusion "and it is yours, since you have accepted it". To those who rejected it they were to declare that they are no longer responsible for that town’s fate. This is what the shaking off of the town’s dust symbolized. And they were to announce that the Kingdom of God had come near to that town also, but had been refused and the opportunity for God's forgiveness was lost.
Jesus’ final comment on the towns that rejected—that their fate will be worse than that of the wicked town of Sodom on which fire fell from Heaven and consumed it—reflects the principle underlying the worldwide mission of the Church: it is important that every person be given an opportunity to hear the offer of forgiveness and eternal life, made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus, so that they might enter God’s Kingdom. But those who reject that offer exclude themselves from eternal happiness. They exclude themselves, because God’s messengers were sent out in order that none should be excluded. By rejecting God’s kind and loving offer, they commit a kind of spiritual suicide. God created humans with free will, and he will not violate their right to use it, even if they use it unwisely in order to reject God's own mercy and forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters, in a very real sense you and I are among that group of the Seventy-two. We are part of the worldwide mission of Jesus’ disciples. Like them, we are to be an integral part of the social groups we enter: business groups, academic societies, civic groups, neighborhood associations, sports clubs. We are not supposed to isolate ourselves or pretend to be moral superiors, although we passionately pursue lives that honor Jesus. We take what is offered to us, including opportunities to share the good news with friends and neighbors. To all we give the encouraging news that in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection God’s Kingdom has come near and is accessible to anyone who will believe. We hope that it will not be necessary to remind any who firmly reject that message of the sad fate that they are dooming themselves to. Still, it may eventually become necessary to do so. Uncomfortable truths cannot simply be left unsaid.
But lest we end this lesson on an unecessarily somber note, without seeing the bright side as well, consider the words of Jesus that follow in v. 21-24.
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. 22 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."Although even extremely learned and brilliant scholars can fail to see God's truth, if they do not recognize their need of God's forgiveness, even the simplest person with little or no education at all can understand and joyfully accept the message of Jesus when he or she comes humbly seeking God's forgiveness and love. To this second category of people Jesus "chooses to reveal" the Father (v. 22). It is not unfair that Jesus does not choose to reveal the Father to the other class of persons, since by their proud refusal to confess their need for God's forgiveness they have excluded themselves.
23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."
Those who claim they are not hungry cannot complain that they are not given food.