One of those Bible tricks I learned in college is that, sometimes, Gospel writers bracket an important section between parallel stories. So Luke starts his 9th chapter with the story of Jesus sending out the twelve disciples, and then he starts the 10th chapter by sending out 72 other disciples. That should make us think that what happens between those two stories is particularly important.
If it is, maybe it should give us humility and hope.
So, last time I talked about the first part of this section: Jesus sends the 12 with specific instructions to preach and heal, Herod is confused by all this, Jesus feeds the 5,000 men (plus the women and children). Check what happens next:
- Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds say that he is. All the answers are encouraging but wrong answers. I was wondering, tonight, why Jesus asked the disciples this. Was it a form of Messianic message testing – checking to see if his intended audience was internalizing his desired message? Anyway, Peter, answering for the disciples, gets it sort of right. (Right title, wrong understanding of what the title means.)
- Then Jesus predicts that he is going to suffer, die and be raised, and tells his followers that if they want to follow him, they have to be willing to die, too. The disciples don’t internalize that message at all.
- Then the Transfiguration, which fully confuses the three apostles who witness it (and, to be fair, me too). In Luke’s version, Moses and Elijah talk with Jesus about how he is going to die and be risen again, which the apostles do not grasp.
- Then Jesus heals a child that his disciples can’t handle.
- Then Jesus says again that he is going to be handed over to the authorities, which the disciples do not understand.
- Then the disciples argue over which of them is the greatest.
- Then John says they stopped a guy who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, because he wasn’t on their team.
- Then a Samaritan village rejects Jesus, and James and John ask if they can call down fire from heaven upon it.
- Then you get three quick stories of people saying they want to follow Jesus, “but…” The common thread is that they don’t understand what they are asking to do.
It exhausts *me* to just list that many different opportunities for frustration at one time. It makes me wonder if he sends out the 72 right after that because he just needed a flippin’ break, though their success in their healing mission would imply otherwise. Regardless, there is a lot of failure and misunderstanding in that short section of Luke 9. I picture Jesus with a t-shirt that reads “Nobody Gets Me.”
I think you can see some of those same misfires today. Jesus is a wounded healer who calls us to sacrifice; we want a kickass Jesus who will put the hurt on our enemies. Jesus wants us to commit all of ourselves; we want to hedge our bets unless we’re assured a #1 ranking. So it was then, so it is now.
That should maybe keep us all humble in a time when humility isn’t a big selling point for truth. If all these people who encountered Jesus directly in his earthly life got it wrong, can we be so confident that we have everything right?
It should also give us some hope. Because, even if it’s because he just needed a timeout, Jesus *does* send out the 72 to heal and cast out demons, even though *none* of them really understand him…and it still works.
It’s been easy to despair lately about the situation of the Church in the world. We are arguing with each other over who is the greatest or whom to call heavenly fire down upon, and not doing a whole lot of preaching good news, healing, or demon-casting-out. But, against all reason, we have not been fired from those jobs. And, despite our not getting the point, God still works. Somehow, good news leaks out. Remarkably, people get healed. Amazingly, demons get cast out. Maybe not with the efficiency or alacrity or effectiveness God could achieve with a Church that actually got the point, but still.
I worry, a lot, about the disunity and contempt within the Church (not just my denomination, either). It’s helpful to go back and read about how dense the first-gen Church was, and yet we somehow made it this far. Helpful, humbling, and hopeful.
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