After 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. He 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. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!” And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain 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. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, “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.” I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town. (NRSV).
Our reading immediately follows Jesus’ encounter with those offering their service. Perhaps his clear and demanding call did not discourage every would-be follower. Our passage opens with Jesus appointing and sending ‘seventy others’.
Each shares their journey with another and moves in the spirit of John the baptist – preparing for the arrival of Christ.
And according to Jesus this will not be a fruitless task. The time is right and a ‘harvest’ is expected from these ‘labourers’. There are people waiting for their arrival.
In fact, Jesus sees these seventy amounting to only a ‘few’. As they go they are to ‘…ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest’. They may be the first bearers of the Gospel to these towns – but they are not expected to be the last.
The work they begin will be continued through their answered prayer.
But there will be opposition. Just as Jesus himself met resistance, these disciples will know something of what it is like to be ‘…lambs in the midst of wolves’. This may not be an easy assignment.
And in representing the Messiah, these people are to embody the values of the kingdom. Jesus instructs them to live and travel in utter simplicity: ‘Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.’ Such minimal provision would make their travel both efficient and distinct. Nothing is permitted to delay their campaign. They have a task and there is no room for distraction.
But it is not only in simplicity that Jesus will be imitated. They carry his exact message: ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ This dominion will manifest in the same way it has in the mission of Jesus: they will ‘cure the sick’.
Indeed, these disciples are beginning to look like old-time runners who carry an important and urgent message for their king.
And as they go people open to the reign of God will emerge. The blessing of their king’s grace-filled ‘Peace’ will find places of rest. Shelter and nourishment will be provided. The saints who open their houses are never to be taken for granted. The finding of just one welcoming home will be enough. It is God providing their wages.
It would seem that in every way they are to behave like Jesus.
And just like Jesus there will be times they are not welcome. This is both expected and planned for. But even as they protest with a dramatic wiping of their tired and naked feet they are to give testimony: ‘…the kingdom of God has come near.’
Yes, these have taken on the responsibility to proclaim the kingdom everywhere.
They may not know who will be open. But they do know some will. After all ‘…the harvest is plentiful.’