Thursday, December 6, 2007

I am sending you

My journey began in Galilee. Jesus sent the twelve disciples on a mission, out on their own.[1] After they returned, Jesus began to disclose to his disciples how the Son of Man must be betrayed into human hands to suffer, die and rise on the third day.[2] How could this make any sense? The Son of Man was supposed to come in clouds of glory with great power to judge the nations.[3] The crowds were told “The kingdom of God is at hand!”[4] but we were told that this coming one would be crushed.

I wracked my head trying to remember all he was teaching us from the time we headed up to Jerusalem until we reached the outskirt of David’s City. Jesus seemed to know that entering Jerusalem would be the death of him. In fact, he held back, saying, “No prophet could be killed outside of Jerusalem.”[5] Before we entered the City, he tried a few more times to tell how the Son of Man would suffer.[6] It still did not make any sense to us. Perhaps we didn’t want it to make sense. It seemed he had been preparing us all along for the days ahead, not just the hour of his death, but even more the years that followed his ascension. He told us days would come when we would long to see one of the days of the Son of Man.[7] Indeed there have been many of those days! But this takes me back to the beginning. What was he trying to teach along the way? What was it he wanted us to see?

The twelve seemed to think they had some special status over the rest of us. After all, they were the apostles. They even argued with one another.[8] On one occasion, Jesus drew a little child close to him and said, “Do you see this child standing next to me? Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me.”[9] (For some reason that line stood out for me, and many years later it came back to me in a song.) They seemed to treat us like the little children, but we were disciples of this great prophet all the same. Didn’t we too have a prophet’s call? We were always standing next to Jesus. In fact, some of us supported Jesus and the twelve out of our own resources, and some of us were the first to see his empty tomb. [10] Sure it wasn’t official until Peter came on the scene,[11] but we were there—we were there all along.

At any rate, Jesus looked at that one little child and said, “The least one of us is great in God’s own eye.” A few of our mothers remembered that even before he was born, no less than the Prophet John the Baptist was said to be great in the sight of the Lord.[12] Sometimes only a parent can see these things. We knew this one was to be a great prophet too. Jesus seemed to say, “Whoever listens to you—a child—listens to me.”[13] It had nothing to do with status or authority as the world reckons it. Just as some had welcomed Jesus as a great prophet,[14] anyone who would welcome this child in his name welcomes even Jesus, the Son of Man. And whoever welcomes the Son of Man also welcomes the one who sends him. Of course the opposite is also true, there are many who reject both us and the Son of Man!

I don’t think the twelve ever really got it.[15] That child was already a great one in the reign of prophets, the kingdom of God, no less than John the Baptist—if only by virtue of standing next to Jesus as an object lesson.[16] Wasn’t Jesus himself like a child when he stood by the Baptist? [17] He only had to ask for John’s baptism for the heavens to open up. Jesus made it so simple. He said that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom, and that the heavenly Father knew how to give the good gift of the Holy Spirit to those who ask.[18] So we do not give up praying, even when the heavens seem to be shut up and no showers of justice appear on the horizon. Even a poor widow could badger a little justice out of corrupt judge.[19] This is how Jesus taught us to pray and how he prayed so often alone at night or with a few disciples near by. Both prayer and the Holy Spirit were learned on the road.

I recall one time not long after the twelve came back from their first mission.[20] Jesus wanted to meet privately with them. They went off to a secluded place in the desert, but the crowds found them out and poured in by the thousands. They twelve had learned much about hospitality having lived from village to village on their mission with only the welcome of a few as their means of sustenance. When they saw the multitudes who had gathered around them at this remote location, they knew that there would not be enough food to go around. They were overwhelmed with ministry and now with the demand of hospitality. They took this to Jesus, but he put it right back to them saying that they give the crowds food to eat. They had cast out demons and healed the sick, but were nowhere prepared to feed so many. The twelve were humbled by the five thousand. Jesus made up for the lack, but how would they get along without him? Even dividing the crowd into groups of fifty each, how could twelve disciples serve some one hundred groups? Just picking up the broken pieces was well more that twelve baskets could handle.

And there was another broken piece. After the crowds had dispersed, Jesus returned to his original intention which was to meet privately with the disciples.[21] He needed to disclose to them what he saw in the road ahead. With only the disciples nearby, he shares something about his destiny, something about who he is, something that the crowds and not even the disciples were prepared to grasp. To the crowds Jesus was like John the Baptist, Elijah, or some ancient prophet who had stirred the people. To the twelve he was coming into view as the Messiah and so were twelve seats of power. But Jesus reveals only that “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[22] (Luke 9:22).

