July 7, 2019
This is the third passage in the last four weeks that invites us to step out of the reactivity that the world around us reinforces.
Jesus offers instead the consistent promise of peace and the nearness of God’s kin-dom. This commentary will focus on verses 5-11, a section bookended by clear commands from Jesus to his followers about how to respond, not react, as they engage the world they live in. Jesus offers two clear proclamations.
The story of Jesus’ sending of the 70 gives a rare window into what it looked like to follow Jesus in the first generation. In verses 5-6 Jesus sends out disciples with the first proclamation that sounds deceptively simple: “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’” (verse 5). This word of peace is the first word, the opening word, the announcing word. Notice that Jesus does not tell them to do any sort of assessment before making this proclamation. He doesn’t ask them to determine whether this house follows the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or whether this house has kept the law or whether this house is likely to receive the good news Jesus brings. Jesus doesn’t ask them to do a risk assessment or pre-judge whether this house will be worth their time.
Jesus goes on to instruct them in the dynamic of sharing peace: “if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you” (verse 6). This verse is packed with instruction for reactive lives today and is worth taking time to unpack. First, Jesus assumes that these apostles he sends, do in fact have peace. Jesus says that “Your peace” specifically, not just random, generic peace, will rest on others or return to you.
As we engage others, we must first be well-grounded in God’s peace, the peace that passes understanding. God’s shalom is more than being calm. It is confidence in God’s abiding presence so that we also share that presence with others. Engaging others means not treating them as objects upon which we act, but as sacred others with whom we are called to be fully and peacefully present. If they do not share this peace, Jesus does not advise reactivity, scorn or polemics. Instead, he reassures his followers that their peace is not diminished and cannot be taken away from them: “it will return to you” (verse 6).
At the end of this section, Jesus instructs them in a second proclamation: “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (verse 9). Remarkably, this proclamation applies whether one is welcomed (verse 8) or one is not welcomed (verse 10). The kin-dom of God is promised to all, to those who receive as well as to those who reject. The new kinship, a new way of understanding all human relationships, indeed, God’s ordering of all things, is a life-changing proclamation. And it is for everyone!
Here again, Jesus does not instruct them to argue, convince, or threaten if they are not welcomed. He does advise them to signal their moving on by shaking dust off their shoes (verse 11). In this way, they are not weighed down by rejection, or paralyzed with trying to figure out what they did wrong or could have done differently to produce a different outcome. Instead, Jesus invites them to move forward in the confidence of these two proclamations, “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.”
As Christians, we can reliably root our lives in these two proclamations -- “Peace to this house!” and “The kingdom of God has come near.” This is the good news that we have to share! These keep our gaze on God’s activity right in front of us, rather than turning it to blaming, accusing or judgmental analyzing, symptoms that reactivity holds our lives in bondage.
Invite your congregation to experiment with these two proclamations by offering them daily for a week. First, ask them to think about how they would re-state each proclamation in one simple sentence using their everyday speech. How might they put into their own words Jesus’ proclamation “The kingdom of God has come near?” The restatement doesn’t have to capture all the theological heft of the biblical proclamation. The goal here is to indigenize, even in partial form, each of these powerful proclamations. Offer some examples from your own natural way of talking. For example, “I can see God’s love in your life right now” or “God is at work in all of this.” Do the same with “Peace to this house!”
Second, invite them to make one proclamation in their own words once a day for a week. They can experiment with offering it to a family member, co-worker, anonymous driver or even to themselves, whether out loud or silently in their heart. If possible, allow time the following week to share experiences from this experiment.
Amy G. Oden is Visiting Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology. Her work brings ancient voices into conversation about faith and life today. Her most recent book is Right Here, Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness(Abingdon Press, (2017).