At this time of year, around Independence Day and with the upcoming presidential campaign in view, public debate is focusing on leadership. Last Sunday we began Luke’s journey narrative in which Jesus serves as the leader for his first disciples and for us as well. In today’s selection from Luke 10, Jesus shows himself to be an effective leader. He offers a clear and comprehensive vision, enlists the participation of those who accept it and suggests a lifestyle appropriate to implementing that vision.
In its simplest form Jesus’ message concerns our origin from God and our destiny with God. Jesus instructs us to look upon God as the creator and lord of all, and as a loving parent who cares for us and guides us along the way of life. This loving parent never gives up on us and even welcomes us back when we stray. And Jesus invites us to share in his own relationship of special intimacy with his heavenly Father. Jesus also looks forward to the future fullness of life with God in the kingdom of heaven. His message is that this kingdom is also something of a present reality among us here and now, made manifest especially in his person, teachings and healing powers. In short, Jesus tells us where we came from (God), where we are going (the kingdom of God) and how we can get there (by following Jesus’ wise teachings and good example).
As an effective leader Jesus invites others to participate in his mission. Today’s passage is the second missionary discourse in Luke’s Gospel. It portrays Jesus as sending forth his followers to do what he does: proclaim God’s kingdom and heal the sick. Jesus situates this mission against the background of a cosmic struggle between good and evil, in which the war has been won (the fall of Satan) but the battle continues. As a wise leader, Jesus knows how to engage others in his cause to spread his influence.
For those who are willing to follow him, Jesus proposes a lifestyle appropriate to the mission. In Jesus’ time religions and philosophies were spread throughout the Roman empire by traveling missionaries. If we look beyond the concrete 1st-century details in Jesus’ instructions, we can discern a principle that has special relevance and challenge for us today. It is simplicity of lifestyle, that is, living with minimal concern for personal pleasure and comfort, subordinating them to carrying forward Jesus’ message and mission.
Paul’s concluding remarks in his letter to the Galatians provide the testimony of one who thoroughly embraced the leadership of Jesus. Although Paul had not been a disciple of the earthly Jesus, his experience of the risen Christ was so transforming that he achieved a kind of Christ-mysticism. Paul’s identification with Christ was so complete that he believed Christ was living in and through him and that everything else was insignificant in comparison with the effects of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Jesus’ wise and effective leadership can and does continue in and through his followers today.