Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Lambs in the Midst of Wolves

When the Lord Jesus sent seventy-two disciples ahead of him two-by-two into the Israelite towns he intended to visit, he deliberately made his followers just about as vulnerable as it was possible to be.

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

So, no spare tunic. No spare anything, for that matter; not even a change of clothes, from the sound of it. No backup sandals when the pair on your feet wore out, which was bound to happen when you consider the distances involved. No moneybag, so you couldn’t even buy your next meal.

Lambs among wolves. Pretty much the go-to metaphor for vulnerability and risk.

Lots of opportunity to see God’s provision though, and lots of opportunity for people to participate with the seventy-two in the work of God and benefit from doing so. As Mark puts it, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.” In effect, after day one, the entire seventy-two man mission depended on God touching numerous hearts independently day after day as they went along. Lots of learning to depend in that process.

Rules of the Road

Some of the Lord’s ‘Rules of the Road’ are interesting and maybe a bit perplexing. Like “Greet no one on the road.” What’s that about exactly?

I doubt the intention was to make his followers appear standoffish. They were, after all, out there to take the message of the kingdom to the people in advance of the coming King, healing the sick as evidence of the King’s authority. It seems unlikely the Lord intended his heralds to be particularly reserved about the job of heralding. But that instruction would certainly prevent the disciples from being tempted to schmooze themselves a meal or a place to stay. It would keep them on-mission and undistracted as they traveled from town to town. And it meant that if they needed anything, God would have to take care of business without them taking care of themselves.

House Rules

Or how about this rule: “Remain in the same house.” Wouldn’t it be more egalitarian to spread the blessing around a bit? Or might that tempt the disciples to shop around for the most lavish available accommodations, avoiding the poorer homes and favoring the rich?

Or this one: “Eat what is set before you.” I grew up subject to that bit of biblical instruction, which is exceedingly useful when a preacher’s family gets an invitation for Sunday dinner and smaller kids find themselves staring at a plateful of something they’ve never tasted before and would prefer not to. You don’t want to snub your host, after all. But the Lord wasn’t sending out young children with fussy eating habits, was he, so that’s not the purpose for the command. I suppose it would keep the disciples from giving unnecessary offense. God’s provision is not always lavish but it is always sufficient.

The King is Coming

Are there instructions to be found here for missionaries today? It would be unwise to be too rigidly literal about imitating the specifics of a “sending out” that had a unique historical purpose in a time when the Lord himself was physically present, not least because few of us are equipped to heal the sick or drive out demons. Whatever we might glean from a passage like this would be in the form of inference rather than direct commands.

Still, we too are charged with passing on the message “The King is coming.” There may be one or two principles here worth considering.

Like, say, the principle of not making distinctions between rich and poor in our travels — if that was indeed the Lord’s intention. That one would seem universal. James says, “Show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”

Givers and Takers

The principle of dependence also seems to transcend time and place. “The laborer deserves his wages,” the Lord said. It’s easy to give if you have plenty, and even easier to do it for the wrong reasons: for the accolades, out of pride or even a sense of grudging obligation.

It’s harder, I find, to learn to take from others without shame or self-consciousness, especially when those others may have very little to offer. But it’s a necessary skill to be learned if poor believers are to have the chance to contribute what they are able, which is something of great value to the Lord. “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”

Weakness and Dependence

The principle of speaking for God from a position of weakness and dependence rather than strength and autonomy is something the Lord had already established in his birth (“You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”) and lived out throughout his ministry (“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head”). We would be unwise to ignore it. The instructions to carry no moneybag, knapsack or sandals suggest all these things could easily have been taken along had the disciples wished, and their natural inclination would probably have been to bring them.

Today, if you have the financial resources or the funding of a major organization, you can pretty much go and do anything you choose to in the name of Christ. But unless you allow the Lord to be the one turning the spigot on and off, how do you have the slightest idea if what you’re doing is his work or merely your own? How do you know if you’re where you should be, as opposed to merely where you can afford to be?

Vulnerability does not come naturally to us. We’d rather be wolves than lambs — or at least sheepdogs.

The Lord’s example doesn’t really leave that option open.

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