The Gospel lectionary reading for today is from Luke 10:1-12....I have preached on this passage more times than I can remember. To me, it falls into a simple outline. First, we need to see the need.
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.
I think this passage suggests that we are all called to be missionaries for Jesus. We do not know who these "seventy others" were. Luke does not even give them a name. They are not the Twelve, they are not officers of any institution. They are simply sent out by Jesus. . . and so are we.
Jesus says the harvest is plentiful. He is talking about a harvest of people whom he wants brought into his kingdom.
Jesus also says that the workers are few. The conditions are the same today. There is a harvest of people waiting to be brought into God's kingdom. The population of the world is larger than it has ever been: over 7 billion. Only 2 billion are Christians. That means that at least 5 billion people need to know that God loves them and sent his Son for them. That is a pretty big potential harvest. And because the laborers are few, because only a small number of people are actually helping to bring in the harvest right now, God needs more workers. Will you be a worker? Will you dare to say: "Here am I, send me?"
The second step to becoming a worker in God's harvest, after you have seen the need, is to beg the Lord. Jesus says, "therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Jesus does not begin by telling us to go for him, to preach, to perform any ministry. That is what we might expect. But that is not what Jesus tells us to do after we have seen the need of the world. The next thing he tells us is to pray. And he tells us specifically what to pray for: beg the Lord to thrust out workers into his harvest field. The word for prayer here in the Greek is not talking about casual asking. We need to beg. And the word for "send" is literally "thrust". The need is so urgent, workers need to be thrust into the harvest field. So once we have seen the need of the world, we need to get down on our knees and pray.
Only after Jesus tells us to pray does he say: "Go!" When we pray for workers to be sent into God's harvest field, then we become open to becoming those workers ourselves.
As I said above, I have preached on this passage many times. But until today, I never really thought about the message Jesus gave these seventy others to proclaim. There are two things that Jesus tells the seventy to proclaim as they go:
- The kingdom of God has come near to you.
What a beautiful, positive, uplifting message we have to share with others! All you have to do is turn on the nightly news on television to see how much our world needs peace. We need peace between warring factions, we need peace between individuals. We need peace in our workplaces, peace in our schools, peace in our homes. Furthermore, I think people are longing for the presence of God. We have this need hard-wired into every one of us. We have a built-in longing for God as human beings. And we long for him because we are separated from him. What wonderful good news it is when we hear that the kingdom of God has come near to us.
I believe peace and the coming of the kingdom near to us can happen only through one person: Jesus. If we are going to effectively preach peace and the nearness of the kingdom to others, then God's peace must first become real to us, God's kingdom must first come near to us. That happens as we receive Jesus into our hearts, not just once, but every day. If we welcome Jesus into our hearts every day, then every day, wherever we go, we will have good news for others; in fact, we will be good news for others. Others will sense God's peace in us. They will sense the nearness of the kingdom in us. And they will want in.
As St. Francis is reported to have said, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."