Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Where is the Kingdom?
Jesus needed help. He could not be everywhere at once, and needed others to go and prepare the ground for him. Just like Moses appointed seventy elders to help him, Jesus appoints seventy to go before him. He paired them up, and sent them out to all the places he intended to visit. He had a list of thirty-five towns therefore that were on his itinerary.
Can you feel the sense of urgency here? Jesus needs to get the word out, fast, that the kingdom of heaven is near, and that it is a kingdom of peace.
Why peace? Surely that sounds like what right-minded people would naturally want? Well, here in NZ we might feel that a peaceful way of solving things is the way to go, but put yourselves back into first century Judaea, occupied by Rome. At the slightest sign of insurrection, of rebellion, against the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, the Roman armies would ruthlessly crush any uprising. That’s why Jesus was such a trouble for them – he stirred people up. That’s why the leaders of the Jews wanted Jesus stopped, so he would not bring down the wrath of Rome upon the nation.
In this story we can see that Jesus wants peace too – he tells his disciples to go out into the villages, carrying absolutely nothing, and the first thing they have to say is, Peace be on this house.
Can you imagine how that would be? You hear a knock on the door, and here are two grubby travellers, carrying no gear, no spare clothes, nothing to share, and they say, peace be upon this house? For us, we would wonder what they were selling, and why they weren’t wearing a lanyard with an ID card, and carrying a clipboard to sign us up for some new power company, or another charity. But in old Jewish times, there was a tradition of holy men, of prophets, travelling light, with a message for the people. Those who remembered this would have known how to react. They would have accepted the message of peace, and let them in.
Jesus tells the disciples not to move from place to place. We don’t know how long they stayed in their destination, but it seems as if each group was sent to only one place. They would have been able to settle in and get to know their host family, and the surrounding town.
Whenever someone is staying in your house, there are lots of opportunities for chats, for heart-to-hearts, for deep and meaningful conversations. Also for disagreements, and for challenges to our way of thinking. The disciples shared the day to day life over meals with their hosts, and everything they said or did was a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven for them. Everything was an example of Jesus’ way of peace.
During the day, the disciples didn’t just sit around the living room, watching tv. They were out in the community, healing people, and casting out demons, which is part of healing. Their hosts would have had lots of people asking them, ‘who are those guys staying at your place? Are they relatives? We haven’t seen them before. ‘
Can you imagine the women as they go the well, and to the market, telling their friends all about them? ‘They say they are sent by a fella called Jesus, who is the Son of God! Yeah, I know it sounds weird, but they prayed for me and now my bad back is fine again! See, I can touch my toes! I haven’t been able to do that for a while!’
Or how about the men, going about their work, meeting each other in the street or at the pub, and their mates ask, ‘who are those guys? Relations of the wife are they? Well, I didn’t know them from Adam, but there’s something about them. They’ve been telling us about Jesus – you know that miracle healer who has turned up in Jerusalem – we’ve heard a few things about him for other travellers. Anyway, they prayed for me, and now I feel better! There’s something there all right.’
The villagers would have been intrigued by this new hope coming in their midst, so whenever the disciples were out in the village square, people would have been coming to see them.
‘Can you heal me? I’ve been sick for years. Can you cast out this demon? My brother falls down, frothing at the mouth.’
The more healings happened, the more the excitement would spread.
Did you remember what the other part of the disciples’ task was, – heal the sick, and tell them that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
People would probably be so fizzy and excited by healings that at first they didn’t hear the quiet words. The kingdom of heaven is come near.
But these are the sort of words that linger in the heart. You would wonder about what they meant, and they would stay with you.
What do they mean? It’s hard to know exactly, but faithful Jewish people would have an idea from their scriptures about the kingdom of heaven, where God is in charge, and all suffering and injustice cease.
Well, this was in a town where the peace the disciples gave was received.
But how about those places where the people answering their knock on the door told them to get lost, no one was buying what they were selling, and why would anyone want a message of peace anyway! How could you have peace under the hated Romans? It wasn’t war but it wasn’t freedom either. There were so many restrictions that a message of peace was just to weak to cut it, it wouldn’t help.
Well, the disciples soon saw if their hearts were unreceptive. But they didn’t leave them empty handed. Even though they ceremonially dusted off the dust from that town from their feet, which was a well-known sign of rejection, they still left them with the vital message that Jesus had charged them to give. The kingdom of heaven is near.
These people would not have heard anything else about Jesus, they would not have received healings and deliverances from evil spirits, but they were still left with those puzzling words. The kingdom of heaven is near.
My friends, is the kingdom of heaven near to you? Can you see glimmers of God’s love and justice around you? It can be hard in the midst of a busy and difficult life, but it’s one of those things that takes practice. Every day, make a habit of noticing one kingdom moment. It might be a beautiful sunset, or a sweet baby’s smile. It might be a hug for someone, or a kind word. It might be when you realise that there’s a bit more money in your wallet than you thought, and life is that little bit less hard work.
As you practise noticing the kingdom of heaven coming to a place near you, you will begin to realise that it’s always been there, and every day there are more sign to notice. You will become bolder to share that kingdom with others, and start seeing them as part of the kingdom of heaven. It takes work.
Notice that the disciples didn’t tell the people that the kingdom of heaven is right here and now, but that it’s near. If something is near, but not quite here, doesn’t that make you want to strive for it? To stretch out you hand a bit further to touch it? To go that extra mile because you can feel it?
How about you take this little message home and put it on your fridge to remind you to look for signs of the kingdom of heaven, breaking into our everyday life all around us.
The Kingdom of Heaven is Near!