Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The kingdom of God has come near to you

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.
‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But at the judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum,
will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.’
The seventy* returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’

- Luke 10:1-17

Jesus here gives his instructions to the Seventy who are sent out as apostles to preach and to spread the word. This account of the Seventy appears only in Luke, but the instructions given out to these disciples and apostles, messengers sent out into the world, are similar to the ones given in Matthew's gospel to the Twelve apostles. Among the Seventy, according to church tradition, are Barnabas, Mark, Titus, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Simeon, and others mentioned in St. Paul's epistles, including Aristobulus, the brother of Barnabas, who preached the gospel in Britain and died peacefully there. Several would become Bishops of the early church.

First of all Jesus tells the Seventy to pray for more hands for the harvest - to gather more like themselves to the task at hand. Then he makes it clear to them the very nature of what they are undertaking: See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. This journey forward is to be one in which they resemble the sacrificial lamb himself; this implies their innocence and that their journey is not a safe one in which they will be treated well and always welcomed. They must travel light, be ready always to move forward, spend no idle time in extensive or over-ostentatious conversation. Keep to their business, this says to me, and keep moving.

Then come his instructions to them for their conduct on this journey. These instructions are clear: the apostles are not to go from house to house (which would imply looking for superior accommodations) but to stay with those who first offer them a place. They are to greet these people by wishing peace upon the house: and if there are those who are receptive to that peace it will rest upon them, if not the peace will return to the apostles. I take it that this is a way of discerning the ways of the kingdom, how spiritual blessing works. To use a "modern" word (for Western ears), it's like the version of karma that applies to the Christian spiritual reality.

They must accept the welcome given to them - including eating and drinking what is placed before them, taking part in what is offerred by those who are ready to hear this word or at least willing to take them in and open their hearts. I see this as another type of "Christian karma" - those who are receptive to this spiritual contact must also be received as they are, they must not be told that other food than that which they offer is preferable, just as the apostles must not seek out better accommodation. But those who are willing to open their houses, to listen and to hear must be received and reciprocal politeness and hospitality in this kingdom must be extended to those who make that connection with them, who are ready to listen or at least extend an offer of welcome. I think we could learn from this sense of appropriate behavior today (at least I could).

Additionally, for those who welcome them, the benefits of this kingdom must be extended: besides the blessing of peace, healings and cures should be done also in that place. They are to tell them that "The kingdom of God has come near to you." But whenever they enter a town that refuses them, again this spiritual "karma" works in a particular way: they are to tell that town as well of the nearness of the kingdom and the visitation that was made. They are to 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.” The rebuke and protest (but not retribution) are the result of refusal to hear or to listen or to welcome.

Extending this notion of the refusal to welcome or to hear (or to see) Jesus comments on those cities in the Galilee where he and his mission have been rejected, although great works of Spirit were done there. He gives a sure certainty of the predicted outcome of Judgment. However, such outcome is left to the Judgment and to the time of Judgment. This is never the purview of his workers for the harvest; they are to preach and to follow these rules he lays down.

I think we could all learn from this spiritual reality and how it works. When the truth comes near, this kingdom comes near, it confers on us the responsibility of how we will respond to it. The greater the spiritual works done in the presence of a person, the more responsibility he or she bears as witness in his or her response. I don't think we can take that point too lightly. It's another facet of yesterday's admonition to the disciples that once they put their hand to the plow, if they look back they're not ready for this kingdom and this work. We're all in; this reality takes us all in - and beyond that it commands our yes or our no. It is something like a charge we are given, and our response to which carries immediate weight and responsibility.

There's a note in the Orthodox Study Bible that I feel is helpful and enlightening to this point (on Luke 10:9). It reads: The gospel of Christ is not simply that there is a divine Kingdom somewhere, but that the kingdom of God has come near to us. It breaks into our lives through the work of Christ and His sent ones. I feel that this notion of the kingdom breaking in upon our lives is an important one, and an important way in which to think about spiritual reality - it can break in upon us at any time, like a great transcendent crash of echoing light, that carries its own resounding silence, and awaits our response. But we may just miss it altogether.

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