A Lectionary Reflection on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 for Proper 9C
It’s amazing that, in seeking to win people to Christ, the Church has too often lost sight of the incredible power of simple hospitality. In fact, when it comes to dealing with those who are not part of “us”, we have been too much like the disciples in last week’s reading – calling down destruction.
That’s why it is significant that Jesus instructed his disciples not to take anything with them when he sent them out. This is the second time Jesus has sent his followers to the villages he will be visiting, but this time the group is bigger – the mission is expanding and Jesus is preparing them for the time when his authority will be transferred to them permanently. Part of their calling was to depend on the hospitality of others, while inviting them to enter and enjoy the hospitality of God’s Reign. This is very much in character with the Jesus who did much of his teaching around meal tables, and who chose a meal as the ritual by which he should be remembered. The work of preaching the Gospel was not to be done on podiums with great crowds only. It was to be done in homes, gathered around tables.
A large part of the witness of the disciples was that they were to be good guests. They were to stay at the first home that welcomed them – rejecting the temptation to move on to other homes should they discover a “better” or more comfortable place in the village to stay. They were to bless those with whom they stayed, and to eat whatever was put in front of them. Then, having won the right to speak through their grace and humility, they were to demonstrate God’s love by offering healing, and then to proclaim God’s Reign in words.
Jesus’ whole strategy for his disciples’ preaching of his message all feels so very natural. What makes this remarkable, is that the strategy was intended to overthrow the forces of evil in the world – to make Satan fall like lightning. In a time and place where conflict was always threatening, the message of peace was relevant and powerful, but it was not to be forced on anyone. If the disciples and their message were rejected, they were to leave with after one final act of proclamation – shaking the dust off their feet and declaring that God’s Reign had come among the people. This was less a judgement on the village, than a final way to ensure that the people knew what they had done by rejecting God’s visitation. Though grace may be offered to everyone, it is forced on no one.
Finally, the disciples return declaring with excitement that even the demons have submitted to them – the forces of evil have, indeed, been subdued. But, this is not what causes rejoicing for Jesus. It is their citizenship in God’s Reign – the fact that they can overcome evil is nothing more than a sign that God’s Reign has taken hold of their hearts, and they are living according to a different set of values, priorities and purposes. Again, for Jesus, it’s not the dramatic or miraculous signs that matter. It’s the surprisingly ordinary, yet revolutionary transformation to which they point.
When we make our faith about miracles, when we see our primary fight as with “the devil” as some kind of independent personality, we inevitably fall into an adversarial relationship with the world. We start to classify people as “good” (read: “with us”) or “evil” (read: “against us”). We start to make following Jesus about separating ourselves from those who are evil and retreating into a compound of faith in which we are protected from “the world”. But, this inhospitable attitude is contrary to the message and mission of Jesus, and it brings life neither to us nor to those whom we reject. But, if we can embrace our faith as a very ordinary lived reality, in which evil is conquered through simple acts of hospitality and peace, and when we relate to others – both within our faith communities and outside of them – with this Christ-like grace and humility, then we may find that our message is received by those to whom we go, and that the evil in our world is pushed back a little more with every interaction we enjoy.