The Mission of the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1-12)

By now, we’ve noticed that the disciples have begun to grow and become more suited for their ministry.  You may have also noticed them growing in number.  Jesus has the Twelve who are, let’s say “special” – they will become his apostles.  However, there is a larger group of disciples than just the Twelve.  We don’t know how many disciples are following him, but in this story we find that he sends out seventy (or seventy-two) on mission.

It’s difficult to know just how many disciples were sent out.  Is it seventy or is it seventy-two?  When biblical translators give us our text, they don’t work from a single document.  The original texts of the scriptures are found in numerous documents.  On the whole, they complete and confirm one-another, but occasionally we come across something in the text that cannot be resolved.  Some of the very important ancient texts say that seventy were sent on mission; some others of equal importance tell us that the number was seventy-two.  And so our biblical translators have been good to us.  They render the text to say “seventy [-two]” and they’ve included a footnote with an explanation.  Note also that both numbers (seventy and seventy-two) are symbolically significant.

The Mission of the Seventy-two

1 After this the Lord appointed seventy [-two]* others whom he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he intended to visit.

2 He said to them, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.

3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.

4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.

5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’

6 If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.

7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move about from one house to another.

8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you,

9 cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you.’

10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into the streets and say,

11 ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.j

12 I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town.

So thirty-five (or thirty-six) pairs of disciples have set off into the surrounding country.  Note that verse 1 tells us that they will go to every place that Jesus intends to visit. This reminds us of how the profits of the Old Testament would go before the Lord to prepare His way.  Jesus intends even to visit the towns that reject the disciples.  His way is being prepared and Jesus Himself will also preach the coming of the Kingdom of God to all.

Jesus sends the disciples “like lambs among wolves”; the Lord will be their protection.  This reminds us when we reflected on The Mission of the Twelve (Luke 6:12-16).  They were sent without a walking staff – recall that the staff was important equipment for self-protection.  Moreover, just like when He sent the Twelve on mission, He sends the seventy [-two] on mission seemingly unprepared for a journey.  However, we know that the Lord will provide for their needs.  Perhaps they know it by now too.  After all, they’ve undergone a lot of formation.

What has been translated “a peaceful person” (verse 6) is literally “a son of peace”.  To me, I read this as “a child of peace” and it reminds me of the beatitude “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Mt 5:9) what more can I say?  God doesn’t just want to save us; He wants to make us His own and peace is an indispensable aspect of being a child of God.

For the towns that don’t receive the disciples, there is a warning.  First, there is a symbolic rejection of the town.  To shake the town’s dust of their feet is a gesture that says “we will have nothing to do with you.”  Jesus says it will be more tolerable for Sodom on “that day” (the day of judgment) than for the town.  If you recall, Sodom was destroyed because it was full of sinful, unrepentant people (see Genesis 19:1-29).  Their final warning is “Know this: the Kingdom of God is at Hand.”

With these instructions, the disciples are ready to head into the world where they will heal the sick and preach the Kingdom of God.

Our prayerful response can be to ask for the grace to receive anyone that comes preparing the way for Christ.  When we receive them, we can ourselves be children of peace and embrace the Kingdom of God.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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