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Proper 9, Year C

Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 - link to NRSV text

I'll start with a side note: this passage is yet another good reason not to say “the twelve disciples” when what is meant is “the Twelve,” Peter and James and John and the rest. The gospels are clear that there were more than twelve followers of Jesus. It's also clear from this Sunday's gospel that there were more than twelve apostles.  “Apostles” means “ones sent,” and in this Sunday's gospel, Jesus chooses seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which manuscript you're reading) and sends them out ahead of him as his messengers and agents. And, by the way, there's no reason to assume that these people were all men.

Why seventy 'apostles' here? What's the significance of that? There are a few possibilities. The number seventy is a number of fullness; it often appears in contexts in which it means basically “a big bunch.” Some commentators say that the number seventy here is the number of “the nations” (i.e., the Gentiles), and that Luke is here showing that Gentiles are among those sent out as Jesus' agents. Personally, I lean toward Numbers 11 as the main biblical antecedent for Luke's use of the number seventy here. In Numbers 11, Moses appoints seventy elders to assist him, and they are anointed with the spirit with which Moses is anointed. The tradition of having seventy elders of Israel continues, with the body of seventy elders eventually becoming the Sanhedrin.

Jesus sets apart twelve of his followers as “the Twelve” to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. In other words, Jesus' ministry is reconstituting Israel, God's people. That's pretty much the only distinctive function the Twelve serve. They don't serve in Acts as any kind of governing council; they don't appear as a body after the election of Matthias in Acts 1, and in the “apostolic council” of Acts 15, James the brother of Jesus, who was not one of the Twelve, seems to be the leader of the Jerusalem disciples. They also are not the only or even the primary “apostles” or “ones sent”; even in Luke's usage of the term, which is stricter than Paul's, the Seventy have just as strong a claim to the “apostle” title as the Twelve do.

So one thing that the choosing and sending of the Seventy does for us as we read Luke is that it reminds us of what is NOT special about the Twelve. The Spirit's anointing is not at all confined to the Twelve, or even mediated by them, but is poured out in expanding circles -- first twelve, then seventy, and then (in Acts 2) believers from every nation.

Another thing that the story in this Sunday's gospel does is that in showing Jesus choosing seventy who (like those Moses gathers in Numbers 11) receive some of the spirit that rests on him, it takes up Luke's motif of showing Jesus as a (or even THE) “prophet like Moses,” another one of those eschatological figures expected within some Jewish traditions, and one of particular interest to Luke.

It's a fairly subtle but recurring motif in Luke-Acts, and one that I think is important in Luke's view of Jesus' passion. We got a big clue to that in Luke 9's story of Jesus' transfiguration, which sets the tone for the journey toward Jerusalem. In Luke 9:31, we're told that Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' “departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  The Greek word for “departure” here is none other than exodus.

That's what Jesus is accomplishing for us in Jerusalem. It's our exodus, as we allude to in a different way when we say, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”  I've blogged about this before, but it's worth sharing briefly again a bit of midrash I heard from Rabbi Alexander Schindler some years ago.  The Hebrew name for 'Egypt' is Mitzrayim, “the narrow place.”  Jesus, as the “prophet like Moses,” leads us out of our narrow places, our places of slavery, and into the desert, where we receive the Torah and are made a people, God's people. We are freed from Egypt's power so we can serve God's power by being a people who use power as God commands and does, to further justice and mercy.

The wideness of God's mercy can be intimidating or even frightening to those who are accustomed to Mitzrayim, the narrow place. We may look back with longing to narrowness, and to comforting rules about who can and should prophesy. But one more reason I like to read the sending of the Seventy in Luke's gospel as an allusion to Numbers 11 is because I think it works well in Luke's theology to see part of the lesson as being the lesson of Numbers 11:29. When people complain about Eldad and Medad prophesying “out of bounds,” in the view of some, Moses exclaims, “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

The sending of the Seventy reminds of us of that longing, of its fulfillment at Pentecost, and of our call to continue longing for its fulfillment among us. It reminds us not to be jealous or shocked by God's profligate generosity of (and with) Spirit. It reminds us that we too are exhorted to pursue love, the greatest of gifts, and to strive especially to prophesy, to speak truth to power in God's love (1 Corinthians 14:1). We need all of God's prophets to hear God's voice in the desert, to become the people God calls us to be.

Thanks be to God!

