The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’ (NRSV)
The temptation to interpret the submission of demonic powers in self-referential terms must have been great. These were not the inner twelve disciples – privileged front row observers of all Jesus said and did. The seventy, it would seem, were more like fringe disciples.
And as they speak the name of Jesus the demons submit. No wonder they gathered again filled with joy and excitement.
And Jesus openly shares their enthusiasm. While they were gone he witnessed the Satan fall. He can celebrate the authority they have discovered. The power of heaven rests upon them.
But Jesus is quick to turn their attention from any sense of triumphalism. These messengers now face pride. Any joy they have is not rightly sourced in this new-found power. Their true thrill must spring from nothing more than heavenly citizenship: ‘…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
There seems to be a subversive element to Jesus’ joy.
Jesus certainly celebrates with them. But all the while he is pointing to a greater reality. This is not only evident in Jesus’ insisting on their heavenly membership. It is also revealed in his spirit-inspired prayer. These seventy are compared here to ‘infants’ and contrasted with ‘the wise and intelligent’. Somehow heaven has, once again, been revealed in the least likely.
The upside-down kingdom is being revealed through – and to – them.
After all, they are just what the Father has been looking for. To work God’s wonders through these is the ‘gracious will’ of God. The whole episode – the sending out and all that has occurred – amounts to God and his Son choosing to reveal themselves among and through the most unlikely.
And they are ‘blessed’ indeed. They have now lived what ‘prophets and kings’ before them only dreamed. The visions that danced across the stage of these great minds have only now become reality among the unlearned and humble. Heaven has chosen to reveal itself through a people comparable to ‘infants’.
But as extraordinary as these miracles are they pale into insignificance next to the joy of knowing that heaven’s scribe has written their names.