This coming Sunday is the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time. In yesterday’s post we framed an understanding of the gospel reading as one of mission. 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy (-two) others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit. Just prior to sending out these “apostles” (the related verb apostello is used in vv. 1, 3, & 16), James and John indicate their inadequacies by wanting to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans and three “would-be” followers indicate their unwillingness to leave all to follow Jesus. Yet, in spite of these shortcomings among his followers, Jesus sends them out.
Only the Gospel of Luke contains two episodes in which Jesus sends out his followers on a mission: the first (Luke 9:1–6) recounts the sending out of the Twelve; here in Luke 10:1–12 a similar report based is the sending out of seventy-two (seventy in many manuscripts). The narrative continues the theme of Jesus preparing witnesses to himself and his ministry. These witnesses include not only the Twelve but also the seventy-two. Note that the instructions given to the Twelve and to the seventy-two are similar and that what is said to the seventy-two in Luke 10:4 is directed to the Twelve in Luke 22:35.
As mentioned, only Luke among the evangelists tells of this second mission of disciples (cf. 9:1-6 for the first sending). “Luke provides no geographical setting for the mission of the seventy-two, and there is no reason to expect that Jesus’ envoys participate at this juncture in a mission to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, in other ways Luke uses this scene to prepare for and anticipate a mission that is in the process of expanding beyond the land of the Jews. This is suggested by the number of important parallels between the sending of the seventy-two and the mission ‘to the end of the earth’ as it is portrayed in Acts—for example, the thread that runs from the mission of John to the mission of the seventy-two to the mission of Jesus’ followers in Acts, as well as the parallels between the forms of ministry (‘in the name of Jesus’) and anticipated reception of the seventy-two and their counterparts in Acts. In indirect and figurative ways, too, this narrative unit points to the wider mission. The appointment of the seventy-two portends in a symbolic way a concern for all the peoples of the world. Moreover, the rejection of Jesus and his message among Galilean towns, set against the claim that a mission oriented toward Gentile settings would certainly have produced repentance, raises the prospect of opportunities for response to the good news outside the land of the Jews.” [Green, 410-11]
The disciples are to go “ahead of him,” therefore not announcing themselves or their own message, but preparing the way for Jesus. This is the continuing charge of Christian preachers. The missionaries are sent in twos in order to give a witness that can be considered formal testimony about Jesus and the reign of God (see Matt 18:16). In the readers’ setting (both in Luke’s day and in ours), is it the disciples calling to prepare the people for the (second) coming of Jesus? How do we do that? Actually, it would seem that the apostles in these verses do it by proclaiming (in words and actions) the Kingdom of God as a present reality.