What is the difference between Luke's sending stories?
Did you know…
. . .that the story in this week's gospel of Jesus sending out the 72 isn't the first time in Luke's narrative that Jesus sent out disciples. This week's story is from the first verses of Chapter 10, but just one chapter earlier, in the beginning verses of Chapter 9, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples to go into towns and villages proclaiming the kingdom and performing healing:
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey: no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
As you can see in comparing these instruction from Jesus to those in this week's gospel, Jesus doesn't give the same direction in these two sending stories. In this first story he is very short with his instructions, saying nothing of the harvest and the laborers, nothing about being sent out like lambs among wolves, nothing about declaring peace, nothing about getting paid, and nothing about potential rejection being not just a rejection of them but a rejection of God. So why are there differences between these two sending stories, and why does Jesus give different instructions to these two groups only one chapter apart in the narrative?
While the proclamation may be similar and their mission to heal might be the same, the places to which they are being sent are very different. The first time the 12 disciples were sent out, in chapter 9, it was into their home region of Galilee, where it was much less likely that they would be rejected, since they were going into their own community, not crossing any lines of difference, prejudice, or conflict. But this second group, they are going into the towns between Galilee and Jerusalem, which are located in the region of Samaria. And the Judeans/Galileans and Samaritans did not get along. They believed the worst of one another, demonized one another, and though they had all started off as one nation of Israel hundreds of years before, had become divided along lines of ideological and ethnic difference.
Jesus, in sending them out into this more tumultuous context, knows that they will need different instructions than when they went into Galilee. He knows that to engage across these lines of difference, in the face of so much history separating them from those to whom they were being sent, they needed to begin with peace, they needed to know that they were entering an uncertain conversation, they needed to know that rejection was a real possibility, and on top of all that, they needed to know that if they were rejected they were not alone.