An Abrasive Peaceable Kingdom
All is well and fine until the welcome runs out… In our gospel passage this week, we come face to face with the consequences of being on mission with God. We are told in living-color what to expect as ambassadors of peace.
According to Luke’s version of Jesus’ commissioning the apostles to carry a specific message and invitation with them, there are seventy-two who are sent. This is Luke’s cultural and theological hint indicating God’s salvation is for absolutely all of humanity. The number seventy-two in Hebrew implies “all nations of the world.” Messengers of the peaceable kingdom are sent ahead of Jesus to continue to prepare the way for Jesus’ arrival. In Luke’s retelling, Jesus time on earth is short and he is sending the seventy-two to prime the pump for the message of a new kingdom come to earth, the message of a peaceable justice and healing for all who chose to receive it. Jesus commissions the apostles with a specific set of instructions and a few stark warnings. The messengers are to live by reciprocal hospitality, intentional poverty, relational interdependence, expect rejection, practice detachment from religious and cultural norms, exercise the spiritual authority of Jesus, and serve according to the ethic of non-violence. The messenger and the message must both signal the heart of the message: healing has come, peace is possible, not even satan can inhibit full shalom.
There is always a both/and to the good news of God found, mirrored and proclaimed in the life of Jesus. This is an upside down gospel, a gospel of opposites, a gospel when placed before a mirror of societal values appears less than ideal. To be sent by your teacher as “lambs among wolves” must have been… intimidating? anxiety producing? bewildering? Yet it was this kind of stark real talk by which Jesus commissioned representatives of all the nations to take an urgent “get with it” message to all the people of all the nations who would listen. In the both/and invitation comes recognition that this peace is simultaneously encouraging and repulsive - both to the messenger and the receiver. The invitation to live peaceably is not always met peaceably. It evokes powerful forces to rise defensively against it, like that of snakes and scorpions. Like that of inhospitable hosts. Peace in context here is fully-orbed shalom - the flavor, atmosphere, currency and results of God’s dream realized among God’s people. We remember the prophetic worlds of racial justice activist, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as an echo of the kind of peace Jesus is instructing his apostles to carry with them. "True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice” (Stride Toward Freedom, 1958). This kind of peace in the both/and of the good news may or may not be received as such by those who hear the message. The impact of this gospel mission is rooted in relational presence: preparing willing recipients to encounter Jesus and a new kind of God-comes-near religion. A vulnerable relationship-building, conversation-cultivating, community-dependent methodology means an others-focused impact. No wonder the workers of few in this particular plentiful harvest. The upside down both/and of this gospel goes without reward. It requires rejection of worldly success. The vulnerability of the mission and its messengers is real. The world will be hostile, Jesus warns us, to a mission of peace. But notice that Jesus does not give instructions based on waging battle or building defenses, Jesus gives instructions for the exchange of hospitality and persuasion through conversation. This mission is a subversive rejection power, privilege, monetary gain or recognition. The good news here is that God’s mission harvest is expansive and empowering. “Jesus does not do everything for his disciples. Then or now.” As laborers in God’s harvest, it is not ours to produce. We are responsible to show up and gather it in, and pray for others to join us. Speaking of harvest, evangelicals can take time to reflect intentionally on how humans or souls have been swept into this metaphor. Is the harvest here implied as individuals souls won into a farmer’s tally system of who is in and who is out? Or is the harvest reference to the wholistic wellness and stability found among God’s shalom in any given community. This is not an us and them category for who is in and who is out. The harvest refers to what God is up to in healing and restoring all creation, not who has yet to be saved from damnation. Peace becomes the litmus test of whether the Jesus way can take grassroots effectiveness where it is preached, taught and offered as healing. Healing becomes the sign that the home or town where the gospel is brought is indeed present. When God’s kingdom is near, peace is the currency and healing the result.
Ultimately, persuasion is not the work of laborers in God’s harvest. There will be plenty who reject it. The workers are to be single-focused of heart and mind: giving away freely what had been given to them and receiving freely the hospitality of their hosts. Giving liberally from the plenty of God’s peaceable kingdom, God’s gifts of healing and wellness are to be the focus of the harvest not the personalities or capabilities of the laborers. The focus is the message of God’s nearness and the call to join forces with a mission whose sum total impact is far greater than any one messenger.
Success in God’s mission isn’t a zero sum game. We can and we will accomplish more than Jesus could have had he remained alive on earth. According to Luke’s retelling, Jesus hints in his debrief with the sent out apostles that the work of the laborers will signal the fall of Satan and the beginning of something totally new. But there is more here than meets the eye, the net effect of participating in the harvest of God’s mission is far greater than the work apparent to those laboring.
The peaceable kingdom is abrasive. Just like certain tools for cleaning must use abrasive surfaces, chemicals or material to be able to rid a surface of a sticky and unforgiving mess, God’s kingdom abrasively calls for a purer, simpler, less greedy way. It will not always be taken to with warm welcome. Whether the good news of Jesus’ ministry is received or rejected, whether the messengers called to carry its impact are received or rejected, he core truth of God’s doesn’t change. The impact of this mission is based in cooperation, participation and devotion to its results.
Have you grown numb to the immediacy of Jesus’ apostolic commission? The urgency of its tone and importance of its impact? This may be the biggest calling of this gospel passage to God’s people this week. It’s a “narrow gate” passage: one that doesn’t leave very much wiggle room for choosing how or when we participate. The commission is given with specific instructions. The sending out is charged with clear warnings. It is abrasive and it is holistically healing. It is a peace not just because of the absence of tension, but because of the presence of justice. Today is the day to set your feet to the path. We too are appointed to go to the places Jesus himself intended to go.