As Jesus turns towards Jerusalem to pick a fight with the Roman and religious leaders, he begins, not by marching straight to Jerusalem, but by building out a ground game to establish anticipation. This is something I never really saw in Luke 10 until this week.
The Harvest is Great
Over the past few decades, I have always looked at Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples as an example of why understanding the Bible’s context is so essential. The story includes a key line in the recruitment of new church workers or seasonal evangelists, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few.” The whole idea is that the world is expectantly waiting to hear the good news, they just need someone to come and tell them. So will you be the one to go?
I used to lay out this interpretation and then pause and ask, “But is the harvest great?” I would then dive into the political climate of ancient Israel. I would talk about palpable messianic expectations stirred by thousands of years of history. Then I could go into the silence of the prophets, which further only stirred the whispers about what would happen when God did speak next. Finally, I would talk about what the people had heard about Jesus so far. All of this meant that when two followers of Jesus showed up in town, the people were eager to hear the message.
To play with the harvest metaphor, in Jesus’ day, the land was tilled, seeds were planted, crops were watered, and the elements had time to generate an abundant harvest that was now ready to be picked. Or you could say that Israel’s culture and history served as a ground game to prepare people for the message. But is that still true today?
No Ground Game, No Harvest
Consider the 2012 book, UnChristian. The research-based book explores how younger Millennials and GenZ perceive the church. Words like, “hypocritical,” “insensitive,” and “judgmental,” are some of the leading adjectives. The follow-up book, You Lost Me, then delves into specific points of disconnect and how Christianity, as often presented becomes almost untenable in the modern world. And yet, the person of Jesus as portrayed by the Gospels and popularly understood remains incredibly popular. It is almost as if the church and Jesus have two different agendas.
This idea was not foreign to ancient Israel. After all, there were numerous religious bodies within Jerusalem whose message did more to ostracize than draw in the masses. Luke’s account of the Gospel labels them with terms like Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. They are the very same religious elites that Jesus sets out to confront in Jerusalem.
The thing is, both sides, the religious elites and Jesus, formed their faith through the Hebrew Bible. One focused on Torah as a moral code that outlined behavior deemed acceptable by God, the other saw the Torah as an invitation to a different way of being in the world. One used the text to oppress, while the other spoke of liberation. The religious elites positioned themselves near the seat of Roman power, while Jesus sent out seventy-two to all the rural towns and villages he planned to visit. The first has always worked to marginalize people, while the second is the heart of God.
Perhaps it is time today’s church learns both Jesus’ message and his ground game.