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. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, '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.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
“What good or harm would it do them to have shoes on their feet or to go without them...?” wrote Cyril of Alexandria. “He wanted them to learn, and to attempt to practise, that they must depend entirely on him.” Their poverty, then, was not to be a mark of hatred of the world (though ‘contemptus mundi’ was sometimes given that twist); when you are barefooted you are actually closer to the world than when you have shoes on. It was an expression of defencelessness, and therefore of trust in God.
“I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Jesus had a right to say this because he himself was like a lamb among wolves. The Christian Gospel proclaims that the deepest wisdom is hidden in suffering, not in self-defence or victory. This is not to love suffering for itself, but to understand that “power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9).
It is very paradoxical. Any deep teaching is full of paradox. The English word ‘suffer’ originally meant ‘to allow’. To suffer is to allow the pain of life of reach me. It is natural to try to avoid pain, but when it comes my way I should let it reach me; I should go barefooted. Otherwise I will develop a hard outer layer of insensitivity. When we see people who have done this we are inclined to say: suffering has made them hard and bitter. But it hasn’t. It is their rejection of suffering that has done so. Life doesn’t make people hard; it is the denial of life that makes them hard.
Hard outer shells go with inner mushiness. You often find that people with hard exteriors are the very ones whose inner lives are full of self-indulgence and self-pity. This has none of the openness or possibilities of growth that genuine suffering has. One of the things we learn as we grow older is the difference between neurotic self-inflicted suffering and genuine suffering. “By their fruits you shall know them.” Even by their appearance – by the skin of their fruits – you shall know them.
What are we to make of that strange verse, “If anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.” In Hebrew the same word ‘dabar’ means ‘word’ and ‘thing’; the idea was that a blessing that could not find a resting-place in the other person had to return to the sender. That is not an easy thought to take on board now, but St Augustine’s ingenuity found a way of using it. “Since we do not know who is a child of peace, it is our part to leave no one out, to set no one aside, but to desire that all to whom we preach this peace be saved. We are not to fear that we lose our peace if the one to whom we preach it is not a child of peace.... Our peace will return to us. That means our preaching will profit us, not him. If the peace we preach rests upon him, it will profit both him and us.”
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