June 28, 2004 in Acts, Inclusion, Luke, Pentecost, Prophets, Transfiguration, Year C | Permalink

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Proper 9, Year C

« Proper 8, Year C | Main | Proper 10. Year C »

Proper 9, Year C

Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 - link to NRSV text

I'll start with a side note: this passage is yet another good reason not to say “the twelve disciples” when what is meant is “the Twelve,” Peter and James and John and the rest. The gospels are clear that there were more than twelve followers of Jesus. It's also clear from this Sunday's gospel that there were more than twelve apostles.  “Apostles” means “ones sent,” and in this Sunday's gospel, Jesus chooses seventy (or seventy-two, depending on which manuscript you're reading) and sends them out ahead of him as his messengers and agents. And, by the way, there's no reason to assume that these people were all men.

Why seventy 'apostles' here? What's the significance of that? There are a few possibilities. The number seventy is a number of fullness; it often appears in contexts in which it means basically “a big bunch.” Some commentators say that the number seventy here is the number of “the nations” (i.e., the Gentiles), and that Luke is here showing that Gentiles are among those sent out as Jesus' agents. Personally, I lean toward Numbers 11 as the main biblical antecedent for Luke's use of the number seventy here. In Numbers 11, Moses appoints seventy elders to assist him, and they are anointed with the spirit with which Moses is anointed. The tradition of having seventy elders of Israel continues, with the body of seventy elders eventually becoming the Sanhedrin.

Jesus sets apart twelve of his followers as “the Twelve” to represent the twelve tribes of Israel. In other words, Jesus' ministry is reconstituting Israel, God's people. That's pretty much the only distinctive function the Twelve serve. They don't serve in Acts as any kind of governing council; they don't appear as a body after the election of Matthias in Acts 1, and in the “apostolic council” of Acts 15, James the brother of Jesus, who was not one of the Twelve, seems to be the leader of the Jerusalem disciples. They also are not the only or even the primary “apostles” or “ones sent”; even in Luke's usage of the term, which is stricter than Paul's, the Seventy have just as strong a claim to the “apostle” title as the Twelve do.

So one thing that the choosing and sending of the Seventy does for us as we read Luke is that it reminds us of what is NOT special about the Twelve. The Spirit's anointing is not at all confined to the Twelve, or even mediated by them, but is poured out in expanding circles -- first twelve, then seventy, and then (in Acts 2) believers from every nation.

Another thing that the story in this Sunday's gospel does is that in showing Jesus choosing seventy who (like those Moses gathers in Numbers 11) receive some of the spirit that rests on him, it takes up Luke's motif of showing Jesus as a (or even THE) “prophet like Moses,” another one of those eschatological figures expected within some Jewish traditions, and one of particular interest to Luke.

It's a fairly subtle but recurring motif in Luke-Acts, and one that I think is important in Luke's view of Jesus' passion. We got a big clue to that in Luke 9's story of Jesus' transfiguration, which sets the tone for the journey toward Jerusalem. In Luke 9:31, we're told that Moses and Elijah speak of Jesus' “departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  The Greek word for “departure” here is none other than exodus.

That's what Jesus is accomplishing for us in Jerusalem. It's our exodus, as we allude to in a different way when we say, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.”  I've blogged about this before, but it's worth sharing briefly again a bit of midrash I heard from Rabbi Alexander Schindler some years ago.  The Hebrew name for 'Egypt' is Mitzrayim, “the narrow place.”  Jesus, as the “prophet like Moses,” leads us out of our narrow places, our places of slavery, and into the desert, where we receive the Torah and are made a people, God's people. We are freed from Egypt's power so we can serve God's power by being a people who use power as God commands and does, to further justice and mercy.

The wideness of God's mercy can be intimidating or even frightening to those who are accustomed to Mitzrayim, the narrow place. We may look back with longing to narrowness, and to comforting rules about who can and should prophesy. But one more reason I like to read the sending of the Seventy in Luke's gospel as an allusion to Numbers 11 is because I think it works well in Luke's theology to see part of the lesson as being the lesson of Numbers 11:29. When people complain about Eldad and Medad prophesying “out of bounds,” in the view of some, Moses exclaims, “Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

The sending of the Seventy reminds of us of that longing, of its fulfillment at Pentecost, and of our call to continue longing for its fulfillment among us. It reminds us not to be jealous or shocked by God's profligate generosity of (and with) Spirit. It reminds us that we too are exhorted to pursue love, the greatest of gifts, and to strive especially to prophesy, to speak truth to power in God's love (1 Corinthians 14:1). We need all of God's prophets to hear God's voice in the desert, to become the people God calls us to be.

Thanks be to God!

June 28, 2004 in Acts, Inclusion, Luke, Pentecost, Prophets, Transfiguration, Year C | Permalink

Comments

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