My Dear People,
The mission of the Twelve points to the regarding of the twelve tribes of Israel. The sending out of this second group anticipates the mission to the Gentiles since seventy or seventy-two was the number of the Gentile nations (Gen 10; see Exod. 1:5; Deut. 32:8). Jesus has come as God’s salvation for both Israel and the nations (Luke 2:32). After his ascension, his disciples’ mission begins in Israel but will then extend to “all the nation.” Interestingly, the mission to Samaria will be a step linking the two acts. Since Jesus has recently entered into Samaritan territory (Luke 9:52), the pattern of the later mission is thus anticipated here.
The disciples are sent out in pairs, perhaps for mutual support, a practice that Jesus and the early Church will continue later.
Before they leave, Jesus gives them extended instructions. First, they are to ask the master of the harvest for more laborers. The image of a harvest that is abundant signifies their mission and recalls the hundredfold yield. Earlier, Jesus had similarly used the image of catching a great number of fishes. Elsewhere in the Bible, the harvest image connotes God’s judgment. (Rev 14:15).
Though the accent here is on mission, Jesus will soon speak of judgment for those who do not accept him and his disciples.
The word rendered “master’ is kyrios, often translated as “Lord”. The idea is that the disciples are to pray to God the Father to send out more workers, though Jesus is the one sending them out. Jesus will himself soon pray to the “Father, Lord of heaven and earth”. Also, a Scripture passage will be quoted referring to God as “Lord”. On the other hand, Jesus has himself just been called Lord (Kyrios) by the evangelist; see in context, the disciples also repeatedly address Jesus as “Lord.” Because of his double use of “Lord” for Father and for Jesus, readers of the Gospel are led to recognize Jesus’ divinity and therefore the fittingness of praying also to him.
Jesus is aware of the dangers that lie ahead. The disciples will be like lambs among wolves. They may have thus wondered about their prospects for survival, let alone success: “Is a wolf ever allied with a lamb? So, the sinner with the righteous” (Sir. 13:17: Exek. 22:27). The Comparison to lambs also indicates that the disciples are not being sent out as warriors to establish the kingdom of God by force. Rather, they go bringing greetings of peace.
Like the twelve sent out earlier, these disciples are to leave behind all unnecessary possessions. They are to rely on divine providence at work through those who offer them hospitality. Therefore, they will carry no money bag and no sack to hold provisions. They also are to carry no sandals, probably meaning a second pair besides those one would wear. Jesus later recalls these instructions but alters them considering new circumstances. The final instruction, to greet no one along the way, recalls the word of Elisha to his servant Gehazi: “If you meet any one, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer (2 Kings 4:29). The reason was that Elisha was sending Gehazi on an urgent mission. Likewise, the mission of proclaiming the kingdom requires a sense of urgency, so the disciples should remain focused and avoid lengthy delays and distraction.
When the disciples reach their destination and enter a house, then they can extend a true greeting: Peace to this household. “Peace” is a traditional greeting (Hebrew shalom) but it is also a blessing that accompanies the birth of the Messiah (Luke 2:14). When Jesus is recognized as “king” as he approaches Jerusalem, “peace” is again proclaimed (Luke19:36). The “Peace” will also be Jesus’ own greeting after the resurrection (Luke 24:36). The “peace” that the disciples extend is thus a blessing associated with the “kingdom of God” that comes in Jesus.
Someone who accepts this gift is a peaceful person—literally, “a son of peace” using a biblical way of speaking that characterizes someone by a quality. Such a peaceable person would be open to hearing the disciples’ message and allowing them to use the house as a base for their mission (Acts 16:14-15, 40).
Like the twelve, the disciples are to stay in the same house rather then move about looking for a better place. The food and drink offered to them are their recompense for preaching the gospel, for the laborer deserves his payment. This principle has its biblical roots in the tithes of produce given to the Levites as “recompence in exchange for labor in the tent of meeting” (Num 18:31). Paul applies this and similar Old Testament laws to those who preach the gospel based on Jesus’ teaching: “Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat what belongs to the temple, and those who minister at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord ordered that those who preach the gospel should live by the gospel.” Moreover, in one of Paul’s pastoral letters, the principle recorded here appears verbatim: “The laborer deserves his wages” (1 Tim 5:18). These comparisons with the Levites suggest, as Paul says elsewhere, that those who preach the gospel carry out a “priestly service” (Rom 15:16).
Staying in one house provides a base for evangelizing a town that extends a welcome to the disciples. While in the town, they are to eat what is set before them. In contrast to the Pharisees’ restrictive customs regarding table fellowship, Jesus’ own practice of eating with tax collectors and sinners is the model for his disciples. They will likely enter Samaritan villages, where the issue of Jews eating with Samaritans would arise. Moreover, looking ahead to the Gentile mission, this instruction is helpful for overcoming the resistance of Jewish Christians to associating with the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul seems to rely on tradition handing down this teaching of Jesus, when he explains: “If an unbeliever invites you to a meal. . . eat whatever is set before you” (1 Cor 10:27).
Jesus also states the activities the disciples will carry out: cure the sick and proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. This is the same combination of deeds and word seen in Jesus’ own ministry, and in the mission of the twelve. The same combination will also be seen in the Church’s mission later (Acts 8:7, 12), even down to the present time. The kingdom ushered in by Jesus, through his word and mighty deeds, is extended through the mission of those he sends out.
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente