Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

by Rev. Fr. K. K. John

Gospel: St. Luke 10 : 1 - 16: The Seventy sent out

The gist of the reading can be summarized as under: Jesus appointed and sent seventy others two by two to every city. He said, harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of harvest for more laborers. They are like sheep in the midst of wolves. They should not carry money or spare sandals. They should not greet anyone on the road. Stay where they first enter in a city. Give peace to the house. If there is none worthy the peace will return. Eat what they give. Heal the sick. Tell them, the kingdom is at hand. There will be judgment, worse than that of Sodom, to those who reject them. Woe unto Chorazin and Bethsaida for, despite seeing mighty works they did not repent. Capernaum will be brought down. He who receives them receives Jesus and God.

Only Luke reports this incident. Some interpret that Jesus had sent twelve disciples before, which is reported in Mathew 10:1-15 and hence, ‘Seventy others.’ Many similarities regarding purpose and instructions are found but both are different missions. Syrian tradition says 72, not 70. Verses 57 to 60 of chapter 9 indicate that Jesus already sent two and hence the use, “seventy others” and in that light the Syrian tradition seems credible. 72 would coincide with equal representation to twelve tribes. We remember 72 evangelists on July 5.

Number seventy also bears some importance. Whether or not the ancient people believed in numerology, Bible ascribes prominence to certain numbers. Some commentators suggest that seventy is often associated with the idea of God administering the world. Seventy descendants of Noah populated world after great deluge, Gen 10. Seventy persons migrated Egypt, Gen 46:27. Moses appointed seventy elders to help him, Num 11:16. Judah’s descendants lived seventy years in the Babylonian captivity, Je 25:11. Messianic redemption is in seventy weeks, Dan 9:24. Jesus said to forgive, seventy times seven, Mt 18:22. Probably, Luke suggests that the seventy elders of the Old Testament were shadow of which the seventy evangelists are the fulfillment. Greek Church remembers 70 evangelists on January 4.

Most of them, Barnabas, Titus, Cleopas, Ananias, are familiar to us and mentioned in the Acts and epistles. Apostle Paul credits them as, “fellow laborers.” They are apostles, though not the twelve apostles. Most of them succeeded the twelve and became bishops in the early Church. It will be laborious task to discuss the acts of the Seventy. However pertinently, they were all, honest and trustworthy to their calling, witnessed the risen Lord, spread the gospel and planted the Church in various centers. I would discuss a few thoughts based on the gospel reading.

1, Lord appointed and sent them: This aspect of mission is totally ignored and misused. Present miserable plight is, “Valedukunnavanellam velichappadu!” People who can fluently read, write and speak feel the urge to interpret as they like and introduce new dogmas. They establish groups with agreeing followers. They make tall claims such as, ‘God appeared, revealed, God commissioned me, Had a vision, Holy Spirit prompted me,’ etc. They manipulate the Bible, make distorted versions of the Bible to substantiate and advise the followers not to read anything but their own version. They go to the extend of saying their writings are better than the Holy Bible. Unstable and untaught fall easy victims to their evil designs. Risen Lord appeared to Paul and commissioned him and yet he spent three years of intense meditation in Arabia. Went and lived 15 days with Peter and acquainted with James, Gal 1:17-19. Before commencing his ministry the apostles imposed their hands on him, prayed and sent him, AA 13:2-3. Thus confidently he asked, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Rom 10:14-15. Lord’s appointment namely, apostolic succession, continues to this day in the Church by election and imposition of hands by the bishop. Right lineage traceable up-to the apostles and profession of the apostolic doctrine undefiled is necessary mark of the genuine Church outside of which there is no salvation.

2, Our Lord has assured good harvest. These words greatly encouraged the evangelists. They ought to be optimistic, energetic about their mission and relentlessly pray for its success.

