In today’s Gospel story, Jesus looks like a manager and his disciples like his interns. He groups his disciples in pair and sends them to every town and place where he himself would like to visit. For this field education with hands-on practices, Jesus gives detailed instructions to his disciples. Jesus teaches them what they should do and say, when they visit houses and share the good news. Why does he do that? I believe, he does this to train his disciples and get them ready before he leaves them. In fact, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to go through his final days. So it’s about time for him to conduct a midterm evaluation on his disciples’ performance to see how much they have grown to be the trustworthy messengers of God’s new kingdom.
Yes, it looks like Jesus is fitting well into this picture of an internship manager. It’s quite convincing to me too…until I got to reflect on the following words of Jesus, “Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). Honestly, I hadn’t paid much attention to these words. But here, Jesus doesn’t sound like a manager. Apparently, these words show Jesus’s sincere concern, from the bottom of his heart. And the one who can say such compassionate words to somebody must be more than just a manager, more like a parent who cares for the children.
And it’s so true. As he often describes himself, Jesus is the good shepherd who searches for the lost lambs and even lays down one’s life for them. He sees his disciples not just through the eyes of judgment and evaluation but more through the eyes of love and compassion. Then I realized, I had focused too much on what Jesus asks the disciples to do—the tasks, the things that we are in charge as disciples. But I had never focused on how Jesus would have felt when he sent the disciples away.
So, how would Jesus feel when he had to send the disciples “like lambs into the midst of wolves?” Not just close “to” wolves but “into the midst” of wolves? I don’t have a lamb. But I have a different kind of animal in my house living with me. Yes, Eco, my dog. She is so gentle and affectionate. She never has done any harm to anybody. When she meets other dogs outside, although they are smaller than her, she gets scared, curled up between my legs and sometimes begs me to pick her up. Anyway, I imagined, if I send Eco into the midst of wolves, how would I feel? I wouldn’t be just worried but I would be terrified to death. Think about your children and family members. Imagine that you send them into the midst of such a threat. How would you feel? Even when your children leave home for college, or for even a short-term trip abroad, you must be worried. But sending them into the midst of uncertain dangers? It’s hard to imagine.
Then, how about Jesus? Jesus must be deeply concerned and so much worried as he sends his disciples to the world full of challenges and risks. Later, he says, he even watches “Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” as soon as the disciples hit the road (Luke 10:18). He sees Satan come right away to capture them, tempt them to go astray, and turn their way against God. His heart must be so troubled.
Then, as Jesus sees the dangers loom large, does he give the disciples something to overcome them? Something to depend on? We know, he has power to do so. He may give them some divine warrantee to protect them and provide them with some good supplies to carry out the mission at least without having to worry about what to eat and where to stay. But to our surprise, Jesus orders his disciples something totally unreasonable and absurd. “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:4). Here, Jesus basically asks the disciples to take nothing and to make no relationship with someone who may help them on their way. This sounds quite harsh. If he watches Satan let loose and prey on the disciples like wolves take down lambs, why does Jesus not give anything and do anything for them? Is he truly the good shepherd with the sympathetic heart of a parent? What’s the reason?
As today’s Gospel story concludes, we see the reason. Through the perilous field education, Jesus wants the disciples to learn one thing, only one thing. That is the way to depend on God. Depending only on God—nothing else. The disciples are like lambs. They are weak and unable. They have no worldly power to show off. And their weakness cannot be overcome by some things they bring. But in their weaknesses, paradoxically, they have all the power. As long as they depend on Jesus and the one who sends him, the power of Christ dwells in them. This is why the Apostle Paul says, “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). We are weak but he is strong. We are unable but he is able. So if we depend on and trust in his power, our good shepherd will provide us with all the strength to overcome any hardship and the gifts to make wonderful fruits in the world. That’s the whole point.
After the disciples return from towns, they report on their progress with joy, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” (Luke 10:17) They now get it. Although they feel powerless and helpless on their way, they finally come to realize that they actually have the true power in the name of Jesus. Likewise, it’s time for us now to get it too. On our life’s journey, we better depend on our good shepherd who loves us. If this Jesus is for us and with us, then who can be against us? Whenever we feel weak and unable in the face of challenges and difficulties, we can always gain power in the name of Jesus. And we shall overcome.
But here’s one thing we should be mindful of. We should depend on “Jesus”—not “ourselves.” Sometime when things are going well with us, we tend to depend on our power trusting in ourselves. And as humans, we naturally crave worldly powers; we want to be stronger and richer, more influential and popular. But if we goes on this way too far, we may not remain as lambs of the good shepherd anymore. We may become like wolves in the world. One of the most important early Christian fathers, John Chrysostom said this, “As long as we are sheep, we overcome and, though surrounded by countless wolves, we emerge victorious; but if we turn into wolves, we are defeated, for we lose the help of our shepherd. He, after all, feeds the sheep not wolves, and will abandon you if you do not let him show his power in you.” This is what we should keep in mind.
Faithful friends in Christ, we are blessed to have the good shepherd in our lives. This is the one who is deeply worried about us with a compassionate heart and who always searches for us and even lays down his life for us. “Go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The good shepherd tells us today that our lives, especially as Christians, may not be easy. But he also gives us a promise, “See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you” (Luke 10:19). To us, Jesus has given the authority to win this battle against any power of tribulation in the world. So let us depend not on us, not our power, but on Jesus and his faithfulness.
Is there anything that discourages you and distresses you? Is there an ongoing or upcoming challenge you need to deal with? Is there anything in your life that makes you feel vulnerable and helpless? Let us look up to our good shepherd who is the source of all our power and blessings. There is a power in the name of Jesus. Because of him living in us, we know, although we are unable, we shall overcome. And whenever we are week, we are strong. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim