Commentary on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
In Luke, the extension of Jesus’ mission is not placed in the hands of a chosen few. Instead, Luke envisions the mission of the kingdom carried out by many of Jesus’ followers. The third Gospel alone narrates the ministry of the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-20). Luke has already told his audience about the mission of the twelve focused on healing and kingdom proclamation (9:1-6; see also 10:11), and now he extends that same ministry to a wider group of followers. They are sent ahead to prepare for Jesus, and they are sent out in pairs (10:1).
In earlier passages, Luke leaves clues suggesting the inclusion of both men and women among the seventy-two. An important moment comes at 8:1-3, where the twelve apostles and many women are described as being “with [Jesus]” (8:1; a point somewhat obscured by the English word order). These women and men who had committed to following and supporting Jesus are the natural group from which to populate the seventy-two (Brown, p. 54).
Jesus’ metaphor of his mission as a harvest sets the tone for the instructions to follow. The metaphor implies both that many will respond to the kingdom’s announcement and that there is a pressing need for disciples who will proclaim the good news of the kingdom (see also 4:43). The sense of urgency implicit in the harvest metaphor is clarified in Jesus’ prohibition against taking purse, bag, or sandals, or greeting anyone along the way (10:4; see also 9:3). These instructions communicate a hurriedness to preparation and travel, especially when heard in light of an echo from 2 Kings 4, where the prophet Elisha gives somewhat similar instructions to his servant to make haste and go ahead of him on a mission: “Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer” (2 Kings 4:29).
Jesus adds a more disquieting metaphor—he is sending them out “like lambs among wolves” (10:3). This picture indicates the opposition that the seventy-two will experience (as Jesus himself has; see also 4:28-29), in addition to welcoming responses. The dual reality of reception and rejection for the ministry of the seventy-two sets up the particular instructions we read in 10:5-11. In their mission, the seventy-two are to take their cues for their own actions from the hospitality they receive or are denied in the homes they visit (see also 9:1-6).
The missionary pairs are to announce “peace” to a household, a greeting that in Jewish contexts expresses wellbeing and restoration (shalom). Jesus goes on to say that if there is someone in the house who promotes peace (idiom: “a child of peace”), the peace offered will rest on that person. Luke often defines “peace” (eirēnē) in terms of God’s arriving salvation (1:76-79; 2:14, 29; 19:38, 42; Green, 413). So, at 10:6, Jesus highlights that anyone aligned with God’s salvific purposes will be receptive to the message of God’s good news. Salvation will come to their house (see also 19:9). If no one promoting peace is present, God’s peace will find no place to take hold.
The pairs being sent out are told to stay at the first home they enter in any particular town, whether they are fully received or not (10:7; see also 9:4). They can freely accept the hospitality they are given in that home and that town because “the worker deserves [their] wages” (10:7-8). The importance of the gospel message they bring should compel the people in that locale to provide for them. If welcomed, the missionaries are instructed to heal and to announce the arriving kingdom (10:9; see also 9:2, 6). If rejected, they are parabolically to announce judgment by wiping the dust of the streets off their feet—a reference to the Jewish practice of removing the dust of foreign soil when returning to Israel (see also 9:5; Acts 13:51).
This first part of the lectionary text ends with a decided emphasis on the soon-to-be-arriving kingdom, which provides the sense of urgency (10:2-4). God’s reign is arriving in this world through Jesus’ ministry and, ultimately, in his death, resurrection, and exaltation. In this way, “The kingdom of God has come near” (10:11).
At this point, Luke includes Jesus’ announcement of future judgment on Galilean cities rejecting his message (10:12-16; see also Matthew 11:20-24), fitting the ongoing theme of welcome and rejection. Then Luke returns to the interaction between Jesus and the seventy-two, where the lectionary reading resumes. They return to Jesus “with joy” (a Lukan theme in, for example, 1:14; 2:10; 24:41, 52) because in their healing work they have seen even demons subdued (10:17). Jesus interprets their experience of power by articulating an apocalyptic vision of Satan falling from heaven (10:18).
The kingdom work they have been engaged in—healing, exorcisms, and preaching—has been engaging cosmic powers, and God’s purposes are overcoming these evil forces. Truly, God’s reign is taking hold. Jesus affirms the authority of the seventy-two (derived from his own authority) “to overcome all the power of the enemy” while resting in divine safety (10:19). Yet Jesus redirects: their joy should be grounded, not in what they are empowered to do, but in God’s faithful saving action—God has inscribed their names in heaven (10:20).
The preacher of this passage can highlight any number of themes, including the arriving reign of God and the peace and joy that accompanies it for all those who are receptive. It can also be helpful for congregations to envision the inclusive makeup of these believers sent out in mission, both women and men. Luke will confirm this inclusive portrait at the end of his Gospel when the wider group of disciples who experience the risen Christ includes the eleven apostles along with women and men who were “with them” (24:33; see also 24:1, 10, 50-53; Acts 1:12-15; Gospels as Stories, 60).
Jeannine K. Brown, The Gospels as Stories (Baker Academic, 2020).
Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, NICNT (Eerdmans, 1997).