by Ellen Sims
text: Luke 10: 1-10
Last Sunday we reached the point in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus had resolved to go to Jerusalem, the seat of imperial and religious power, a decision he knew might cost him his life. You’ll recall that Jesus and his twelve disciples had been teaching and healing. Soon others wanted to join the movement. But Jesus discouraged anyone who would not give absolute devotion to God’s kingdom cause. I suppose that’s what “extremists” do to “radicalize” their followers. Jesus, the pacifist extremist, was radicalizing his followers in the ways of peace.
Today we read that seventy (some ancient manuscripts say seventy-two) people had subsequently volunteered—even though Jesus had tried his best to dissuade the lukewarm. What did he do with those earnest, freshly radicalized recruits? Did he load them down with weapons, explosives, maps of cities, blueprints of airports, nightclubs, and cafes?
Quite the opposite. They were allowed “no purse, no bag, no sandals” (v. 4) and told to walk into a new town without greeting anyone along the road; in other words, without making a single potential connection to someone in the next town. When they came to a house, they were to say, “Peace to this house.” Although a customary greeting, it seems here more a blessing and as a way to denote their deepest intentions. “Peace to this house” signaled their purpose, their mission, God’s coming kingdom. Jesus was sending them out “like lambs” (v. 3) even though he knew they’d encounter “wolves” out there. This must have been the original “Mission Impossible.”
Why send out his recruits with so little preparation and absolutely no resources? Why deprive his seventy recruits of even basic provisions and protections?
Perhaps he was hoping to create in them the vulnerability necessary for THEIR spiritual growth and the growth of God’s kingdom. Three chapters later the writer of Luke-Acts will tell us the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: something that starts small and humble but eventually provides shade and rest for many. Perhaps he was declaring that being vulnerable (that is, living transparently, non-threateningly, with our “shields down”) can open up some space for the Spirit of God to work. When the Spirit of Peace in our lives is recognized by others and reciprocated, we are all blessed. Humanitarian Elie Wiesel, who died yesterday and whose memory we honor, once said, “Peace is our gift to one another.” Peace was the only gift the Jesus followers needed to bring with them.
But even if their message of peace was not received and reciprocated, they did not have to lose their own experience of the Spirit of Peace. God’s peace is not contingent on everyone committing to peace. Likewise, you and I don’t have to depend on someone else’s feelings and opinions to define or empower us. The Spirit of Peace exists even though some do not accept it, may even violate it.
Because the seventy are completely dependent on strangers to meet their needs, their presence has the potential to elicit and develop the gift of hospitality among their hosts. If you’ve ever had a delightful house guest for a long period of time who becomes part of the family—as George and I have had—you’ll see how wise it was to expose people to the joy of opening one’s home and one’s heart. Jesus instructs them to “remain in the same house” (v. 7) over a period of time, presumably becoming integrated into the life of the family, “a basic strategy for building an egalitarian community” (Crossan qtd. in Tannehill 175).
The seventy are not missionaries parachuting into a new community to teach the inferior and convert heathens to their religion. The seventy are sharing meals and living mutually in the villages to which they travel. One scholar speculates that Jesus’s instruction to “’eat what is set before you’ may indicate that food should not be refused because of purity regulations” (Tannehill 176). The point may be that the seventy representatives and heralds of Jesus are respecting the culture into which they enter rather than aiming to impose on the inhabitants their religious practices. The teacher and learner roles are blurred.
And the content for the lessons? The only curriculum seems to be living together. The only lesson seems to be peace—which one learns by praxis, by living in harmony with strangers. “In the mission of the seventy (-two) the peace of the Messiah’s kingdom is being established at the grass roots, in the homes and towns of common people, not from the top down” (Tannehill 175). How brilliant a plan is this? To experiment with and practice peacemaking—by becoming vulnerable visitors who learn from strangers and elicit and gratefully receive their hospitality! You don’t study peace as a theory. You practice peace with your life—in mutual relationships, making mistakes, asking forgiveness.
