Leaving Baggage Behind
A number of elements need to be explored for us to understand what is happening in this passage. In the first place, the number of disciples Jesus sends gives us clues about Luke’s intention. In Jewish tradition it is seventy elders who are commissioned to translate the law and the prophets from Hebrew to Greek; in Luke’s hands this is an allusion to the mission of God to the whole world. In other Jewish texts, such as Genesis 10, the number of nations in the world is seventy. So the setting of the sending is the anticipated mission of the gospel to the whole world (in the book of Acts).
Jesus’s instructions (Luke 10:3–4) to his disciples strike readers as weird. He says, “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road”. They were not to take a lot of baggage with them on their journey. In essence they were not to depend on their own resources. In the context of the first century, these followers were sent out on their mission as strangers who would be in need of hospitality from people of the towns and villages. Luke is suggesting that the mission of God moves forward in the world when disciples of Jesus choose to become like strangers in their communities so they will be dependent on their hosts.
The story of this sending, then, is not only to illustrate the mission of God to the whole world but also to show the manner in which this mission is to be carried out. It is radically different from the conceptions of mission that characterize the churches of our time. In the ancient Middle East, strangers were an important part of the overall cultural mix. They were the outsiders who, for one reason or another, were dependent on the hospitality of others for their survival, and there were strict laws about how the stranger was to be treated. But this was a two-way street. In such a culture, the village people took in the stranger because they knew that at any time in the future they or their children might become strangers themselves and need to be taken in. There was a deep sympathy in this relationship to the stranger. It is important to understand what lies behind the suggestion here if we are to have any idea of God’s intention. It appears there is a connection, a link between being in the place of the stranger in need and being able to discern God’s working in the world. This story is suggesting that the one is a forerunner of the other.
In the Old Testament story of Elijah, this dynamic is at work (see 1 Kings 17). After Ahab and his Baalist wife, Jezebel, kill the prophets of Israel, Elijah flees to the Kerith ravine where he is fed for a time by ravens …note the connections ….that of being in the place of a stranger in need and finding the place where food is given…these are also connected in Luke’s story. …Elijah must move on because there is no water in that part of the desert…he is genuinely a man outside his own context (Surroundings) and in need of help from someone. ..The Lord directs him to the city of Zerepath (a Gentile city of Baal worshipers-Jezebel’s very own people), where he meets a widow who provides hospitality to this Jew. ….Elijah, with nothing, dwells in the house of the widow and in that context, discovers again, anew, what God is calling him to do. …Elijah must dwell with the other to discern God’s purposes. It meant that this Gentile woman could not be seen as the “enemy,” as the outsider who has nothing to give, but as the one who will provide the table around which Elijah might reimagine his calling. This is boundary breaking!
This is the way in which Luke frames Jesus’ sending of the seventy. The fascinating characteristic of Elijah’s story is that he finds himself pushed outside his own community. He becomes a stranger because the world of Israel has been taken from him. In this new and dangerous place, Elijah is forced to ask difficult questions about God and about the relationship between God and Israel.
This….was also the situation of the Gentile Christians to whom Luke was writing. The parallel can be made in this way. ….Elijah’s world was fundamentally confused when the assumptions he had about what God was doing were challenged….. This also happened to the Gentile communities to whom Luke was writing. ….Elijah found answers to these questions of confusion as he was forced outside his established world and placed in situations where he became dependent on the hospitality of those who should have been in need of his ministry…. Is it the case that the boundary-breaking Spirit is placing these Gentile Christians in similar setting? I think so.
So,…. bridging the context to our time, in our city, in our communities, is He, the Spirit of God doing a similar thing with us?
Will the church discover answers to our crisis of identity as we become willing to enter a similar experience of becoming like strangers who, without baggage, must enter the towns and villages to receive hospitality from the other?
Leaving baggage behind is a key part of what Luke is saying. This leaving baggage behind is about a radical reorientation of how to answer the question of what God is doing in our world. This is unfamiliar to and far from the ways in which most churches “send” people into the communities in which we live.
Take the way we evangelize as an example. Our current ways of evangelizing calls for many different ways of engaging people. Usually we develop categories that we put people of our community into then we make plans based on what “seeker” type of events and programs we think, “outsiders”, we call them “they” would be interested in joining or attending. We ask, what needs do people have that a program we can institute might address? …
…. the church sends people into the neighborhood fully loaded, fully armed with research, and methods for assessing someone’s readiness for the next step, and with nice programs to offer. In other words, churches send out people with plenty of prepacked baggage.
We go with a huge amount of baggage. All of this baggage will continually blind us to what God is doing in the communities where we live, because when we take baggage, we assume we already know who the people are and what they need. All the questions of what God might be doing are we have already answered, compiled and turned into sellable programs and strategies.
When we send people out with baggage, we lose two things-the ability to see people and their needs as they really are and an openness to what God is doing.
So, first we objectify people. We put them into our categories. They are not the other who we must dwell among and be present to, but they are a category, for which we have plans. When this is our focus, we can’t listen to the person who stands before us as a human being…he or she is the object of our plans. And that, I believe, is baggage of the worst kind.
Secondly, we have already determined what God is up to and, so, what needs to happen. But, in the boundary-breaking work of the Spirit, this is precisely where we need a different approach. We cannot ask the question of what God is up to in our neighborhoods and communities when we think we already know. And it seems to me that Luke is trying to tell us something of critical importance in these brief instructions. That in a time of boundary-breaking, when established assumptions about how it is all supposed to turn out are no longer practical, then we must take a radically different road. We must leave our baggage behind and be willing to become like a stranger in need of the welcome and care of the other…. if we stand any chance of answering the question, what is God up to in our world today.
Most of us are trying to figure out all the best, seeker-friendly ways to get someone to come to something we are offering. And, “our” plans and what “we” want to achieve are what’s most important. But these are huge pieces of baggage, which prevents our listening to and receiving from the other.
But, Luke points us in a different direction. …This is a text that helps sketch a new map of the road ahead. The thoughts and imaginations of the past cannot provide when the boundary-breaking Spirit of God breaks through with a new meaning for what being God’s people means in our world today.
I believe that this is exactly what is happening in our time….I believe Luke is trying to help us understand just that. Ridgecrest, we need to release our baggage. God want us to listen and receive from the “others” in our neighborhoods and communities. Luke is trying to point us in a direction. He is providing for us a map, a blueprint of the road ahead. An old way of thinking and imagining will not provide when God’s Holy Spirit is breaking through as He is in our city and community and neighborhoods with an understanding of what it means to be God’s people in our world today.