3, Lord compared the evangelists to sheep and the worldly people to wolves. Sheep is sacrificial animal. Sheep symbolizes meekness and gentleness. Lord expects His laborers to be meek and humble, prepared to face difficulties from unfriendly world and yet gently demonstrate the mind of Christ. Sheep is known for its innocence, a necessary quality for missionary. They are to be wise like serpents and innocent like doves, Mat 10:16. Serpents are famous for protecting its head in times imminent betides by curling its body and hiding its head beneath. Dove got this credit from the time of Noah. Noah sent a dove to check out if the waters receded. Dove returned with a branch of olive thus faithfully fulfilling its mission, Gen 8:11. Serpent’s wisdom is necessary to protect life because humanity under sin is opprobrious and hence cruel. Innocence of the dove is necessary because missionary is not expected to retaliate tit-for-tat but be patient and harmless to evil perpetrators. This verse warns of the hazards ahead and the need to keep focused.

4, Verse 4, missionary ought not to be overly concerned about things of the flesh. He should have thorough faith that God will provide what is necessary for sustenance and not seek too much personal comfort. He should not gossip, which would be dishonor to fellow-beings and God. Priority be given to mission and no other matter should displace the urgency of the gospel.

5, Verse 5 warrants courteous attitude. Satan is in endless rebellion with God. Sinner is under his scepter. Rebellious people are not at peace within themselves. Missionary’s peaceful approach might change the rebellious. Peace is essential for furtherance of gospel. A priest offers peace to the congregation many times during the Anaphora. Unfortunately, seldom people get the benefit of peace, even to the extent to doubt if it were empty words. Why is it so?

6, Verse 6 answers the question in the previous verse. Recipients’ attitude is important to receive peace, which is offered. The problem is, people put blame for their failings on others but seldom evaluate themselves. They have too many complaints about the shortfalls in the Church, the priests, the society and everything but never find their own pitfalls. Jesus said, ‘brother, first remove the plank in your eye and then it is easy to remove the speck in the neighbor’s eye.’

7, Missionary should not be too picky about hospitality, neither become burden to the host by demanding choice foods but satisfied with what they offer, if not, he is doing a disservice to the gospel. One who gives priority to stomach shall not be an effective evangelist. A glutton would never be a good missionary. Gluttony is a deadly sin, which all of us should shun.

8, God’s messenger is appointed and empowered to heal the sick. It is an integral part of Christian ministry. Orthodox Church holds the view that sin is the basic reason for sickness and afflictions. Therefore Orthodox aims at eradicating sickness by eradicating sinful life. Unless man decides to free himself from the fatal-grip of sin by abdicating acts of sin nothing could help. Recently in SGOS digest, one member lamented, ‘these days church has lost healing power. What we hear in the church is only lip service,’ etc. Admittedly he is partially right. But can we ignore one’s responsibility to self-examine, renounce sinful ways and lead others to Christ? Every Christian is a missionary. We have too many religious leaders and social reformers who earnestly advise and look for others to improve envisioning a better society. The dichotomy is self-evident that no society will ever improve unless the process of improvement begins within oneself, not in others. Readiness of the member to receive the gift of healing or divine peace, which are offered free from the altar of God, not by the personal merits of the priest, but by the power vested in him through ordination, is unalterable condition. Because of economic self-sufficiency, celebrations like birthday, anniversary, betrothal, marriage, house blessing, etc are common these days. Liquor, destroyer of family, harmony and dignity, is an indispensable item in our festivities as if a status symbol! Most people get drunk even before the function. Most deplorable plight is; priests are invited to speak and bless the alcohol-saturated festivities. Most parties are conducted on Saturdays and extend to late hours. What would be the level of spiritual preparedness of the same people who attend the holy liturgy next day? Faith, physical and mental purity and readiness to receive healing is imperative. “He could not do mighty work there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Jesus marveled at the unbelief of the people, Mk 6:5-6. There are numerous instances of healing in the church but I dare not now for fear of length.

9, Next verses deal with the judgment that awaits those who reject the gospel. It would be a day of glory to those who live a life of rectitude and a terrible day to those who reject the gospel.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost

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