2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Ordinary 14C; Proper 9
Seventy-two disciples. One servant girl. A group of Naaman’s servants.
Not battalions of soldiers. Not a gathering of world leaders. Not a carefully selected group of the brightest and the best. Just 72 disciples made up of tradespeople and tax collectors. Just the least of the least. Just a young, female servant. Just those unworthy to advise the powerful who muster the courage to speak up. Both Old and New Testament lessons this week point to God’s choice of ordinary people to shape the salvation story and do divine work.
Jesus’ advance team of 72, sent out in pairs, would not have appeared impressive or noteworthy. I suspect they looked like ordinary travelers, in need of hospitality, on the road going about their business — with few suspecting their business was divinely ordained and Spirit infused. After all, they did not carry any outward trappings of status or wealth, no readily evident signs of power or fame. Just ordinary people in need of the kindness of strangers, yet given the authority to heal and cast out demons, a power made known to those who welcome them and provide for their needs. The Jesus way requires trust on the part of those going and those to whom the disciples are sent. The Jesus way calls upon the deepest wells of human goodness in order for the plentiful harvest to be gathered, shared and used to feed the world. Seems like a risky model given our track record. Would it not be better for Jesus to go first and for us to follow? Wouldn’t the disciples be more readily welcomed if Jesus had gone on ahead, done a few miracles and explained that he’d deputized them to do likewise? Wouldn’t a showier display of power get people’s attention and move the plot to redemption ahead with greater speed and efficiency?
The sequence is off here and yet it is the order Jesus demands. The methods less than foolproof, and yet they are the very one God employs. Disciples, two by two, with no safety net or worldly security, go ahead of Jesus to heal and confront evil, relying on the hospitality of those they encounter along the way. Once they report back, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem will continue, but not before this dry run of discipleship tests both believers and strangers alike. Will the 72 go as instructed? Will they follow directions? Will those they meet invite them into their homes? Provide them food? Hear their proclamation? Accept their healing? How will ordinary people like us respond to both the gift and responsibility of the gospel?
Like the story of Naaman in 2 Kings, healing then and now entails trust placed in unexpected people and strange directions. Wholeness comes with listening to those often dismissed, heeding the wisdom of people often ignored, practicing a humility rarely exercised and extending an expansive generosity not often seen in a world filled with fear and bent on self-protection.
God’s healing comes to us and to our communities when we squelch our assumptions and open ourselves to the divine in our midst, no matter what form the holy embodies. Even demons submit to those whom God sends when human beings set aside their suspicion and greed, their pride and their wariness, and instead trust God’s power, God’s providence, God’s provision.
Imagine for a moment how different our discussions and actions would be around almost any challenge if we truly believed that God not only could, but will, provide for all involved. Imagine if we believed we are Jesus’ advance team – those sent without worldly status or security, but equipped with the power of God – and sought to heal and cast out demons in all the places we know Jesus goes: places where people are suffering and in pain. Imagine if we entered those places with humility, with hopeful expectation, with joy when we are welcomed and without malice when we are rejected, knowing that Jesus will come after us and the work is not solely up to us. Imagine if, daily, we looked to offer hospitality to those in need of food, shelter and a place of rest. Imagine if, daily, we sought to listen to those whose voices do not get heard, let alone amplified in our culture. Imagine if, daily, we prayerfully spoke the God-given words we too often silence for fear of sounding foolish or being ridiculed.
The stunning truth of these texts is that God works miracles through ordinary people when we trust, not ourselves, but God at work through and with and in us.
Right now, election season is off and running. The relentless news cycle rolls on 24/7. Children languish in detention centers. Families risk their lives in search of a better future. War persists in places far away. Violence shatters communities close to home. The powerful and the lowly alike struggle with the pain of disease, grief and human finitude. Systemic oppression feels intractable. Addiction holds many in a demonic grip. And Jesus sends a mere 72 disciples, two by two, with nothing but the clothes on their backs to heal and cast out demons, to proclaim the Good News and bring in a plentiful harvest that can nurture the world if only there are enough willing workers. Imagine.
Imagine if we simply went, two by two, trusting God: God’s power, God’s providence, God’s provision. No doubt, not everyone would welcome us. Certainly, there would be disappointments and heartbreaking failures. Inevitably, we will be taken aback by the cruelty and meanness, the unfairness and the unmitigated hate we encounter. Nonetheless, we will also discover and extend human kindness, generosity from unexpected places, love in the middle of unspeakable desperation and a relentless mercy that causes even the demons to submit to us in the name of Jesus Christ. We can be utterly confident that Jesus will not abandon us, nor those we meet, the ones who embrace the message and the ones who cause us to shake the dust off our feet. In short, when Jesus sends us out, we can trust that we will lack nothing. In fact, we will witness and participate in miracles — healing, life-giving miracles.
Imagine. No, don’t imagine. Go and see for yourself.
- How do we expect God to act? Are there people we anticipate will speak God’s Word and others we dismiss?
- When has Jesus sent you on a mission trip and with whom have you traveled? What did you take and what did you intentionally leave behind?
- When have you experienced hospitality? Who extended it to you and what was that experience like? When have you extended hospitality to others? Do you connect the giving and receiving of hospitality to your faith?
- When have you witnessed God at work through a small group of faithful disciples? What happened?
- Do you trust God’s power, providence and provision? How is that trust evident in how you live? Which of the three aspects of God do you find most challenging to trust? Why?
- Why, do you think, Jesus sent the 72 ahead of him rather than having them come after him? What would it mean for us if we thought of ourselves as Jesus’ advance team in the places where we go every day?
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