by Simon Sutcliffe.
The story in Luke of Jesus sending out the 70/72 disciples is fascinating. Firstly, it reminds us, as Luke often does, that Jesus had a much greater following than the 12 disciples. What is important for us here though is to answer the question of how we might be salt in the earth. It’s rare for Jesus to offer a mission strategy in the Gospels, but here he offers not only a strategy, but some careful instructions to follow.
Firstly, we learn that the disciples are to go before Jesus to the towns and villages. They are the warm up act. It is Jesus who is the main attraction and they are simply preparing the way for him. Secondly, he tells the disciples not to take anything with them. This will become very important when they arrive in their destination. It seems a stark contrast to the church today that might want to have a budget to employ people, a raft of resources, pamphlets, and gimmicks to attract and engage with people.
Next, they are told to go to the towns and villages and knock on a door and say ‘peace be with you’ if that peace is returned, they are told to stay in the house and not move on. They are to become guests in another’s space. And this is where their lack of preparedness in bringing things with them becomes important. Jesus tells them twice to eat whatever is given to them. Twice! This is a big deal for a group of Jews who have strict purity laws about what can and cannot be eaten. By not taking anything with them they are utterly dependent on their hosts.
Sympoiēsis is a Greek word which means making or becoming with. Within the natural sciences there is growing appreciation that nothing ‘makes itself’ that all creation is made with other creatures and plants. There is no such thing as an autopoētic (self-making) self, or, I would argue community. We, and similar communities are all products of the relationships we foster and nurture. When Jesus sends his disciples out into the world he asks them to make with, to become with, those he his sending them to. Church can often see mission as a doing to, rather than doing with and has struggled sometimes to work in partnership with other agencies that might share its aim or values.
Jesus doesn’t simply ask his disciples to ‘go and do good’, but to find people of peace and with them show that the Kingdom of God has come near. So, how do we find people of peace? The only way is to ‘knock on the door’, to intentionally seek out relationships with other people and agencies, and to stay committed to those relationships (don’t move from house to house). People of peace will be those who trust and understand the church’s motivation for being in a relationship with them, they will share some, if not all of the values that we might call kingdom. To put it bluntly, they will get us! But, and this has historically been difficult for the church, the church is not to colonise these relationships, own them, or stay in them for their own purposes. Rather the church is asked to make itself vulnerable to the other, to be in relationship not as host, but as guest.
1. What makes a good host and what makes a good guest? What does this teach us about how the church might have a ministry of being guest?
2. Which do you think the church prefers to be? Guest or host? Why?
3. Who are your ‘people of peace’? Which agencies and people in your local community do you share ministry with? How might you find others?
We are pleased to continue our partnership with Spectrum, a community of Christians of all denominations which encourages groups and individuals to explore the Christian faith in depth. This year the study papers are written by Prof Anthony Reddie and Rev’d Simon Sutcliffe on the theme ‘Being the Salt of the Earth (A look at some peace and justice issues)’. This is the sixth and final article this the year.