The Mission of the Seventy Disciples
Ordinary 14 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 10: 1 — 24
Our reflections on the preceding unit were on the passage, Luke 9: 51 — 62:
which ends with: “No one who puts his hand to the plough
and looks back is fit for service in the Kingdom of God.” This
was the beginning of a final cycle (5 — 6 months) of evangelism.
Our Lord is probably based in Bethany for this phase of his mission. He has already completed his mission to Galilee and Samaria. Now he sends out disciples into the basically gentile Peraea District. Our passage from St. Luke is not the easiest and to read and understand. So, let’s take gently, one step at a time.
It is worth noting:
• The other Gospels do not mention this mission of the
seventy — nor much of what St Luke records of Jesus’
last six months.
• Some scholars claim it is only a retelling of the sending
out of the twelve.
• In Luke, there are real differences between the mission
of the twelve and that of the seventy;
— the twelve were sent out to work and preach independently.
— the seventy were sent to definite towns and villages to
prepare for the Lord’s visit.
• Our reading includes verses 13 — 16 which are not part
of the Liturgy on this occasion. They form an “aside” from
Jesus’ grief stricken heart.
• What is covered falls naturally into five scenes which help
us in our reflection. We have called these —
C. A Stricken Heart;
D. The Return;
E. Jesus’ Hymn of Praise.
Some reflections on our Text
A. The Commission: Verses 1 — 3
After this the Lord appointed seventy (-two) others whom
he sent ahead of him in pairs to every town and place he
intended to visit.
Following His previous sermon on the costs of following Him, our Lord “appointed” seventy disciples (some texts, seventy-two — impossible to establish exactly). The word “appointed” signifies to mark out or appoint to an office by some outward sign. The number seventy had a “threefold significance”:
— seventy elders were appointed by Moses;
— the Jewish Sanhedrin (centre of Religious government)
had seventy members;
— there were, at the time, seventy known Gentile nations.
Jesus sent them ahead of Him to prepare for His teaching in places He had already planned to visit. He sent them in pairs following the example of John the Baptist. In this way they would move about in small communities which had distinct advantages such as:
— helping each other in reflection and discussion;
— conforming with Jewish Law “In the mouth of two witnesses,
every word is established”;
— forming small communities of regular prayer and meditation.
It is helpful to recall how the Church, at large, has maintained this custom, and where it has fallen into disuse, the local Church has suffered in the same way
He said to them, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers
are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers
for his harvest’.
At the outset they are given their first priority in prayer: “Ask the Lord of the Harvest to ‘send’ workers”. The word “send” is strong and means to send forth with a degree of force. It implies that much prayer is going to be needed to mobilise all the workers which will be required.
Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs
“Go!” says the Lord. “You are commissioned! Remember always it is I who is sending you. Remember that the dignity of those who are my disciples will remain with you regardless. Do not assume the worldly aggressiveness of the “wolves” around you no matter how vulnerable you feel.”
B. The Rules Verses 4 — 12
Sadly, many using this section delight in quoting it at people without having studied the text adequately. It is important to distinguish between detailed orders, which were necessary at that time but not universally applicable, and principles, which were. (Late Professor Blaiklock). We offer a few comments to clarify the distinction.
Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one
along the way.
Our Lord begins His list with the first rule “Do not take a purse, bag or sandals.” His choice of the word “take” meant “carry as a burden”— i.e. “carry in the hands”, meaning do not take extra over and above what is needed. He did not prohibit His disciples taking any of the three items named.
We must be careful not to think our Lord forbade His disciples to greet people as they passed. Scholars agree that what He wanted His disciples to avoid was extended eastern style protocols and ceremonies. It is important, He explained, to avoid deliberately getting involved in situations, which would predictably delay the disciples in their primary task. Thus Jesus heightened the sense of urgency in their commission.
Verses 5 and 6
Into whatever house you enter, first say,
‘Peace to this household.’
If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Our Lord gives a rather beautiful instruction on exchanging the traditional Jewish peace-greetings, something of which has continued in Christian worship and daily life. He clearly instructs His disciples, upon entering a house to say “Peace to this house”. If the resident is one who shares in and values God’s blessing, your greeting will enhance this peace.
Verses 7 — 9
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered
to you, for the laborer deserves his payment. Do not move
about from one house to another.
Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what
is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God
is at hand for you.’
“Don’t pick and choose where you stay to suit yourself;” says Jesus. “Make do, and get on with the job.”
Verses 10 — 12
Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we
shake off against you.’ Yet know this: the kingdom of God
is at hand.
I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day
than for that town.
The Lord gives authority to heal and teach but only if the people welcome this work. The disciples are to reserve the Lord’s blessings for those who make a worthy response!
C. A Stricken Heart Verses 13 — 16
Verses 13 — 16
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the
mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in
Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented,
sitting in sackcloth and ashes.
But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at
the judgment than for you.
And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.'”
Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you
rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the
one who sent me.”
Verses 13 — 16 contain brief remarks by Our Lord on His own unsuccessful ministry in the vicinity of Bethsaida. There is an element of deep sorrow, even anxiety that people simply will NOT LISTEN!
In rejecting Him they are also rejecting Moses, which He has warned elsewhere, is a prelude to spiritual death.
Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father: the one who will accuse you is Moses, in whom you have placed your hope.
For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me.
But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (John 5: 45 — 47)
We can be thankful that our Blessed Messiah lets us witness His abject failure and deep distress. In our part of the Church’s call for a general mobilisation of evangelisation, we must be ready to encounter similar experiences and, following our Saviour’s example, not let them deter us. The Church is coming under fierce and unrelenting attack. Those who enlist to defend her will need to help one another through the most trying of circumstances.
D. The Return of the Disciples Verses 17 — 20
The seventy (-two) returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even
the demons are subject to us because of your name.”
We do not know for certain how long the seventy were away. Generally, it is believed to have been a short duration. When they report to our Lord they are very joyful and can’t wait to tell Him: “Even the demons submit to us in your name.” This is easily interpreted as showing the disciples to be a little full of their own importance. In actual fact they are not over-stating their effectiveness but are, appropriately placing the emphasis on the name (Yeshua — Jesus Messiah) by which they achieved great things.
Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from
Jesus replies, “I saw (was beholding) Satan fall like lightening from heaven.” There are two quite different interpretations of this verse:
a) Some think that our Lord is speaking of what He had
witnessed when Satan and his angels fell from heaven,
and were cast down into hell, because they kept not
their first estate: “There was a time when I saw Satan,
great and mighty as he was, fall suddenly from his high
position, and become a lost spirit.” (Ryle)
b) Others think that our Lord is speaking of the effect
produced on Satan’s kingdom by the preaching of the
seventy disciples: “I saw in spirit, or with my mind’s eye,
Satan’s power declining, and himself rapidly losing his
dominion over men in consequence of your ministry.”
A more modern rendering of (b) is:
“While you were driving out devils during your mission,
I was watching how Satan’s power was overthrown.”
The first of these was held by the great scholars of the early Church. The second has also become commonly held over the past century. Whichever one chooses to follow there is also an inherent warning from Jesus, “Marvel not that the devils are subject to you, for I beheld their prince fall, and it is no wonder that his servants now fall before you.” Many scholars consider that our Lord’s intention was to warn the disciples against vain glory: “Do not be puffed up because the devils are subject to you. Remember that Satan fell through pride as I myself saw”. In this vein, a 20th Century scholar notes:
The seventy-two were rejoicing before our Lord over the great
powers they had been exercising in His name during their mission.
The Lord’s answer to them may mean that in His divine
knowledge, He knew and foresaw all that they were telling Him,
and that, therefore, they were communicating nothing new to
Him, — He saw Satan during their preaching losing his dominion
over the possessed, and his kingdom destroyed with the rapidity
of lightning at the advance to of the Messianic kingdom; or it may,
and more probably does, mean that they, the disciples, should be
on their guard against spiritual pride. Pride was the cause of
Satan’s fall, and pride might cause them likewise to fall, if they
guarded not against it. The gift of miracles is not necessarily a
guarantee of personal sanctity, or of final salvation.
(Callan, O. P.)
Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents and
scorpions’ and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing
will harm you.
