According to Luke, after spending some time ministering in and around Galilee, Jesus announced that he was going to Jerusalem. So he sent messengers ahead to let the townspeople along the route know that he would be passing through, because he intended to continue preaching and teaching as he traveled.
But this news was not well received by the Samaritans, who reportedly refused to welcome him into their towns and cities when he came through.
Luke then writes that as Jesus and his disciples were walking along, they were joined for a short time by three men who thought they might become Jesus' followers. That was when Jesus described the qualifications for discipleship to his would-be followers. He said that if they really wanted to follow him, they had to stop clinging to their pasts and their own lives, which were holding them back, and immediately "go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (see Luke 9:51-62).
It is at this point that we come to today's text. According to Luke, the Lord commissions a larger group of followers to go out ahead of him. These disciples are to travel in pairs, and are commissioned with the task of preparing the townspeople they meet along the way for his coming. But let’s not forget that in the previous chapter, Jesus had already tried sending messengers ahead to announce to one town of Samaritans along his route that he was coming, and the strategy didn’t work. The townspeople did not put out their welcome mats.
Did that discourage Jesus? Did he say, "Well, folks, it seems to me that people just aren't excited anymore about the prospect of my coming to town, so I guess we should just quit even trying, and get on down to Jerusalem as quickly and quietly as possible"? Did he decide to stop teaching about the kingdom of God just because he experienced a few rejections?
Of course not. In fact, when we look ahead in this gospel, we see that he still has a long and important ministry to engage in, full of much teaching and healing, as he makes his way toward Jerusalem.
It is this attitude of HOPE, this expectation of success, that Jesus commissions his followers to maintain as he sends them out ahead of him to proclaim the kingdom of God. Even knowing that there might be a disappointing turnout, even in the face of probable rejection, Jesus never lets the possibility of being turned away deter his positive attitude about the good news God has sent him to proclaim. He never approaches his mission expecting to fail. He always goes forward with an attitude of hope and promise.
So, as he sends his disciples out ahead of him, he sends them also with an attitude of hope and hospitality, and with the full expectation that they will be successful in bringing their message of peace to those whom they encounter. In his words, "the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
What is it, exactly, that the Lord commissions his followers to do?
What instructions does he give them as he sends them out to proclaim the good news?
Well, to begin with, he says, he sends them out "as lambs in the midst of wolves." That is, he sends them as creatures of peace and gentleness in a world that carries the possibility of harshness, rejection, and maybe even personal endangerment. But despite that possibility, despite the evil ways of the world that they may encounter, his followers are to go to each house with peace in their hearts.
- They are to be gracious in every situation, "eating and drinking what is provided" by their hosts.
- They are to approach each house, not in a hurry to just get in and get out, but rather with an attitude of hospitality and hope and with the mindset that they will minister to the needs of those they encounter in whatever capacity they are called.
- They are to offer words of kindness, comfort, and healing in one situation, a listening ear in another, words of encouragement to a person or family facing grief or pain.
- Most of all, they are to proclaim that "the kingdom of God has come near to them." They are to convey God’s message that hope and hospitality and peace is coming to them, and the door is always open.
Do we believe Jesus when he says the harvest is plentiful? Do we believe that there are people out there, many people, right here in our own cities and towns, who not only need Jesus, but who want to hear his message of peace and goodwill? Do we believe we have neighbors whose ears ache to hear words of hope and hospitality? When we go out to proclaim the kingdom of God to the people we encounter, is it with the expectation that the response will be positive?
Or have we given up on proclaiming the kingdom of God to people in this community because we think that in our day and time the harvest is no longer plentiful? Have we let the possibility of running into a wolf hold us back? Have we come to believe that the world we live in is so filled with heavy workloads and over-scheduling, and that people are mostly self-centered and self-indulgent, that we've allowed an attitude of apathy to seep deeply into our souls so that we are no longer able to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ with peace in our hearts and an expectation that the harvest will be plentiful?
As we consider these hard questions, let me add another interesting piece of information regarding this passage of Scripture. If you remember, Jesus ends this part of the story by telling his newly appointed followers, "When you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near’" (Luke 10:10-11, NIV). The only other place in the New Testament (outside of the synoptic gospels) that this idea about wiping from their feet the dust of those who reject the good news occurs in the book of Acts.
In the thirteenth chapter of Acts, Luke records that Paul and Barnabas had gone up to the town of Antioch in the region of Pisidia to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
On the Sabbath day, the two men went into the local synagogue to worship, and, as was the custom, after the readings from the law and the Scriptures, the synagogue priests invited anyone who felt so inclined to come forward and preach. So Paul got up and delivered a rip-roaring sermon, speaking dramatically and compellingly of the good news of Jesus Christ. Well, apparently he made quite an impression on the Jews of Antioch, because as he and Barnabas were making their way out of the synagogue, they were surrounded by a crowd of people who had been moved by Paul's words. These people begged Paul and Barnabas to stay on another week so they could speak in the synagogue again on the next Sabbath.
By the next Sabbath day, everybody in town had heard about the fabulous preaching of Paul, and so the whole city showed up at the synagogue to hear him, Jews and Gentiles alike. But when the Jews who regularly attended the synagogue saw all of these new people pouring into their building to hear Paul preach, they became very jealous and began spreading it around that Paul and Barnabas were not speaking truth.
Paul and Barnabas got wind of this gossip, and they became disgusted with the congregation of that particular synagogue. They reminded them that they had had the privilege of hearing the Word of God spoken first in their community, before the Gentiles. But since they had rejected the good news, by their actions they had judged themselves to be unworthy of eternal life. So from now on, because of this incident, Paul and Barnabas would not bring the good news first to the Jews when they entered a town. Instead, from that point forward, they would focus their energies on bringing the good news to the Gentiles.
The Gentiles were very excited to hear this, and many of them became believers, and the Word of the Lord spread throughout the land. But the Jews of that synagogue were so angered by all that had transpired that they began leading a revolt against Paul and Barnabas, eventually driving them away from the region of Persidia. As Paul and Barnabas left the region to move their ministry into the region of Iconium, they shook the dust off their feet in protest against the community that had not welcomed them before continuing on their way, filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
So the message here is twofold: First, we are all, laity and clergy alike, called and commissioned by our Lord to go out and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. We are all ministers of the gospel. We are all called to ministry. And we must not let God’s call on our lives go unheeded. We must take our message to all the people we encounter. God calls us to therefore, go—with hospitality and peace in our hearts and with confident expectation that the harvest will be plentiful.
Second, as communities of faith, we cannot be exclusive about who or how many come to be part of our household. If we are not welcoming to those who come to hear the good news, whoever they are, then like the Jews of Antioch, we will be guilty of judging ourselves to be unworthy of eternal life.
We are called by God and commissioned by Christ to travel north, south, east, and west of our buildings, offering hospitality and welcome in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called to offer HOPE to men, women, older people, baby boomers, millennials, and children. We are called to welcome our neighbors with open arms, gathering all into God’s beloved community—into one beautiful and diverse body of Christ.
The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. You have been called and commissioned! Therefore, go on your way!