Before entering Jerusalem, his disciples could not fully grasp what the suffering of the Son of Man would mean either for Jesus or for the disciples themselves. Their eyes were opened to the resurrection only after he had arisen. But there were even greater trials for the disciples after his ascension. Jesus had to prepare them for this from the beginning.[23] He would say to them, “If any wish to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”[24]

Just as bread was to be blessed, broken and set before the multitudes, it was time for Jesus to bless and break, and send out more disciples. So it was eight days later that Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray.[25] While the three disciples were captivated by the dazzling display of light about Jesus and the appearance of Moses and Elijah in glory, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about his departure which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. The brilliance of the Transfiguration seemed to conceal the darkness of the cross, but even this darkness swallowed up the disciples for a moment and terrified them.

Jesus comprehended the darkness of the cross. He knew the distance and span of his life was short, even so he set his face to go to Jerusalem where he would eat his last Passover meal. He appointed seventy more disciples to go as he has sent the twelve.[26] He sent them by pairs that they would ahead of him to places he himself had once intended to go. He sent them like day laborers into fields that were too many and too ready for harvest for what little time he had left.[27]

“See, I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves.”[28] He sent us in full vulnerability. This was our share in the suffering of the Son of Man. We would be welcome in one town and hated in another. The Son of Man was to be rejected and so were we.

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.”[29] He sent the disciples like day laborers into the fields. We worked and ate what was set before us. We would cure the sick, cast out demons and announce that the kingdom of God has come near.

Despite the dangers and hardships we always found places of welcome. Upon entering a house we would say, “Peace be upon this house.”[30] We looked for those whom we called “children of peace.”[31] They were the ones who welcomed us and received the peace we had to share. Jesus taught us to seek this peace first, even before healing, preaching or eating. We came as a delegation offering terms of peace.[32] Wherever we found a child of peace, a true lamb in the midst of wolves, we knew that the entire kingdom was coming into view.

We returned with joy, and Jesus said, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will hurt you. Rejoice that your names are written in heaven. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!”[33]

Taking all this in, I wondered what the coming of the Son of Man looks like. And it came to me not only in a flash, but also measure by measure, line upon line, some hidden and some so visible that one does not see it. It came to me as a song.

Like Lambs among the Wolves [Midi]

Do you see this child standing next to me?
Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me too

The least of you is great in God’s own eye
Whoever listens to you—a child—listens to me—and

I am sending you, yes I am sending you
Like lambs among the wolves I am sending you

Do not pack a bag or an extra pair of shoes
The children of peace will welcome you

The Son of man will come, the Son of Man will come
The Son of man will come on that day—See

I am sending you, yes I am sending you
Like lambs among the wolves I am sending you

[1] Lk 9:1-6
[2] Lk 9:21-22
[3] Dn 7: 13-14, Lk 21:26-28; 9:26; 11:29-32; 12:8-9; 17:22-25,27-37; 18:7-8
[4] Lk 4:43; 8:1
[5] Lk 13:33
[6] Lk 17:25; 18:31-34
[7] Lk 17:22
[8] Lk 9:46; 22:24-26
[9] Lk 9:46-48
[10] Lk 8:1-3; 24:1-11
[11] Compare Lk 8:11 with verses 12, 33-34
[12] Lk 1:15
[13] Lk 10:16, I’m inserting “child” here on basis of 9:48.
[14] Prophecies of Simeon and Anna regarding Jesus and Zechariah regarding John demonstrate the welcoming of a prophet in childhood, Lk 2:25-38; 1:66,76.
[15] They had to re-learn the lesson at the last supper! Lk 22:23-27
[16] Lk 7:28. Prophetic gesture is often as powerful as any spoken word.
[17] Lk 3:21-22. Also early Christian art often portrays Jesus with the stature of a boy at the time of his baptism, while John is portrayed at a full adult.
[18] Lk 11:13; 12:32
[19] Lk 18:1-8
[20] Lk 9:10-17
[21] Lk 9:10 original purpose with resumption in vv. 18-27.
[22] Lk 9:22. Also I prefer to read vv. 18-22 as an uninterrupted passage. For Luke and Mark 8:29, Peter’s confession transitions directly to Jesus Son of Man disclosure. Only Matthew 16:16-21 inserts so much pro-Peter content as to disconnect the story. Mark 8:32-33 actually points out how Peter embarrasses himself by rebuking Jesus for his disclosure.
[23] Luke suggests that the disciples only come to understand Jesus’ Son of Man disclosure after the resurrection, 24:6-8, 25-27, 44-46. The disciples were prepared for this post-resurrection moment so that would be “witness of these things.” (v. 47-49)
[24] Lk 9:23, 14:21
[25] Lk 9:28-36
[26] Lk 10:1-20
[27] Lk 10:1-2
[28] Lk 10:3
[29] Lk 10: 4
[30] Lk 10:5-6
[31] Lk 10:6 read, “If there is a son of peace (huios eirēnēs), your peace shall rest on him.”
[32] Lk 14:32
[33] Lk 10:18-20,23

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