POOR AFRICAN FARMERS POORLY SERVED BY INTENSIVE FARMING METHODS
(SCIENCE DIRECT REPORT)
1 Calling together the Twelve, Yeshua gave them power and authority to expel all the demons and to cure diseases; 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal. 3 He said to them, “Take nothing for your trip — neither a walking stick nor a pack, neither bread nor money; and don’t have two shirts. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there and go out from there. 5 Wherever they don’t welcome you, shake the dust from your feet when you leave that town as a warning to them.” 6 They set out and went through village after village, healing and announcing the Good News everywhere.
Mark’s gospel, which is one of Luke’s sources, places this incident immmediately after Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, hinting that their lack of faith spurred him into sending out the twelve to spread the message of the kingdom. Luke places it after the stories of Jesus’ reaching out to people on the margins of society, seeing the sending of the twelve as an extension of Jesus’ own ministry.
Like Mark’s version, Luke’s is carefully worded as it sets out the believers’ memory of the nature of the “twelve”, who were seen as the prototype of the church:
- They are “apostles” that is, people sent out by Jesus, who believed he was sent out by God. They are not a static fellowship of believers but a people just as much on the move as Abraham the exemplar of faith had been. They are not seeking a promised land but rather the kingdom or rule of God on earth.
- They are to “proclaim” the rule of God. The Greek word is a translation of a Hebrew term which originally referred to a herald announcing news. Isaiah uses it in his prophecy (Isaiah 40) to refer to the one who announces the glad tidings of God’s return with his liberated people to the land of Israel. It does not mean evangelical persuasion but the factual announcement of what God is doing, namely, arriving to rule the earth, in the ministry of Jesus.
- That is why they are to “heal”. They are to announce and demonstrate God’s rule by expelling evil spirits and healing the sick as Jesus had been doing. In God’s rule there is to be no division of people into clean and unclean, free and possessed, healthy and sick but one partnership of people sharing God’s goodness.
- They are not to journey like a well-provided expedition, but as poor travellers dependent on the hospitality of strangers. Although they bring gifts they are also to invite the gifts of others. They are not propagandists but initiators of a new partnership under God.
- The household that receives them becomes a “house of God”, a temple from which God’s goodness may be distributed to other households. Where they are refused hospitality they are to use the sign of shaking dust from their shoes, as a declaration that this place is not part of God’s promised land. (Pious Jews who had been in Gentile territory, symbolically shook the alien dust from ther feet when they crossed back into Israel). This gesture is intended to redefine the promised land: it is no longer geographical Israel but those places anywhere that welcome the apostles of Jesus.
Scholars have expressed doubt as to the historicity of this sending out. But if, as seems certain, Jesus wanted to announce the message of God’s rule to the whole of Israel, calling its people to respond to God’s goodness, it seems reasonable to suppose that he would use the labour of his disciples to achieve this. However many of them there actually were, they were called”The Twelve” precisely because they were sent out to the “twelve tribes of Israel.” The circumstances of Jesus’ mission plus this explanation of the title “The Twelve” supports the historicity of this passage.
Luke would have wanted the Christian assemblies for which he wrote to see this brief passage as an image of what they shoud be, namely, announcers by word and action of God’s kindly rule through Jesus. They were to imagine themselves in their own time and place as Jesus’ emissaries and not only as settled communities of faith. There are implications here for the mission of the Christian churches today. They are not to mount advertising campaigns like supercharged snake oil salesmen, but to be quiet and persistent bearers of God’s goodness.