Notice also that the seventy were sent out in pairs. Maybe this is merely a safety precaution: a pair is safer than a solitary missionary. Maybe pairing off also signals something about the inherent communal quality of the Jesus way. We don’t exist alone, and the kingdom of God’s peace cannot exist in theory and by mere absence of violence. God’s coming kingdom develops in everyday interactions between flawed but committed Jesus followers who can depend upon one another. The peace we hope to see among nations must first be practiced by individuals.
While sojourning in villages, the seventy were also to care for the sick. Jesus, especially in Luke’s Gospel, is known as a healer. So his followers are to heal and then say to the sick: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (v. 9). People in that culture believed that the sick had been “overcome or possessed by an evil or unclean spirit” and “their lack of good health consisted in the fact that they were not under the dominion of God but were rather dominated by unclean spirits” (Pilch 76). When Jesus told the 70 to say to the sick, “The kingdom of God has come near to you,” he was telling them to attest to the reality of God’s ways prevailing in their lives. Jesus’s representatives documented that the practice of healing was a way people experienced the in-breaking of God’s reign
But to reject the coming reign of God (by rejecting the emissaries Jesus sent out and Jesus’s nonviolent way) was not to be taken lightly. When God’s ways were rejected, the powerless Jesus followers were to make a public protest. Perhaps this gesture of literally wiping the dust of the town from their feet as they left a village was part public ritual and part social protest theater, a dramatic but nonviolent signal that they had not been welcomed and, more importantly, God’s peace had not been given a chance in that place. Even so, for those who did not open themselves to the peaceable, mutual, egalitarian ways of Jesus, the kingdom of God had come near to them, too. Maybe they would eventually have a change of heart. Of course, there are natural consequences for those who persist in living in the kingdom of non-peace.
In the verse that follows today’s reading, Jesus declares, “I tell you, on that day [when a people reject Jesus’s representatives of God’s peace], it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town” (v. 11). Despite what many believe, homosexuality was not the sin of the city of Sodom, destroyed by God in the days of Abraham. This verse helps correct that misunderstanding. The sin of Sodom was extreme inhospitality—when all the male inhabitants of that infamous city tried to rape strangers visiting the town—and Lott intervened to protect the strangers. The violence the men from Sodom attempted had nothing to do with same-sex love and everything to do with a lust for violence and domination and a rejection of the most important and necessary code of the Ancient Near East: hospitality to strangers. Welcoming the stranger is the prelude to peace.
Jesus discipled twelve and then commissioned seventy in a ministry that empowered everyday people to help usher in the peaceable kingdom of God. His plan included nothing about building a building or creating a leadership structure or writing a mission statement. One relationship at a time, the early followers of Jesus began to prioritize God’s peace by living together and living with strangers. Relationship is the key textbook we need on peacemaking.
And here’s the beauty and challenge of learning to be peacemakers through everyday challenges: Although we keep missing the mark, we continue to create an inexhaustible supply of case studies to reflect on and learn from. We want to learn about God’s peace through the stories of old. And they illuminate so much for us. But the primary textbook for peacemaking is still being written by violent folks like you and me who nevertheless yearn for peace.
Each time I lose my temper . . .
each time you vilify a brother . . .
each time we fail to listen to someone we’ve labeled “enemy”. . .
each time we dominate or mistreat or mistrust another . . .
each time we create a scapegoat or assume the worst about someone . . .
each time we act out of fear or choose violence to solve a problem . . .
we miss an opportunity for the kingdom of God to draw a little closer.
But in doing so, we also create another case study in God’s enormous textbook on the coming Kingdom of Peace.
So even our lost opportunities for peace are not complete losses.
To quote Elie Wiesel once more today: “There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.”
Spirit of Peace, we invite you to move among us, teaching us peace again and again from successes and failures at peacemaking. Amen
Pilch, John H. The Cultural dictionary of the Bible (The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1999).
Tannehill, Robert C. Luke: Abingdon New Testament Series (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996).