14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In our gospel this morning did you notice the good news, the gospel, that the seventy followers sent ahead by Jesus are to proclaim? Whether well received or not, they are to say ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you.’ What does that mean? It is a hard saying and hard to make good sense of. It means at least that the great purpose of creation, the great end of everything, the meaning of life – is at hand; is about to be revealed. At that realization the world seems about to be shaken. It is a message with promise but also laden with dread as much as with hope.
In the last 10 days our world has been shaken with the vote by the UK to pull out of the European Union: Brexit. Many speak as if this has spelled the end of their world and opened the door to disaster and existential despair.
Others have greeted the news with hope. One such commentator said this: “At long last the tyranny of the global financial elite has been slammed good and hard ..;. The British people have rejected the arrogant rule of the EU superstate and the tyranny of its unelected courts, commissions, and bureaucratic overlords…” (David Stockman, Contra Corner).
It is relevant to note that the one part of Britain that overwhelmingly voted to remain was London, the financial centre which has prospered while the provinces have suffered. We may think this has nothing to do with us in New Zealand but Auckland is to us what London is to Britain – and maybe our politicians need to take heed that our society is so financially unequal that is has been likened to a ticking time bomb. One in 100 kiwis is homeless and the numbers are growing; the richest 10% own 60% of the national wealth; the bottom 40% just 3%. I struggle to imagine how our compact society can continue to tolerate let alone sustain such inequality.
Might the gospel speak to the financial elites and privileged everywhere, to our inequity, and announce “The kingdom of God has come near to you”?
I think any announcement of the end of the world as we know it is likely to be premature, but in our gospel this morning there is the sense of an ending, of a corner being turned and something decisive about to happen.
So the seventy disciples are sent out to ‘prepare the way’ as you could say. They are sent out terribly ill-equipped, in fact not equipped at all, literally like lambs amongst wolves – vulnerable in the extreme – traversing unfriendly or hostile territory and without any reasonable resources – no bag, staff, purse or sandals. They are going to live ‘on the edge’: blessing, healing and proclaiming to all ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
We can hardly expect good news of these poor souls, in fact we might expect the worst, but the next we see of them is them coming back in triumph, rejoicing and saying to Jesus “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us.”
Perhaps we now catch a glimpse of what it means to say “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” It seems the demons have no power over these followers: they are not cowered by the financial markets or the power of the elite; they are not consumed by an aggrieved sense of entitlement and their rights; they are not courting popularity or the need to tweak their profile in social media; still less will they be taking ‘selfies’! Of course the technology was not available to them but the same demons are always to hand – yet the demons had no power over them.
My hunch is that these followers were sent out to be vulnerable and to be like lambs among wolves simply because it was only by such a radical act that they could become the people God created them to be. They became free and they shared their freedom in all the towns they visited; in every home they stayed; and with every man, woman or child they talked with. The peace of God rested on all whom their lives touched because they carried with them the peace and freedom of God. They were changed people and the gospel radiated from them. – and every place and person caught in them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God and how it was indeed near.
Jesus hears these followers rejoicing and sees in them the new order of the kingdom that is at hand and says “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.” The world order is changing and in these followers and all who will follow them is a new way of being in the world … “I watched Satan fall… the kingdom of God is near.”
Your Kingdom come … Lord.