A Provocation: Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9 (14): July 7, 2019: Luke 10: 1-20

1     After these things
          he declared,
               haShem did,
          seventy different ones.
          He sent them by twos
               before his face
                    into every city and place
                    where he himself was about to come,
2     He kept saying to them:
          The harvest is plentiful,
          the workers few.
          Ask therefore of the haShem of the harvest
               so that he should cast out workers
                    into his harvest.
3        Go.
               I am sending you as lambs
                    in the midst of wolves.
4        Do not keep carrying a purse
               neither a knapsack
               neither shoes.
          Greet no one,
               not anyone along the road
5        Into whichever house you should go
               first say:
                    Peace to this house.
6        If ever there should be a son of peace
               it will rest on him
                    your peace will rest/regain strength on him
               If not
                    on you it will return.
7        In the same house remain,
               Eating and drinking the things before you.
                    for worthy is the worker of his wage.
          Do not shift out of a house
               into a house.
8        Into whichever cities you should go,
               and they receive you,
                    eat the things placed before you.
9        Cure these in the city who are weak
          keep saying to them:
               so close upon you is the Dominion of Elohim.
10      Into whichever city you should come,
               and they not welcome you,
          go out
               into the wide places of it,
               Even the dust clinging to us,
                    the dust out of your city,
                    the dust clinging to our feet we will rub off for you.
               Except keep knowing this:
                    so close came the Dominion of Elohim.
12                     I am talking to you:
                              for Sodom in that day
                              it will be more bearable
                                   than for that city.
13      Woe to you
          Woe to you
                    if in Tyre and Sidon
                    they happened
                         the powers that happened in you,
                    long ago
                         they would in cloth made of goat’s hair
                              and ashes
                              They would change their mind.
14      But to Tyre and Sidon
               more bearable will it be
                    in the time of separating
                         than to you.
15      And you, Capernaum:,
               You won’t be exalted to the point of the heavens?
                    To the point of Hades you will be brought down.
16      The one who hears you,
               hears me.
          The one who sets you aside,
               Sets me aside.
                    The one who sets me aside,
                         sets aside the one who sent me.
17      They returned,
               the seventy did,
          with joy, 
          they said:
                    even the demons are subject to us
                         in your name.
18      He said to them:
               I kept seeing satan,
                    as lightning out of the heaven,
19           Look,
                    I have given to you
                         the authority to walk on top of snakes
                              and scorpions
                                   and on all the power of the enemy.
                    No one will ever do injustice to you.
20           But 
                    in this do not rejoice:
                         that the breaths to you are subordinate;
                    rejoice that your name stands written in the heaven.

Again, I have written a Provocation of this scene before. You can find it at https://provokingthegospel.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/a-provocation-seventh-sunday-after-pentecost-luke-101-11-16-20/

This time around, I noticed something in the verses that are omitted from the lectionary text, something that might matter more than usual this year.

Jesus has sent out the Seventy. He has sent them out with no way of supporting themselves: no purse, no supplies, not even any shoes. And then he talks about the cities and homes that will welcome them, and about those that will not.

They will not have been the only travelers on the road who had to rely on the hospitality of people who did not know them. The Seventy join the people who travel without resources, a group of wanderers and refugees, of aimless people and people who have a definite goal, whether it is asylum or escape or, like my grandparents when they emigrated, a chance to earn money to support the family at home. There have always been such people on the road, then and now, and they have always met with hospitality, and with hostility. And now the Seventy learn what that does to a person.

The next thing Jesus says is omitted by the Revised Common Lectionary. Jesus says:

                           I am talking to you:
                              for Sodom in that day
                              it will be more bearable
                                   than for that city.

Why does Jesus bring in the city of Sodom? Not because of “sodomy.” However excited people seem to get at the notion that a penis might go anywhere other than into a vagina, “sodomy” was not the sin of the people of Sodom. Throughout Jewish Scripture, with echoes also in Christian Scripture and in the Deuterocanonical literature, Sodom and Gomorrah are remembered as examples of horrifying destruction. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel identify the sin of Sodom as refusing to defend widows and orphans and not helping those in need. (You can find this indictment throughout Isaiah, but see especially chapter 1; see also Ezekiel 16:49f.)

According to these prophets, the depravity of the city of Sodom showed itself in their refusal to offer hospitality to the travelers who came to them needing shelter. Instead of feeding and protecting them, they demanded to be allowed to gang-rape them. Isaiah and Ezekiel say that by loving opulent religious ritual instead of caring for the poor and powerless, the people of God demonstrated deep depravity. Throughout Scripture the consistent analytic is clear: the real quality of a people is revealed by how they welcome travelers without resources.

Jesus says the same thing about the cities that do, or do not, welcome the travelers he sends out.

The connection to the problems we are currently trying to solve is obvious. The current U.S. president stirred fears that he would close the U.S.-Mexico border, and simultaneously announced cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the countries of origin of many of the immigrants, documented and otherwise, who seek entry into the U.S. This had a predictable effect: the flow of immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers exploded. Members of the administration noted that separating children from their parents would deter people from attempting to enter the U.S.

I have been following this issue for years. So have you, probably. If you have, you know that there are deep and tangled complications that go with solving the problem before us. Thoughtful people on all sides of the issue know this, and still commit to the search for a solution. Demagogues just yell until they are red in the face and their crowds howl for blood. Most of us are not demagogues. Most of us do not howl for blood. And most of us are frustrated with the enduring difficulty of solving this problem equitably.

All of that is true.

But Jesus and the prophets are clear on this point. I repeat: the real quality of a people is revealed by how they welcome travelers without resources. “For Sodom on that day it will be more bearable than for that city.”

So I will leave you with a picture you have already seen. This one appeared in The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jun/28/migrant-father-daughter-drowned-valeria-parents#img-1

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