Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 3, 2022
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 Commentary
Our passage this week is one that we’ve often heard in isolation, such as on a Missionary Sunday, without a sense of its immediate context in the book of Luke. And, we often do as the lectionary does: skip over the difficult bits… I too won’t be addressing the Woes section directly, but I do want to remind you that starting last week, the lectionary set us a long journey through the book of Luke. These first two weeks deal specifically with the calling to discipleship. (See last week’s commentary for more on the setting.) In fact, we might see Ordinary time as learning the discipleship life with Jesus. This would make today’s passage for everyone, not just missionaries who are going to faraway lands.
Last week, we heard Jesus interact with would-be disciples. Throughout each of those conversations we came to understand that distracted discipleship will not do: it is attentioned, undivided discipleship that Jesus is after. Such intentionality is necessary because when the going gets tough, disciples are able to keep going.
Here we see Jesus describe what that going looks like, and gives us some helpful things to remember. The first thing to remember is that this is all Jesus’ mission: he appoints the seventy to go; he himself intends to go to all of these places; he sends them; they will do ministry in Jesus’ name; he gives them the authority for their mission; he delights in what he sees them do.
The second thing to remember is that hardship, suffering, and rejection are normal—not exceptional—for those who follow Jesus. I have a friend who is a therapist, she tells her clients (and her friends): “Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong.” Sometimes, this truth applies to discipleship as well.
This list of commands that Jesus gives his sent ones all fit under what it means to be “like lambs in the midst of wolves”: vulnerable. Remember that just last week we heard Jesus say that he has nowhere to belong and rest here on earth and how his followers will have the same fate. Now we are seeing him say it again, but with an added emphasis on the danger we might find.
Why would Jesus do this to his followers? It doesn’t seem like setting them up for success! They are to be dependent on people of peace wherever they go! In what feels very counter-intuitive to our stewardly attitudes of preparation, Jesus tells his disciples to allow themselves to be needy. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals…”
So what are we to make of this? Are we to take it literally as we make our own strategies for going out in witness? Are we to take it to heart as we consider the possibility that we might be people of peace for someone else? For Christians who do not become vocational missionaries, what does this vulnerability look like?
Justo González’s helped me think about what Jesus is establishing as the norm for Christianity in this passage. Pointing to the larger narrative about Jesus’ own life and death, the description of Satan falling from heaven in Rev. 12.7-12, as well as to what Jesus describes in verse 18, González summarizes the way of God, the Lamb: “The Christian message is not just that Jesus conquers all powers of evil and oppression, but also that, as lambs sent into the world by the Lamb of God, Christians have the mission and the power to gain victory over evil and oppression.”
It makes sense, given the Scriptures—even if it is difficult to accept and practice—that Jesus’ way of victory is not through power, protection, prosperity or possessions (remember the temptations at the beginning of his ministry?) but by vulnerability and sacrifice of personal autonomy and safety, being drawn in need and reliance into relationships and community. This was the way that Jesus modelled living while on earth; why do we think ours should be different?
And lest we fall into the trap of thinking that vulnerability is all weakness, let us remind ourselves of how Jesus describes those he sends. Those who are called by God have great power within them: they carry within them the very Kingdom of God; they have the power to cure the sick (v 9-11); they have an unending fountain of peace to offer and receive (v 5-6).
Through the Holy Spirit, Christians today continue to have the Kingdom of God and fountain of peace within our very selves because we have Christ in us. When we are following Christ we will find ourselves in vulnerable positions, but our vulnerability is rooted in trust in which we internally hold fast: the unshakeable Kingdom of God which produces a peace that passes understanding.
I just love how Jesus minces no words about our vulnerability (and how we have to choose it) and then immediately tells us to not be stingy with the peace. The two commands follow one another in sequence: Carry nothing to secure yourself, and first say, “PEACE!” In other words, look not to yourself and your faux needs (what you think you need), but to the true needs of others. Or as Paul wrote in Philippians 2.4-5: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
When we have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, we become part of God’s great victory over sin, death, evil and oppression. Clearly, the harvest is not just of “lost souls” but the redemption and consummation of all things that God invites us to witness and participate in as God accomplishes it. This is not just a sending of missionaries, but a description of the very people of God, who were called from the beginning to bless the world, trusting God as they vulnerably entered a land that was new and unknown (Abraham’s calling in Genesis 12).
When the disciples come back and excitedly share what they have seen and been a part of, Jesus delights in their experience and service. He then tells them that their work will continue: he has given (which is in the perfect tense, meaning it extends forever) them authority to work against the forces of evil in the world.
But then he says to them that even better than this experience of being part of God’s victory is being part of God’s love. That being written in the book of life that will culminate in union with the Triune God is an even richer reason to rejoice. It’s that gentle reminder that all of this glory belongs to God… it’s the reminder to say attuned to the right thing even while we faithfully serve our God-given callings in this world because it’s easy to get caught up in the wave of victory and to forget that we are just little agents of a very big God.
I didn’t talk about this point in the commentary, but in verse 19, when Jesus says that “nothing will hurt you,” the Greek form is actually the most emphatic way that you can say that something will not happen. The grammatical term for the structure is emphatic future negation. Now, on the surface, this doesn’t quite match the experience of reality: Jesus himself was greatly hurt/damaged/injured as he died on the cross—let alone our own experiences of being hurt for choosing the way right way of God. That’s the whole point of being vulnerable, isn’t it? Being in a posture that makes it possible for some sort of harm to come to us?
Is the “answer” to this conundrum Jesus’ closing words in verse 20? Is the promise that no harm will come to us by the powers of evil is actually a word about our eternal destiny with the Triune God?
Canadian hymnwriter Margaret Clarkson (1915-2008) wrote “So Send I You.” Well actually, she wrote two versions: one in 1938 and one in 1963. The original hymn is much starker in its description of the hardship and difficulty those who are sent by God will face. Clarkson herself did not have a happy childhood and suffered from a couple of different physical ailments, so perhaps she was writing from personal experience and reflection… The later version is much more triumphant: less about what the cost and experience of the disciple is and much more about what the mission produces. It is quite similar to the way our lectionary text reads (first a description of the hardship and difficulty, but then the triumphant report). Did Clarkson live the “sent life” for the almost thirty years between the hymn versions? Did she feel compelled to share “both sides” of the story of following Christ?
To see what I mean, here are a few verses from each edition of the hymn:
1938 Version 1963 Version
v1 So send I you—to labour unrewarded, So send I you—by grace made strong to triumph
To serve unpaid, unloved, unsought, unknown O’er hose of hell, o’er darkness, death and sin
To bear rebuke, to suffer scorn and scoffing— My name to bear and in that name to conquer–
So send I you, to toil for Me alone. So send I you, My victory to win.
v3 So send I you—to loneliness and longing, So send I you—My strength to know in weakness,
With heart a-hung’ring for the loved and known, My joy in grief, My perfect peace in pain,
Forsaking home and kindred, friend and dear one- To prove My pow’r, My grace, My promised presence
So send I you, to know My love alone. So send I you, eternal fruit to gain.
v5 So send I you—to hearts made hard by hatred So send I you—to bear My cross with patience
To eyes made blind because they will not see And then one day with joy to lay it down,
To spend, tho it be blood, to spend & spare not To hear My voice, “Well done, My faithful servant—
So send I you, to taste of Calvary. Come share My throne, My kingdom and My crown!”
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