Our Lord then makes a rather startling declaration to His disciples. “I have given you power to tread upon snakes, serpents and scorpions.” Those who demand adhesion to a literal interpretation will face their own challenges of faith! Our Lord commonly used the popular symbols of the day in His colourful speech. He is referring to spiritual enemies, and He is quite clear in His instruction: “You are to walk on and through them — not around them! You are not to evade or ignore them — you are to deal with them!” Spiritual enemies, though very much more dangerous than snakes and scorpions, will not be able to harm you. This provision remains in force today for us, just as it did in the missionary outreach of the seventy. This declaration, we must know, requires us to remember that all power to confront the enemy comes from Our Lord and not ourselves.
“Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject
to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
“Important though that is”, suggests Jesus, and it is important to rejoice over the subjugation of demons, keep your focus rather on a much greater spiritual reality:
“Rejoice that you have been chosen to enjoy God’s mercy
and be a bearer of it to others. This is a very great honour.
That is what it means to have you name written in Heaven
— written in the Book of Life.” (Revelation 21: 27.)
Our Lord does not forbid the disciples reasonably to rejoice
over the powers He had given them, but He wishes to warn
them against pride, and exhorts them rather to rejoice
above all passing things in the hope of eternal salvation.
He speaks as if their names were actually written in the
Book of Life, as if their predestination were certain; but
His words are to be taken only conditionally, provided,
namely, that they persevere in His service and friendship.
(Callan, O. P.)
“Rejoice that in my name you are among those who have been freed and restored to the life all are meant to enjoy. Take no pride in it, but be humble and extremely thankful. May it stir you to forget yourself and give up anything I ask so that I may send you out to bring others into this same beautiful freedom and enhanced life that my Father desires all to enjoy.” Notice how St. Luke, possibly influenced by St. Paul, carefully counteracts the danger in the Church of overemphasising external wonders (1 Corinthians 12).
D. Jesus’ Hymn of Praise Verses 21 — 24
At that very moment he rejoiced (in) the Holy Spirit and said,
“I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although
you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has
been your gracious will.
Jesus then models the rejoicing He has been talking about. The more correct translations say, “He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”. The unmistakeable meaning of this is that it was “exceptional rejoicing and exaltation” (Geldenhuys). This verse illustrates the beautiful inter-relationship of the Holy Trinity.
We should note especially how the personal spiritual life of
Jesus was lived in the Holy Spirit. Jesus regards learning like
wealth, as a manifest obstacle to true religion; but He has in
view a particular kind of learning, which He saw in the scribes,
ministering to pride and contempt of others. He too would have
‘scribes’ among His disciples, but truly instructed unto the
Kingdom of God. (Matthew 13: 52) (C. Gore)
Our Lord’s joy is so profound he pours forth his hymn of praise aloud for all to hear. The first verse of His hymn (v.21) praises the Father, that insight into the affairs of God is given, not to the self-exulted (leaders of the day), but to those in child-like simplicity and humility who know their dependence on God and accept what God reveals through him as Messiah. As Walter Liefield wrote, “A remarkable thing — and one that Jesus’ thanksgiving stresses — is not that the wise do not understand, but that the simple do.”
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who
the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son
wishes to reveal him.”
In the second verse of His prayer Jesus explains that all things have been committed to Him by His Father. Then in what seems to us a complicated Jewish way of saying it, declares that no one will even know any of these spiritual treasures unless the Son chooses to reveal them. In fact it is His way of including all His disciples down the ages who follow Him faithfully: they too will be part of this great manifestation of God’s love and mercy; they too will be expected to help prepare the way for our Lord’s continuing mission in the world. That is our role in evangelisation.
Verses 23 — 24
Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the
eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see
what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear,
but did not hear it.”
The record of our Lord’s teaching to His disciples closed with His prayer in verses 21 and 22. Jesus now turns aside to the disciples who had returned from their mission endeavours and has a private word for them. Perhaps, to capture the intimacy Jesus had with His disciples, it is best expressed in a modern colloquial manner:
“Well done team, I’m proud of you! You did a great job.
Just remember how much our great prophets and Kings
were looking forward to this day — and now it is yours!”
In this way our Lord emphasises the great value He puts on His disciples treasuring the Faith handed down to them — and their work in ensuring it is passed on to generations of future disciples. St Luke has carefully crafted his account to demonstrate to his readers that they are to form an organic link in this process. And so to our times, and to us. Let it not stop here!
