The Urgency

The Urgency.
2 Kings 5: 1 – 14;  Luke 10: 1 – 20
A father tells the story of how his teenage son had become seriously ill. For weeks he had been going to doctors and a specialist, all of whom had been puzzled by his symptoms. Finally he is recommended to senior specialist who put an end to the speculation. ‘Take him to the hospital at once,’ he said. ‘We’ll operate tomorrow.’ The specialist had discovered a brain tumour, which was removed with great skill and without lasting damage. Had they waited much longer it might have been too late.
Something of that mood hangs over Jesus’ sending out on a mission 35 pairs of disciples. The sense of urgency bleeds through the sentences.  Talk of a plentiful harvest and a few workers heightens the urgency to gather the harvest in before it is to late. The imagery of lambs and wolves conveys the potential danger. The travelling light and the purposeful journey suggests there is no time to waste. The simple and decisive instructions to stay in one house instead of wasting time changing hosts leaves little doubt that the mission must be undertaken effectively and efficiently. The situation for the people is filled with risk. The warning is dire. This passage percolates with urgency.  Jesus has instructed his disciples to give the message and the warning so that people can be saved from a terrible disaster.
We will no doubt feel uncomfortable with this passage. The lectionary editors left out the uncomfortable verses 12 – 15 about judgement. It is not surprising.  The lectionary editors do that kind of thing. I think they are motivated by a desire to domesticate the Bible. They like to portray the picture of a ‘loving God’. It is not the first time I have come across the lectionary editors sanitising the Scriptures – leaving out the hard bits. This is one of the reasons why I sit loosely with the lectionary. I think the lectionary editors left out the verses about judgement because they believed people shouldn’t be frightened into following Jesus.  I contend that they have missed the point of this passage.
What is Jesus thinking about when he says to the people of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum that unless they change their ways they will suffer? Generally speaking Jesus doesn’t frighten people into following him. Mostly we see Jesus gently confronting, firmly shepherding, lovingly listening and pastorally responding to us at our point of need. So what is this bit about judgement and its frightening warning?
To understand this account of the mission of the 70 disciples we need to rewind the story. Jesus came at a time when the people of Galilee and Judaea were looking for God’s Christ. They assumed that the Christ would be a great military king like King David, who would bring justice. They wanted the justice that would right the wrong and let the Jewish people rule themselves. Not surprisingly there were people who claimed to be the Christ – God’s king who precisely followed the script of military revolt.  However Jesus comes as God’s King and is a different kind of King. He comes and includes the Samaritans using a Samaritan traveller as the example of God’s most important law – ‘love your neighbour / enemy’.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the symbol of peace, not a warhorse.  Jesus comes and dies sacrificially for the people.  This is the type of king Jesus is. He is totally counter to the general view that God’s king would be a military commander.
Now just before Jesus sent out 35 pairs of disciples Jesus had asked his disciples who he was. He was near Caesarea Philippi [Mk 8: 22-31]. [Look at a map of Galilee] Now Caesarea Philippi was about 30 kms from the three small towns of Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin that nestled at the northern end of Lake Galilee. Mark tells us that Jesus ministered in this area.  Jesus knew that his fellow Jews were restless and agitating for a revolution against the Romans. They wanted to correct Samaritans beliefs about God. They wanted punitive justice. They wanted to punish the Samarians for the wrong way they worshipped God and to throw out the Romans. They didn’t want peace – they wanted justice and believed military force would provide it. This wasn’t Jesus’ way. Where they wanted justice to get peace, Jesus said peace gets true justice. Jesus could see that a military uprising against Rome would not work.  Jesus knew that any uprising against the Romans would be ultimately brutally stopped. Jesus’ comment about ‘fire coming down from heaven’ is not meant to be taken literally but as a metaphor as to what would happen. Indeed some 35 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus there was a significant uprising in 66 – 73 CE/AD. Initially it was quite successful.  The Jewish rebel forces crushed the Roman Syrian army and massacred 6000 Romans. This shocked the Roman leadership, who sent in Vespasian with four legions and auxiliary troops. They crushed the rebels in Galilee – that’s where Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum were – and destroyed Jerusalem and theTemple. 
The most reasonable interpretation of the 70 missioners in Galilee was this deep and urgent concern of Jesus regarding the possible outcome of military revolt. Yes, they were proclaiming that the Messiah had come, but they were also showing a new way of being faithful to God. Hence his disciples were to go with a message of peace. Jesus’ foresight was justified as history proved. So the urgency and the imagery of judgement is not about getting people into heaven, but about getting people to see that God’s way brings a lasting peace for all. As I have repeatedly said, Jesus’ peace brings true justice. By the year 316 CE the Roman Empire took Christianity as its main religion. It was a battle that Christians won not by military might but by the power of love. You see justice doesn’t bring peace, but peace brings justice. 
Of course this understanding of this text has immediate relevancy to the way the Coalition of the Willing entered Iraq. But what else can be learned from this text for us today? The themes of urgency, danger, purposeful and effective ministry seethe through this mission. We can identify the following points of relevancy for us today.
There is one team divided into smaller teams and it is about teamwork – not individuals – in ministry. It is also about ordinary people, not specialists working together.
The resources are limited – a few will do much. It is the Gideon principle.
They are to travel lightly, untrammelled by many acquisitions. Is there a message in this for us?
There is danger. As I have said before, Christianity faces the persistent opposition of atheistic secularism that wants to marginalise religion in the Western World.
The key is peace.  Where there is peace there will be peace. Where there is a will for peace there will be justice. But many don’t want peace. They want a justice that enforces the right and punishes the wrong doer. They want justice without forgiveness and reconciliation. We see this in our world and society.
To stay in one house is to concentrate on the task not a side agenda. Don’t waste time and get distracted from your ministry and mission.
Spelling out consequences is part of Christian mission. Stating clearly what you see as the implications of one’s actions is a necessary part of ministry and mission.
The Sender, Christ Jesus, encourages us and gives us the power to act and a vision to guide us.
The 70 missionaries were amazed! They saw people change. They saw the power of God overcome the power of evil.  They were encouraged by Christ Jesus’ belief in them.
But Christ Jesus adds a further word of wisdom.  Don’t rejoice in the achievements, but in the fact that you are God’s partners.  Why? Well so often I have heard Christians talk about their ministry. It isn’t their ministry. It’s God’s ministry. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit and it is the power of the name of Christ Jesus that brings success. I have heard Christians carelessly talk about healing people, or leading people to God – I slip into that careless language myself. It is not our accomplishment. It is God’s accomplishment. Christ Jesus says to us; “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  What we must rejoice in is that we have been made partners of God and we are on God’s team.  We rejoice in our membership of the Body of Christ Jesus and that Christ Jesus knows us.
Peter C Whitaker, Leighmoor UC:  03/07/2016