This passage in Luke comes after last week’s lesson on following Jesus. It is in some ways just as enigmatic.
The first minor problem is how many people did Jesus send? The ancient manuscripts are split nearly in half between 70 and 72. Often when we see such a difference, we can look at the oldest and assume they more likely to be correct. But, no, not this time; the ancients are also split. Compounding the confusion in the first verse, some texts read “two by two,” while others have “in twos.”
Fortunately, neither makes any difference to the text; Jesus sent a group of followers to prepare for his arrival. They traveled in pairs.
This event may sound familiar. Matthew records in chapter 10 the commissioning of the Twelve to go out in pairs. In Luke, Jesus expands the commission to a larger group of followers. This is not the Great Commission but rather a forerunner. It is an example of what we need to undertake when we agree to join Jesus’ Merry Band.
We all like the notion of Robin Hood who took from the rich and gave to the poor (at least by legend) but notice that a follower of Jesus travels unprotected, dependent on strangers and God for support.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink whatever they put before you—a workman deserves his wages. Phillips Some wages. No control over where you stay or what you eat; that is the wage. Think about what people around the world eat daily. Thousands of plants and animals that most Americans have never tasted. It would be my luck to be staying with a family living on mealworms. At least I might lose weight.
That is not the point Jesus is making. In verses 3-4, Jesus says, Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. ESV In other words, “Go with God, depend on Him alone.”
Mark 6:8-11 reports Jesus as saying to the Twelve, Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. NIV
In Matthew 10:16-20, Jesus was more specific to the Twelve. Here I am sending you out like sheep with wolves all round you; so be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves. But be on your guard against men. For they will take you to the court and flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought into the presence of governors and kings because of me—to give your witness to them and to the heathen.
But when they do arrest you, never worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be told at the time what you are to say. For it will not be really you who are speaking but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Phillips
In 1880 in any town or city in America when the circus arrived people flocked to see them unload the rail cars and set up the tents. How did they know the circus was in town? An advance team arrived a month or so earlier to lease the grounds, buy the livestock feed, arrange food for the crew, and most importantly, print posters advertising the dates the show would perform.
I’m not saying Jesus was a circus, only that it pays to advertise. Our job is to let others know that Jesus is real and that he brings healing and escape from death and damnation.
Another important point exists in the instructions to the Twelve and the 70(72), as Darrell L. Bock wrote in his commentary on these verses; Ministry in Jesus’ name should have no hint of ostentation. Baker Academic, 1996 The Copelands and Osteens of the world should take notice.
Luke does include an element of damnation. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. NIV
Tyre and Sidon are OT references; stubborn towns Isaiah and Ezekiel delivered similar bad news to. We need not take Chorazin and Bethsaida too literally; there were no doubt other places where Jesus and his Good News were poorly received. Remember Jesus’ hometown. But what many at the time might have found surprising was Jesus’ condemnation of Capernaum. It was the home of Andrew, Peter, James, and John, as well as the center of most of Jesus’ ministry. Even so, it was a Roman town.
It is not the towns that are to blame, only the individuals in the towns. There were no doubt a few believers in Chorazin and Bethsaida just as there were some in Capernaum. My relationship with God does not depend on others; it is my choice to accept the offer God makes.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.