The passage on which we have been reflecting has a number of features and styles of language which can be a little difficult for us to follow at first reading. Provided we return to the text to read and reflect on it, we will find it an inspiration.
Our Lord demonstrated in a very Jewish way, sadly often overlooked, that despite the absolutely dreadful events and Godless opposition to His Good News, the role of Satan in his world is doomed, and the day of his final plunge is set! To continue to move forward and never retreat is frightening — but we must not be frightened.
Although not all members of the Church are called to be missionaries, nevertheless, all are called to contribute towards the evangelisation of the world, in ways which are appropriate for us. One of the greatest, and in fact, the most important fields of opportunity for this is in our own homes. Even just a portion of a weekly Gospel Reflection brought into the family conversation during the week would help to build up gradually a culture of Christian standards. The Christian family home is still the best place to build a Church!
For the enthusiast, we offer a somewhat mystified interpretation (in the Christian sense of the term) of this portion of the Scripture. See our paper: “Return of the Disciples”
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“Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature”
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus is the real answer to the real needs of the world.
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and
The Mission of the Seventy Disciples
Ordinary 14 Sunday Year C Luke 10: 1 — 24
1. In commissioning the 70 disciples to go out and evangelise the countryside,
2. Our Lord did not conceal from those He sent on missions, either His own
3. Amidst genuine signs of rejection, opposition, and (even worse) apathy,
Let us pray for one another to remain faithful to our commission to take the
Luke 10: 1 — 24
Ordinary 14 Year C
1 1 After this the Lord appointed seventy ( — two) 2 others whom he sent
2 He said to them, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
3 3 Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.
4 Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along
5 Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this household.’
6 If a peaceful person 5 lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if
7 Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for
8 Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set
9 cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand
10 Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you, go out into
11 ‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet, even that we shake
12 I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for
13 6 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
14 But it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the
15 7 And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to
16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects
17 The seventy ( — two) returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the
18 Jesus said, “I have observed Satan fall like lightning 8 from the sky.
19 Behold, I have given you the power ‘to tread upon serpents’ and
20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you,
21 At that very moment he rejoiced (in) the holy Spirit and said, “I give
22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows
23 Turning to the disciples in private he said, “Blessed are the eyes that
24 For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you
1 [1-12] Only the Gospel of Luke contains two episodes in which Jesus sends out his followers on a mission: the first (⇒ Luke 10:1-6) is based on the mission in ⇒ Mark 6:6b-13 and recounts the sending out of the Twelve; here in ⇒ Luke 10:1-12 a similar report based on Q becomes the sending out of seventy-two in this gospel. The episode continues the theme of Jesus preparing witnesses to himself and his ministry. These witnesses include not only the Twelve but also the seventy-two who may represent the Christian mission in Luke’s own day. Note that the instructions given to the Twelve and to the seventy-two are similar and that what is said to the seventy-two in ⇒ Luke 10:4 is directed to the Twelve in ⇒ Luke 22:35.
2  Seventy[-two]: important representatives of the Alexandrian and Caesarean text types read “seventy,” while other important Alexandrian texts and Western readings have “seventy-two.”
3  Carry no money bag . . . greet no one along the way: because of the urgency of the mission and the singlemindedness required of missionaries, attachment to material possessions should be avoided and even customary greetings should not distract from the fulfillment of the task.
5  A peaceful person: literally, “a son of peace.”
6 [13-16] The call to repentance that is a part of the proclamation of the kingdom brings with it a severe judgment for those who hear it and reject it.
8  I have observed Satan fall like lightning: the effect of the mission of the seventy-two is characterized by the Lucan Jesus as a symbolic fall of Satan. As the kingdom of God is gradually being established, evil in all its forms is being defeated; the dominion of Satan over humanity is at an end.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised
RETURN OF THE DISCIPLES
And the seventy-two returned with joy saying: Lord, the devils are subject to us in
The mystery of the mission of these seventy-two was great, but they were to hear yet
First they relate joyfully that something had happened on which they had obviously not reckoned. Our Lord had spoken (if Luke has related everything to us) only of one
We must be sure we understand how great a statement Our Lord makes here. If ever
It is wonderful how appropriate to the situation is this speech to the disciples. They are
Clearer and clearer then becomes the symbolic meaning of the way. The journey to
From The Gospel of St. Luke by Joseph Dillersberger,