Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'
"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "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; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."
Reflection Living, as I do, on the Sonoran desert in Arizona the “authority to tread on snakes and scorpions” could be helpful, although I must admit the very words evoke a tug-o-war inside me. My prudent voice counsels, “Just give the critters a wide bearth. If you don’t bother them they won’t bother you.” The other side of my tongue wags, “Ah, yes, to tread on those trespassers in my garden and “not be hurt.” Wipe out the problem and prevail.” I suspect neither response is what Jesus had in mind when equipping his disciples to continue the work that he intended to do.
I believe the “snakes and scorpions” to which Jesus is referring are those ills and evils in our society that destroy humanity and undermine God’s purpose for humankind. An eighteen-month investigation begun in 2007 and funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reported on the root causes of 21st Century social evils in the UK. Julia Unwin, director of JRF, suggested four things that underlie today’s social ills – “our growing affluence, avarice, alienation and anger.” Unwin understands these four attitudes or inclinations to account for such social ills as human trafficking, inhumane treatment of refugees and migrant workers, fear of strangers, alienation from one another, domestic abuse, violence and drug abuse. (Please see the full review online http://www.vision.org/visionmedia/article.aspx?id=3868 )
Jesus does not want us to skirt these issues, keep them at arm’s length... you know... divert our eyes and give the critters a wide bearth. Likewise Jesus is not instructing us to exercise power over others, to wage war and secure our way. Jesus sends us to be in relationship with one another, to offer peace and be life-transforming revelations of “the kingdom of God come near.” If you imagine you are hearing overtones of the Holy Eucharist in these words, you are. We exchange the Peace, we give Thanks, we share the Bread and Wine made Holy. Altogether we realize, “we are what we eat;” (Thomas Cranmer) the revelation of “the kingdom of God come near.”