A reflection on Luke 10 for St. David of Wales, July 3, 2022
Three years ago, I had the opportunity to preach on this gospel passage. It was my fourth message for St. David’s, and I must admit, reading back on what I shared with you then as I tried to imagine myself in the shoes of the 70 sent out by Jesus, I was a little obsessed with not being able to take my giant purse and all its creature comforts, as well as how I was going to eat when people were going to try to poison me with gluten.
Three years later, believe it or not, this is my 34th message at St. David’s. In those three years I’ve come to know this faith community better; I’ve come to know our wider community better; and my faith has continued to grow as I deepen my relationship to the Episcopal faith and to this beloved community.
When I preached on this originally, I approached it from the context of a modern-day believer reading literally, trying to figure out what all these instructions meant for me in the 21st century. I don't know if I failed to consult a commentary or any other resources to get some biblical background information or if I just followed my mind down a rabbit hole.
But I read commentaries now, and do historical research, and the good news is that I could probably take my phone, sunscreen, and a map, just not my family and a trunk full of luggage when I go out for Jesus. Also, I wouldn’t have to eat anything I’m allergic to; I’m just supposed to choose being a good guest over religious dietary preference.
Back then, our homes were built so differently than they are now. People were clustered in villages behind walls to provide community identity and protection, not behind individual gates and private driveways. Homes then were intergenerational and housed more than a nuclear family. Wealthier families housed servants. Courtyards in front of homes were semi-public spaces where cooking would occur, where animals would be kept, and other chores would take place.
Visitors and strangers coming through town would automatically stop and enter a courtyard to ask for or be offered a drink of water or a meal, which might have a led to an invitation to stay a night, or longer. Guests would sleep on the roof in hot weather, and those roofs would have railings so they wouldn’t roll off in their sleep. Those were the rules of hospitality.
And so, finding two strangers in your yard wouldn't be the shock that it is now, especially with COVID, where even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have stopped showing up unannounced on my doorstep and have turned to the USPS to deliver their Watchtowers.
Back in Jesus’ day a conversation might lead to an invitation inside the house itself, to get out of the sun and heat, and to hear more about these interesting new people who had come to town and news of a wider world they brought. People were hungry for story.
People are still hungry for story and the sharing of our lives those stories bring. I think about meeting someone at church, a retreat, or conference, and something about them draws me to want to know more about their lives and how they see the world. Through their sharing, I am given a glimpse of their dedication to vocation, or how they have come through pain and suffering, or the faith that led them to make decisions that seem so bold and frightening to a timid introvert like me. That’s hospitality.
Earlier in Luke's gospel, Jesus sent out the 12. Now he sends out 70. Commentators say that the 70 represent the 70 nations that were believed to exist in the world at the time. The 70 also shows us that Jesus’ reach has already gone far beyond the 12 closest to him.
When Jesus sends these 70 out in groups of two, they head to many different towns and villages acting much like an advance team for Jesus who plans to visit all those places on his way to Jerusalem, where he knows his earthly ministry will end.
Jesus sends out these 70 free of material possessions in the manner of his own ministry. This lack also brings freedom from the burden that material possessions can bring—keeping them safe and functional. And when Jesus tells them not to greet anyone on the road, he doesn't mean to literally keep your head down and act like you don't see another human saying hello. What he means is don't enter a courtyard in a town not on your itinerary and don’t get sidetracked from your mission.
Jesus had no illusions about converting everyone. He told the 70 that they would fail; that some would not listen. Not only would some not listen, but some would also threaten them, as Jesus had already experienced. When met with closed hearts and minds, Jesus told his followers to move on, rather than stay where they weren’t welcome. Their time and energy were precious and should be spent wisely. Good words for us as well.
Jesus knew he did not have years spread out before him for a long leisurely ministry. He sent those 70 out with a sense of urgency that we find difficult to replicate today when time seems to unspool before us without the second coming of Christ in sight.
Jesus sends out the 70 prepared to not only to receive hospitality, but to offer hospitality as well. The followers received the hospitality of food and drink and lodging. And they provided the hospitality of story, and of healing.
They come not with the word “repent” like John the Baptist. They come not with formulas that must be followed for salvation. They come saying, “peace to your house,” and “peace be with you.” And they must know a little by now of the peace Jesus brought to their own lives, and how that peace can infuse a life filled with worry and fear and offer an alternative that the empire oppressing them and even the religion they practiced, could not and would not offer.
The 70 return exuberant about all they have done in Jesus’ name. But the reward, Jesus reminds them, is not the great things we do when we invoke his name, but the relationship we have with the holy when we choose to follow. When the 70 offer God’s peace to those they encounter, just as they are, following the generosity and hospitality Jesus dictated, they bring more people into communion with Christ than any threat of God’s judgement and condemnation ever could.
We are hungry for hospitality, for generosity, for story. We are hungry for hope, hungry for the invitation to come closer to those bearing the good news. For the past 2000 years we have been hearing the message not necessarily from Jesus himself, but from those who wrote his stories for us, and the 70 he first sent out and the 70 after that and the 70 after that, on and on into the thousands and into the millions, to this very time at St. David’s to those gathered to worship in person and on screens this morning.
And in turn, we are each called to be one of those sent to offer God’s peace to one another, sharing how our faith has shaped and changed us. And we’re meant to do so in partnership, upholding and reminding each other when we falter.
It seems that God is always more interested in right relationships than right beliefs. Right relationships change the world. Right relationships bring about God’s peace. May we both receive and offer that peace in the many ways it is revealed to us.
I began blogging about "This or Something Better" in 2011 when my husband and I were discerning what came next in our lives, which turned out to be relocating to Puget Sound from our Native California. My older posts can be found here.