Homily for 7.7.13
14th Sunday in
Desperation did not seize Jesus, but, as one N.T. scholar writes, an elevated sense of urgency certainly does. Time was fleeting; each day the Jerusalem climax loomed larger on the horizon. The message must be heard; the Gospel of the Kingdom must be proclaimed and demonstrated in many more places before the culmination of days:
“The harvest is abundant," says Jesus," but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest...
reads the text (more on this in a moment). So, Jesus, in urgency...
appointed seventy-two others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.
THE MESSAGE OF JESUS THE MESSIAH
And, what was the message that Jesus placed in the mouths and what practices did Jesus expect of these, his witnesses? Clearly, the message of the Messiah may be found in how the pericope ends:
‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’
and the practices:
"cure the sick..."
Therefore, the Kingdom...
- the promised upsetting of the status-quo and the return of the world to what GOD meant it to be all along...
- the defeat of empire, the destruction of the powers of darkness and the return to holiness...
- the upending of hate, greed, violence and finally that last, great enemy death...
- the final and glorious return of GOD's people from exile...
- the fulfillment of Yahweh's promises to Abraham, including the blessing of the entire world...
all that and more was at hand because the King was at hand. The one, true living King, raised up by the intention and power of the Almighty, had come into the world. In a surprise move GOD visited his people by becoming one of them, and in so doing he offers the true way of peace, life and victory over the selfishness of sin.
THE CALLING FROM THE MESSIAH
So, the King sends his followers by twos, intending that they:
"go before me where I plan to visit..."
And, as we said, when they left he said to them:
"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest."
Here, again, we sense the urgency of the moment. Jesus, feeling the crunch of time and the pull toward Jerusalem's showdown, sees the fields ripe for harvest. He sees the people being failed by both political leaders and religious leaders, a failure which cause them to wander aimlessly as sheep with no shepherds, and a failure that was leading them toward violent revolution against Rome, which will make them sheep for the slaughter. Jesus' call to prayer for the harvest, therefore, should be understood as the prayer he himself prayed first of all.
This, like nothing else, should remind us that the Almighty has chosen a certain vulnerability in the world. GOD has chosen to use flesh and blood to accomplish his will and his way. He has done so in Christ, he has done so in today's text by choosing the seventy-two and he has done so in choosing us to be part of his mission.
Knowing myself the way I do, I have to wonder in the wisdom of this choice...
Anyway, this choice compels us to ask: Is there much urgency today? To which we would have to confess, not much. Today, we Western Christians are mostly satisfied with the status quo. Oh, to be sure we might desire the political landscape to change, so our team is in power, or we may desire that the political landscape remain the same because our guy is in power, but all in all we are accomplished and appeased.
Which compels a second question: Should there be an urgency today, an urgency for the Gospel lived out and proclaimed? With the hellish state of the world today, with the brokenness of the nations, the moral slide into the abyss and the loss of hope beyond today, to ask the question is to answer it.
THE FAITH OF THE FOLLOWERS
The problem is, of course, most of us have no faith beyond our bank accounts. Jesus tells the seventy-two:
"I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way...
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you...Do not move about from one house to another...eat what is set before you..."
trust my provision for your daily needs, for cooperation in the Gospel proclamation brings with it my own support for you necessities.
I wonder, what would happen if we believed the Jesus-way as the real way of the world. What would happen if we truly believed that the world flowed with the abundance of GOD's provision for his people and is not what we have been taught, that the world is filled with the scarcity of the marketplace? What if we could come to somehow trust GOD for our daily bread, and open to him the reality of our lives instead of holding the Almighty at arms length out of a fearful heart that we may not have enough?
What would the world look like if we lived in faith? But, I fear this is not possible. We are too soft; we are too captured. Or, better said, I am to soft; I am too captured.
RESPONDING TO THE GOSPEL MESSAGE
The seventy-two were to go in faith, and they were to look for those who responded to the Gospel of peace:
"Into whatever house you enter, first say,‘Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you."
N.T.Wright reminds us that the offer of peace was more than some sort of traditional shalom-greeting moment. Instead, it was the recognition that the Messiah had come in Jesus who was Messiah, and that the message of peace -- walking the second mile, turning the other cheek, loving your enemies -- had come to the heart of the person. That is, they were to look for people and enter homes where the gospel of peace had reception.
To understand fully what is at stake here, it would be helpful for us to think about the triumphal entry, and the statement that Jesus makes concerning the majority of people who rejected the way of peace:
36 As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, 38 saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!" 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, order your disciples to stop." 40 He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out." 41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God." (Luke 19:36-44)
Most did not receive the message of the Kingdom, or the King, but some did. Some joyfully had ears to hear the gospel and their hearts experienced a strange warmth at the prospect of this new life and this new way to live offered by this young Jewish prophet, who was the more than a prophet.
This is true even today. In this world, where the values are so skewed to the ego of the self, conspicuous consumption and the cult of the celebrity, the Gospel of the King still warms hearts, challenges lives and opens to us and to the world the path of a truly human being, patterned after the one who is King. If only I knew how to faithfully follow the King so that others could hear...
At that time the Lord appointed seventy-two others
whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit.
He said to them,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals;
and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”
(this is the shorter reading)