A few years ago, I wrote a short script for a skit telling the story of Jesus sending out "the seventy-two” (Luke 10:1-20). Jesus sends seventy-two of his disciples out ahead of him to spread the Good News and lay the ground work for his own travels. He sends them in pairs, telling them not to take anything with them and warning them that it's going to be a tough job, first, because there's so few of them and, second, because people aren't always going to be welcoming to them.
As you might expect from a Bible story, there doesn’t seem to be any questions, nor is there any indication that Jesus had any trouble at all finding volunteers. In fact, there’s not much description of their mission, either, other than to say that they returned with joy because they’d been so successful.
In my version, Jesus, clipboard in hand, is pairing people up and assigning them places to go. Some people aren't happy with their destinations, but even fewer are happy when they find out that they can't take anything with them. Even less are thrilled with Jesus' warning about what might happen. "I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves," he tells them (Luke 10:3).
Let's review: tough job to do, no supplies for the job, not enough people for the job. Anyone want the job? Well, no, as it turns out. In my version people are reluctant, to say the least. Until one little boy says "okay, I'll go, who wants to come with me? Jesus loves me and I want to share that with others," he says, "no matter what."
Like so many of the observers in the stories we tell about Jesus, we might be tempted to focus on the power Jesus gives them to act in his name, the miracles, the healings, the "authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy" (Luke 10:19). And, of course, the great success of the mission. That’s what we most aspire to, isn’t it? But maybe there's a few features here that are just as important, if not more so for us.
First, Jesus sends them in pairs. Everyone has a companion. Someone has their back, there's someone to lean on, talk things through with, share the load. There's a team. No one is by themselves. Second, Jesus calls on them to rely, not just on their relationships with each other, but on the hospitality of those who hear the message they bring. So those relationships they build are key to the task Jesus gives them.
I wish there were more said about how people got together, how they worked together, how long they were together because together isn’t always easy. And that’s the third thing. I don’t think what’s important in this story is the power Jesus gives them or its success.What’s truly important is “together.”
No one is alone here. Everyone is reaching out, perhaps not always as successfully as is implied, connecting with people and with God. What we aspire to as the Kingdom of God doesn’t come with a flash of light and the invocation of Jesus’ name. It comes in the slow and steady work of building relationships of love and grace. And that can be real work. It’s also more likely to be a journey than a quick visit. But it’s a road worth taking.