Luke 10:1-9 The Mission of the Seventy
1The Lord appointed seventy 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 labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers 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 labourer 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.”
Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.
Jesus knew His scriptures, often quoting them or referring to them. Jesus was often portrayed in the New Testament as being a new, and greater, Moses, or one of the prophets. If we go back to the Exodus story (24:1) we hear about Moses taking seventy elders onto the mountain when he went to talk to God; in Numbers (11:16-25) we hear about Moses choosing seventy to share the load of work he had; the Sanhedrin itself was composed of seventy men; so to portray Jesus as being greater than those who had gone before Him, He had to send out seventy as lambs going into the territory of wolves. The seventy whom Moses had chosen were to prophesy, but only two did so within the camp. Since the Israelites were on a long journey through the desert, to whom did the other sixty-eight prophesy? I’m not offering an answer. Jesus’ seventy, however, were sent ahead of Him into the towns where He intended to go – a sort of advance party to prime people for the coming of the Lord and a new revelation.
Jesus often used agricultural ideas to get across His point. “The harvest is plentiful” could have had the obvious meaning of it being a good time to gather an abundance of grain, but there is no indication in the passage that it was time to gather grain, and Jesus was referring to the people who were ready to become followers and would need encouragement and support. Even today, we frequently hear people claim that the labourers – the ones who are called by God to make disciples of all nations – are few, but is that true because the Church authorities, like their counterparts in the first century, are keen to have labourers who follow the dictates of the authorities, not those of God?
Jesus tells these seventy people to get on the way, not to procrastinate, not to be worried that they might not have the words or the eloquence to do the task at hand – and don’t forget that they are being sent like lambs among wolves. Their lives will be at risk; they will be attacked for no other reason than their message conflicts with the message of those in charge of the areas in which they will work. Despite all this, they were to not carry money – so they couldn’t find a way home, they were to not carry any extra clothes, they were to not carry extra footwear, and they were to avoid contact with potential thieves and murderers along the way – in other words not greet anyone on the road. Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way. When we set out on a journey like this God will provide our needs – though not necessarily our wants. If they met with people who are receptive to the message they carried – we carry – they would be housed and fed, they wouldn’t need money to buy things, clothes and shoes would be provided. By offering God’s peace to those who showed hospitality that peace would be shared if it were welcomed, but would be unharmed if it were rejected. Whichever way it was received those sent forth would be able to bask in the peace of God.
Being accepted by a receptive host would have meant, in those days, that the evangelists’ stay would be welcomed for as long as they needed to remain in the one place, and the next stage of the journey would be marked by generosity in providing for travel needs along the way. The instruction for what to do within a town or community which accepted these people was to stay, to eat whatever was provided for them – which would fly in the face of Jewish food restrictions whenever they met with Gentiles – and to heal those who needed it. In other words, they will know we are Christians by our love. That expression of Christian love would be an outward sign that the Kingdom of God was at hand.
This passage ends before an important corollary to the welcoming town, for verses 10 and 11 tell them that if the town doesn’t welcome them they should clear the dust off their feet and walk away telling the townsfolk that God is not happy – Luke compares the people with those in Sodom. Some of us have had personal experiences like that, in today’s world.