10After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
13“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. 16“Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
What I am Learning:
Let's take this difficult and exciting text one step at a time. One of the things that happens to us when we read a text like this, all our assumptions about the Bible come rushing into our heads and hearts. Set those aside for a bit.
Jesus found seventy (or in some texts seventy-two) people to go out and prepare villages for Jesus' to visit them. This is a reminder of Moses who found the work to be too much, and he selected seventy elders to assist him in leading the People of Israel. (see http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=239710939)
It is also an allusion to the the number of Hebrew people when they went into Egypt- that life in the Roman Empire has turned life at home into bondage.
Jesus sends these seventy out to prepare the villages for a visit from Jesus, for the harvest is plentiful. But let's be clear about what the harvest is. Many church leaders say that the harvest is getting people to think like us about Jesus, join our church, give more money, or have a powerful experience of conversion. These are not bad things! But the harvest is really not about personal salvation but about God's reign of mutuality (the kingdom of God) and how it is growing within the Roman Empire.
Hospitality was one of the most important values for middle eastern peoples. Jesus sends these seventy out and expects them to be relying on the hospitality of others, to be vulnerable to them and to listen to them.
Jews would knock the dust off their feet when leaving a Samaritan area. It was a way of saying they didn't want a rejected people's filth to contaminate them. When villages would not hear about God's way of mutuality, the seventy were to engage in a public prophetic act - to to some public truth telling. Remember that such truth telling is always intended, even though it is confrontational, to provoke change. This not a way of saying that "God is rejecting you" but making visible our rejection of God.
Jesus continues this kind of truth telling by stating that several Jewish cities, although they held themselves to be faithful to God, were in fact far less open to Jesus' message of the reign of God than were gentile cities. They thought they were "all that and a box of crackers." Again, this is not a statement about God's intent, but rather an honest reflection of reality - in hopes that it might change.
The seventy returned and found that they could engage in ministry without Jesus' physical presence.
Then Jesus makes a difficult statement: "I saw Satan fall like lightning." Again, I don't care if Satan is a personified non-corporeal being or not. Satan is a way for ancient peoples to talk about the power of groups and cultures to deform people and turn them from God. Jesus tells the seventy that they are participating in the power of God to unmask and defeat these satanic powers. But even this taste of power is dangerous, intoxicating. So he reminds them to be centered in God's love for them and not be distracted by power that all too easily becomes power over others. (see this cool blog about this: http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/new-testament/ordinary14cgospel-2/ )
Jesus called his larger disciple group to join him in announcing God's way of mutuality in the world. He sent them out from the safety of their homes to interact as public leaders in strange places, and to accept a deep relationship with others as a part of the reign of God.
He calls us still, for there are many who would offer us hospitality if we risked engaging them with the love of God.