There’s a fascinating passage in the Luke chapter ten. It’s the portion of Scripture where Jesus is described as sending out seventy-two of his disciples. They were to travel to the towns and into the countryside where he would be teaching.
The captivating part of the story is the instruction he laid out for them. In twenty-first century America, we would expect that he was sending them out for some promotional work. You know—a little PR. That didn’t seem to be the case, however.
His first instruction was not surprising. He told them to pray. The prayer, however, was for them to ask God to send workers out into the fields for harvest. We’re used to this kind of prayer, but here it seems a little out of place. Weren’t the seventy-two (and more importantly, Jesus) the workers going out to harvest souls? Apparently, more than seventy-three were needed.
His second instruction was much stranger. They were not to take any baggage. That little omission would leave them more than a bit helpless. They were forced to depend on the provision of the Lord (and the people whose lives they encountered). They were vulnerable. Interestingly enough, this instruction was preceded by the statement, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” I’ll say!
The third instruction deals with their behavior when they stay in other peoples’ homes. This strongly implies that they were to go into villages and towns and get to know the people, work for them, help them out, and gladly accept what they are given. Part of their work among the people is to heal the sick and relay to them that the Kingdom of God is near.
Their final instruction deals only with those places that reject them. If that were to happen, they were to shake the dust of the town off their feet. As they left, they were to issue a sharp warning that the townsfolk were on the wrong spiritual path.
A thoughtful look at this passage reveals a startling truth. What Jesus instructed them to do was pretty much the opposite of what we in the church do today. They were to go as strangers looking for people who would welcome them into their lives. The church today settles for staying at home readying herself to welcome the occasional stranger should one wander in.
The seventy-two had nothing to offer outside of themselves. They had nothing, brought nothing, but sought refuge and community. Out of the relationships they formed came healing and salvation. They had to depend on God to prepare the way, and they had to offer only what God gave them.
There were no programs, buildings, rallies, or children’s ministries. There were only strangers looking to belong. Have we gotten it all wrong? Are we doing it backwards?
Becoming the stranger in the crowd can be a scary thing, but it might be something we should do a little more. Can we find ways to do that?
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]