After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. 5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
In the first century of the Common Era, the Roman Peace, or Pax Romana, ushered in by the Roman Empire was the promise of peace through the subjugation of lands. Roman armies traveled from place to place conquering smaller powers and ushering in protection and hopes for prosperity in exchange for tribute and obedience. The spoils of their campaigns brought material and cultural wealth to the Roman center, while leaving the townspeople in the subject lands to pay the price.
In contrast, in the Gospel text for this week Jesus instructs his followers to go from town to town to “share in peace” with whatever household they enter (10:6). What is this peace, then, that Jesus instructs his apostles to proclaim? It is not a peace won on the backs of commoners and soldiers, it is not a peace reserved for the wealthy at the expense of the elite, nor a peace through destruction or death. The peace that Jesus’ apostles bring to each town is a peace of life.
In the households who receive them and among the towns in which they reside, the disciples spread Jesus’ healing power, proclaiming the word of God, healing the sick, and casting out demons. Thus when the seventy return from their mission, Luke tells us they greet Jesus with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name, even demons submit to us!” (10:17) Where the Romans brought death and took plunder, the apostles bring life and restore relationship.
Peace is and always has been a catchword in politics. Everyone wants peace. No one (or, at least, only a small minority) wants conflict. And yet our world is ridden with conflict. Wars waged in the name of peace. Low income homes leveled in gentrified neighborhoods for the sake of prosperity. Treaties broken and religions demonized for the illusions of security and independence.
The Pax Romana was a great and glorious time for the elite few. For the rest of the world, it was a time of fear and trial. There are voices in our world who want to restore British sovereignty or “make America great again.” These movements will, without a doubt, benefit elite subsets in each nation. But, as Christians, we are called not to ask whether we will be on the side that benefits from or suffers from this imposed greatness. Rather, we are called to ask how to serve the only Great One, who sends us “like lambs into the midst of wolves” to bring a different kind of peace.
God’s peace is a peace founded on life, rather than death. On relationship, rather than enmity. On engaging in and accepting mutual hospitality, rather than building walls of division.
For, indeed, the Kingdom of God has come—and is coming—near.
The Rev. Amy Allen is an adjunct professor of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary and an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.