The harvest is plentiful

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, in the previous Chapter, we are told how Jesus sent out the 12.  This is what it says:

1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town, as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.” (Luke 9:1-6)

This pattern continues here in this account, with Jesus now sending out the 72 and we are told that he sent them ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.  Jesus is very direct and in today’s passage makes it clear that he is sending them out like lambs among wolves.  It can be easy to love when we are among other lambs can’t it?  Can we still express that love though when we are among wolves?  In this we need to remember Jesus’ words from Matthew’s Gospel, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

There are a number of key points to bring out from this passage:

  • Whether with the 12 or with the 72, they were told to travel light – “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt” and “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.”  I don’t know about you, but much like the words of the Scouting motto, I tend to like to “be prepared.”  Later in the year, I am travelling to Germany to visit some friends and naturally I’ll be packing a case to take with me with everything I will need for my stay.  In this context though, I think that Jesus meant that the disciples and the followers would have to live by faith, relying upon the hospitality of those who received them, and they would have little time for comfort and pleasure.  They were to be focussed specifically on that which they were there to do – to bring peace, to heal the sick and to proclaim that the Kingdom of God had come near.  They were to be free of any distractions.
  • We are to seek out people of peace in our communities, people who are responsive to the Good News.  The only way we can find such people is to be part of that community. That means being there in the good times and the bad, whatever the “season”.
  • The reality is that some people would not give them a warm and hospitable welcome.  Yes, the disciples could be sure of being received by some people, but Jesus also told them to expect places where they would not be welcomed and the proclamation of the kingdom of God would be rejected. Jesus’ instructions when having that latter experience in a town was that as the disciples were leaving, they were to shake the dust off [their] feet as a testimony against them. Shaking the dust of unaccepting towns from their feet had deep cultural implications; it would show extreme contempt for an area and its people, as well as the determination not to have any further involvement with them. It wasn’t an unusual practice: pious Jews would do this after passing through Gentile cities to show their separation from Gentile practices. If the disciples shook the dust of a Jewish town from their feet, it would show their separation from Jews who rejected their Messiah. What do we think about that?  How do we feel about the lost who we might encounter in our life and ministry?  How do we feel about those who do not welcome us?  How do we feel about dusting off our feet and walking away from the lost?  The action of Jesus’ followers showed that they were not responsible for how the people responded to the message they brought. 

We must remember that in this it wasn’t the followers who were being rejected; it was Jesus himself and the kingdom of God that had come near to them.  Rejection means the kingdom has come, but the people rejecting have chosen the road that leads away from the kingdom. God lets people do that, but they must suffer the consequences of their choice and actions.  God will not force people to follow him and believe; God will present opportunities and bring people into an encounter with His kingdom.  He does that every time you meet someone who doesn’t know Jesus; we are part of the Body of Christ.  That is precisely why Jesus said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”  We must not take it personally if people reject the Good News that we bring.  The trouble with rejecting the message of grace and mercy is that we are rejecting the One who sent us to deliver that message.  Another way of thinking about this is to think of ourselves as being Ambassadors.  If another country rejects or throws out an Ambassador, it is a significant insult to the country that the Ambassador represents.  At an extreme, it is akin to declaring war but a war that the country knowingly enters into; any country throwing out Ambassadors does it knowing full well of the diplomatic consequences.

I think about conversations about life and faith I’ve had with people in my parishes.  We can seek to be faithful in proclaiming the Good News and sharing testimony about God being active in our life and the life of other Christians.  We can invite people to attend Christian nurture courses like Start!, Pilgrim, Christianity Explored or Alpha.  At the end of the day, we are to be faithful to our call and as it says in 1 Peter “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16) It is up to people whether they accept or reject that message and come to faith in Christ.

