Jesus and Mo. As can be seen below this problem exists for followers of Jesus as well.
10 After this, the Lord appointed seventy other disciples and sent them on ahead in pairs to every town and place where he himself was about to go. 2 He said to them, “To be sure, there is a large harvest. But there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the Harvest that he speed workers out to gather in his harvest. 3 Get going now, but pay attention! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Don’t carry a money-belt or a pack, and don’t stop to gossip with people on the road.
5 “Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Shalom!’ to the household. 6 If a seeker of shalom is there, your ‘Shalom!’ will find its rest with him; and if there isn’t, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for a worker deserves his wages — don’t move about from house to house.
8 “Whenever you come into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is put in front of you. 9 Heal the sick there, and tell them, ‘The Kingdom of God is near you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they don’t make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off as a sign against you! But understand this: the Kingdom of God is near!’ 12 I tell you, it will be more tolerable on the Day of Judgment for Sodom than for that town.
The manuscripts that read 70 are matched by others that read 72. 70 is certainly the number of elders appointed by Moses, whom Luke wants to associate with Jesus, and also the traditional number of nations in the world. My view is that the latter allusion is more important than the former.
Luke adds this second mission, to that of the twelve set out in chapter 9. None of the other gospels mentions it. The sending of twelve represents the twelve tribes of Israel, meaning that the first mission treats Israel as God’s people. But now it is clear that this has not worked. There is a harvest of people to be gathered into the kingdom, but not enough workers to bring them in. So Jesus sends another mission, this time of 70, meaning that now Israel will be treated as if it was the gentile world, a meaning picked up by the wiping away of (foreign) dust which was the symbolic gesture of pious Jews returning to Israel from gentile territory.
Luke is depicting Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, preceded by the 70, as a last chance saloon for Israel, a final opportunity to turn to God. Lying behind this passage of Luke is his knowledge that in his time, the gentile nations were proving more receptive of the gospel of Jesus than his own people.
The mission is characterised by the same actions as that of the twelve: healing and the announcement of God’s Rule on earth. Again, the first is meant to demonstrate the second: healing is God’s way of overruling the powers of evil. There is a take it or leave it tone to Jesus’ instructions. The people are to be offered the shalom of God, that is, a way to human happiness and flourishing. People who long for that sort of peace will respond, Jesus tells them, but there will be those who do not want it. Their fate will be worse than that of the fabled Sodom because they will have rejected God’s last offer of peace.
This episode helps to define Luke’s distinctive view of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem:
- It is a deliberate decision by Jesus to confront his people, and particularly the religious establishment of his people, with his message, and with himself as the bearer of that message.
- It is an education of his disciples in the reality of God’s call, that it leads to rejection and suffering, rather than acceptance and glory.
- It is the unveiling by Jesus, in word and action and suffering of the ultimate truth of God. It is therefore the beginning of the “end times” in which the choices people make are final.
The last of these raises problems for me.
Did Jesus really think that those who rejected the messengers of Jesus, for whatever reason were in doomed to hell?
It seems a bit over the top. A woman has just had a disagreement with her husband, then these daft strangers appear wanting free bed and board! A farmer has just lost a good contract for olives and some nutter is saying that the kingdom of God has arrived. Aye, right!
Did Jesus really think that your eternal destiny could depend on one encounter with the gospel?
I find this difficult to answer. The sense of urgency is typical of Jesus, as is the denial of any comforts to his emissaries.The announcement of the good news of God’s rule on earth, is also characteristic of his mission: there is no explanation or persuasion, no singalongasaviour moments. To that extent I think Luke’s picture is authentic.
I do not think that Jesus stood in judgement on those who rejected his emissaries or indeed, himself, but there is no sympathy for them. Nor is there any understanding that a good person might reject his message.