17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!’
We don’t live in the world of the first century. For us the air is not filled with spirit beings interacting with those who dwell on earth. The sky is not a realm where spirits composed of fire reside, visible at night. We see earthquakes, disease and storms as natural processes, not events caused by unseen personal agents that can and should be mollified and propitiated. Our whole concept of a “natural world” is foreign to the first century and their concept of a spirit world foreign to us.
Yet the language of spirits is not without meaning for us. We know that we are vulnerable to forces and realities beyond ourselves. Our lives are affected by such strange things as the “national mood” (quantified as “consumer confidence”) and “political will”. Forces like racism and sexism, wealth and poverty shape our lives and opportunities. Handsome people get jobs easier, earn more money, and are treated more considerately than ordinary people. Tall people are treated with more respect than short. Brunettes are perceived as more intelligent than blondes, etc.
And there are things that seem evil, destructive, beyond explanation, as though the human heart had been taken over by something. Lives can be dominated and controlled by fear, anger, cruelty, addiction.
The seventy were sent out to every place Jesus was going. Sent to heal and to announce the dawning of God’s reign, they were given authority to exorcise these unclean spirits. Where Christ comes, lives are made whole again, fears and addictions dethroned. Where Christ comes, the burdens of shame and guilt are lifted. Where Christ comes, relationships and communities are reconciled and restored. In the work of these followers of Jesus, sent where Jesus was to come, the powers that divide and destroy were driven out.
Too often we quail before such powers. To often we retreat in fear. We avoid confronting evil. We lack the courage to name and renounce what is destructive – or we lack the skill to speak and act with the necessary grace.
We need the witness of these unnamed 70. We need to see their faithfulness. We need to hear their joy. We need to be reminded of the power that worked through them to bring healing to the places they were sent. We need to breathe their Spirit.
And we need to hear anew the voice of the one who sent them: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”