  • Jesus was very clear in the instructions he gave the 72.  Yet he said nothing about the followers measuring their success.  There is a lesson for us in this; we live in times when so much attention is paid to the “numbers game” and yet our focus has to be on being obedient to being and doing what we are called to do.  We are to rely on Jesus’ power and equipping, and not our own, when we go out to serve him. However, we still tend to assume that ‘commitment’ means ‘achievement’; as if being followers and heralds of Jesus is something we have to accomplish, instead of something we simply have to be.  Much like if people rejected the message, it wasn’t the followers who were being rejected but Jesus himself, we might also say that whether people accept or reject the Good News is between that person and God.  That doesn’t mean to say that we don’t care or have compassion.  If we know God’s heart, we know that he would rather that no one was lost.  We should always be prepared to pray for and intercede for the lost.
  • Just as Jesus had sent the Twelve, and now seventy-two more, he told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  These workers should pray for more workers—pray for more people to be willing to work in the harvest. In Christian service and ministry, there is no unemployment. ALL of us as part of the Body of Christ have a role to play.  God has work enough for everyone. No believer should sit back, and watch others work because the harvest is great.  Some years ago, I used to regularly visit an elderly couple and I took Communion with them.  This couple had limited mobility and struggled to get to church.  They often said that their time was ‘done and over’; there was nothing that they could do.  And yet, every time I visited, they spoke about their diligence and faithfulness in prayer.  Every morning, without fail, they prayed.  Every evening, without fail, they prayed. It was very humbling. One day, being mindful of this, I asked them a question.  I asked, “Is your time REALLY done and over?”  They were quite taken aback at first.  But then I said “It seems to me that your faithfulness in prayer is really significant and never wasted and the church that you are still part of values those prayers more than you can ever imagine.  Please don’t underestimate how important those prayers are.” 
  • I once attended a Pentecostal church for a number of years before moving with work elsewhere in the country.  The Pastor of the Church had a huge heart and passion for outreach.  Every week, without fail, come rain or shine, he would go out ‘door-knocking’ in the local community.  He had been doing this for many years and it had met with limited success.  Being mindful of this I once asked him why he bothered.  I asked this for two reasons – firstly, I felt inadequate at evangelism and secondly after so many years with little success I wondered if it was even worth it.  The pastor replied with tears in his eyes, and he very graciously said “If these people don’t hear the Good News from me, who will they hear it from?  They have to have an opportunity to respond.”  I was convicted in my heart and I said “I want to support you in that, but I do not feel gifted as an Evangelist.  What I can do though is organise a prayer meeting that prayers for you and the team as you are out ‘door-knocking’.”  It was a really fruitful time; it allowed everyone in the Church to play their part.  The outreach team felt better supported.  The Church drew closer together. 
  • We are not to keep the light that we have hidden.  I have a motto; I don’t go to parties I am not invited to i.e. I will not ‘Bible bash’ people. However, if people want to know more, I am always ready to give an answer.  I was once talking with someone who was seeking, but also resistant to the Gospel.  They said, “I suppose you are going to share your testimony with me?” I replied, “No, why would I do that?  I am not sure you really want to hear it.”  We spoke on many occasions, and eventually I did indeed share my testimony, but the person was in a place where they were genuinely interested in finding out more.  Sometimes we need to be prepared to journey with people where they are at in life.  Sometimes we need to be prepared to walk that extra mile.  Often we need to exercise patience, not only with the person we are speaking to, but also with ourselves and remind ourselves WHY we do what we do.  At the end of the day, everybody has a role in the Body of Christ, and we all have different gifts.
  • The numbers 12 and 72 are also significant.   12 could be taken as representing the tribes of Israel, the patriarchs of Israel as well as the 12 apostles.  According to Genesis 10, in the Greek version of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint, 72 was the traditional number of nations in the world.   72 could therefore be taken as representing the whole world, perhaps an allusion to the seventy elders of Israel on whom the Spirit descended in the wilderness (Numbers 11:24, 25) or quite simply the people of Israel and the church in general. By choosing and sending out seventy-two disciples, Jesus was symbolically showing that all nations in the world would one day hear the message from all believers. This would include the Gentiles—an important point for Luke’s Gentile audience.

The success of the seventy-two is acknowledged to be because of Jesus and Jesus’ power and authority – “LORD, even the demons submit to us in your name.”  We too need to be mindful of the power and authority of Christ, and the power in His name.  Despite that success, Jesus again shifts their perspective… “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  If we dedicate our lives to following Jesus and being faithful to what he asks us to do, we will find reward in service and in eternal life.  Ultimately, God’s will will be accomplished.  Think about that a moment. Yes, we might live in turbulent times, but it certainly gives me some comfort and consolation to remember that. God is in control.

Not everyone is called to be an evangelist.  The Bible tells us:

 “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same LORD. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)

Yet we all are “in community” and likely we are known as people of faith, and people who attend church.  When we meet people – even strangers – and the topic of church crops up in conversation (as it well might since it is a significant part of our lives) are we ready to talk about it?  People might ask “why do you go to Church?”  What would our answer be?  Not everyone is called to go into different towns and evangelise.  But we are called to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. Let’s think about people of peace me might know, people of peace we might encounter and pray that they might recognise in us the kingdom of God drawing near, whether through our acts of service, or what we might say.  Let’s pray that we might be faithful in using the gifts that God has blessed us with as the Body of Christ.  Amen

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