A Provocation: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

10:4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.

10:8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 10:9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10:10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 10:11 ‘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.’

10:16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 10:17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 10:18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 10:19 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. 10:20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

A Few Questions:

  • Why did they have to go barefoot?
  • Why does Jesus have to give his 70 apostles instructions in table manners?

Some Longer Reflections:

Those who are sent to announce the Reign of God begin by impoverishing themselves.  This must be heard carefully.
  • If the point is to pretend to poverty, this is manipulation and lacks integrity.  Everyone has heard stories of traveling evangelists who extract large contributions from people who had little to give.
  • Or, if the point is to give the 70 apostles a “mission trip” experience of “solidarity with the poor,” this just sounds like a ticket to misunderstanding.  If there is such a thing as “solidarity with the poor,” it requires a life-long commitment to listening and learning.
  • Of course, it could be the case that the 70 apostles are, in fact, poor.  If so, traveling without a purse or a bag would be not so unusual.  They would have had little to put in either the purse or the bag, in any case.  If this is the situation, Jesus is telling the apostles not to pretend to be rich, which is an interesting command.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the barefoot part.

Perhaps they went barefoot regularly.  If so, Jesus is, once again, telling them not to pretend to be rich.
Perhaps they did not go barefoot regularly.  In that case, the first several days of their mission would involve a lot of limping.
Perhaps that is the point.  It is hard to be too impressive when your feet hurt, and when, by the way, you have no money for supper.  And maybe THAT is the point: the Reign of God cannot be announced by people who are impressed with themselves, or who are hoping that others will be impressed with them.

But what about the instruction in table manners?

Eat what is set before you, says Jesus.

Why?

A guess (perhaps a little wild):

  • Perhaps the faithful Jews who will welcome the apostles and their announcement of the Reign of God are faithful, but not exactly observant.
    • Not every faithful Jew keeps anything that even looks like kosher.  As important as it is to observe kashrut, even keeping kosher is not as important as receiving hospitality.  
    • A gift is a gift. Receive it as such.  
    • So perhaps this is an exchange of gifts: both the announcement of the Reign and the sharing of hospitality, and Jesus’ instructions about eating are meant to emphasize that.

And perhaps this goes even further.

Yes, in this scene Jesus says that laborers deserve their wages.  But this is still a scene about the exchange of gifts.

At some level all work and all pay is a gift exchange.  We do the things that our community needs, and our community sustains us.

This runs hard against the notion, now often heard, that “it’s my money.”  Even when that phrase is not a strong distillation of selfishness (and it is not always that), it represents an economic misunderstanding.  Even the word, economy, makes that clear.  It means “household.”  Members of a household sustain each other, and they give each other gifts.  

Before we get too sappy and start singing Kumbaya (again), it is worth noting that living in a knit-together community is not simple. Sometimes it is nearly impossible. Communities always have entrance fees, and sometimes they make those fees so expensive that no one from the outside can afford to join. Sometimes that is the point.

And sometimes the exchanges are not so much the giving of gifts but something much more like theft.  

  • Think about kindergarten teachers, for instance.  People like to say that such people must be saints because they work so hard for so little money, but at least they (like all saints) enjoy their jobs. It is hard to spend compliments and projected job-satisfaction.
  • And those of us who work in the church have long ago learned that we do this work for love, and for God, and for less money than we would earn if we had followed almost any other career track that was open to us.

Many years ago now a member of the congregation I served calculated that I was actually earning a stupendous amount of money: after all, the taxes I didn’t have to pay on the parsonage should be counted as income, and the taxes I didn’t have to pay on the farmland that I would otherwise have to own should also be income, and I also should have to count the stability of my income as a further salary boost since I never got hailed out or suffered from drought (I didn’t exactly follow that last one, either).

The thing is, that congregant had a point: the economic web that holds a community together is complex and our economic ignorance is evidence that we would rather not live in a community and we would REALLY like to believe that “it IS our money” after all.

But Jesus sends the 70 out to be dependent on gifts.

We are always dependent on gifts. The older I get, the more I realize the ways my teachers (some of whom were even part of educational institutions) gave me the best that they had for free.

For instance, Gretchen Heath, my high school drama teacher, gave me much more than a couple of plays to be in. She opened up a way of understanding the world and human being that I would never have discovered apart from the theatre. The good stuff she gave for free because none of us could ever have afforded to pay for what she knew out of a life dedicated to literature and theatre.

Or Howard Hong, who taught me the history of philosophy, gave me the privilege of face-to-face exploratory conversation about questions that human beings have always had to ask. Yes, I learned all manner of details about Plato and Descartes and Kierkegaard. But far more important, he set before us a banquet beyond our barely-post-adolescent palates and invited us to sample and experiment. Even more, he respected our efforts. This was also a gift.

Or Joanna Dewey, a scholar of remarkable depth, insight, and reputation, offered also her generous friendship to so many of us as we struggled to ask pointy questions and develop coherent research agendas. Her friendship is a gift that makes it clear that community is always based on grace and generosity.

There are many, many more: the butchers who taught me to cut meat and manage profits and losses, the pastors who believed I might actually some day be worth something as a theologian, the students who have been willing to speak honestly about the very different world they live in and try to navigate.

The Essential Condition for Announcing the Reign of God:

And maybe that is the essential condition required for those who will announce the Reign of God: they have to acknowledge the gifts they receive from all sides in order to announce God’s Reign.  If they begin to imagine that they are the ones giving gifts to their audience, then they are no longer announcing the Reign of God.  Receiving gifts is essential.  

 

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