Friday 1 July 2016

On the Road to Community

Imagine being a follower of Jesus in person.  Not one of the chosen twelve, but one of the many others who heard his teaching and witnessed his ministry and became part of “the way” with Jesus.  You’re enough a part of the movement that when Jesus picks seventy people to go ahead and bring the good news, healing for the sick and God’s peace to the villages he’s coming to, you’re chosen.  Then you and a partner are sent off to do that without any food or supplies.  Not even so much as a business card or a pamphlet.

That’s the story Luke tells (Luke 10:1-20) as Jesus turns from his ministry in Galilee and begins the journey to Jerusalem and the cross.  It’s time to get down to business and there’s much to do to spread the good news.  The only social media is literally social: it has to be in person.  There’s no live-streaming Jesus’ message, no texting to schedule a meeting and no tour bus.  Jesus can’t just phone it in, nor is he able to be in more than one place at a time.  It’s up to you and your partner - a partner that you probably just met.  And you’re not supposed to take anything with you, Jesus says, because you’ll rely on the hospitality of strangers.  Assuming, of course, that they want to hear what you have to share.  Oh, and it gets even better because Jesus says “I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”

Bon voyage.

That sounds like a lot of work and not a lot of fun.  Could it really be all that bad?

Well yes, probably.  It certainly would be if you saw it more like a reality tv show like Survivor or, worse still, Naked and Afraid.  “Alone and unprepared, facing the wilderness with nothing but your wits.  How will you survive?”  Except this isn’t a story of survival and hardship in which you have nothing.   It’s a story of life and generosity, and you have everything.

Just because Luke says that Jesus told them not to take any luggage or supplies doesn’t mean they went with nothing.  To begin with, I think Jesus means to convey the urgency of the moment and the importance of getting the message out there.  Plus, they took the most important thing of all: the good news of Jesus, the message of love, hope and wholeness, and the reality of what that can do.

One of the things it can do is inspire kindness and generosity.  Think about it this way for a moment.  You’re one of these messengers and you bring this good news to people who would then like to care for you or thank you with the practical application of the very message you brought.  Wouldn’t it be more meaningful if they could?  Wouldn’t it be more meaningful to both of you if your social interaction practiced the love you preached?

And I don’t think that Jesus is just sending messengers out with a powerpoint presentation and moving on, I think Jesus wants to create the very thing the message proclaims, as much among his own followers as the communities they visit.  I don’t know if the seventy chose their own partners or met them for the first time, but you can bet that they had to learn to work together and to share the mission together.  How could they succeed at their task if they couldn’t first succeed with each other?

Those seventy, Luke says, returned to Jesus “with joy” (Luke 10:17).  I doubt that everyone they met welcomed them with open arms, but when they were done, they had shared a mission, built some relationships and did good.  In a very practical way, Jesus builds community within his own movement and reminds them - as we need to be reminded - that we are both disciples and apostles.

Though they may seem that way - and we may use them that way - those aren’t just interchangeable terms.  Our English words come from Latin and Greek, and they mean different things: a disciple is a learner, a student or apprentice; an apostle is a messenger.  They’re words that describe action, action that will always be part of our living.  Jesus calls us to be both disciples and apostles, throughout our lives.  It’s part of our community, not just the seventy, but all of us.