A closer look at Luke (Part 9): Caring for the stranger

Luke 10

Today’s closer look at Luke will be shorter than most (though still not particularly short, because I’m incapable of being concise), but in no way does that diminish the importance of the content. In fact, the primary reason it will be shorter is because I’ve already two posts examining the parable of the Good Samaritan, which covers almost half of chapter 10.

Interestingly, however, I believe the first half of the chapter relates closely to that parable in a way I had not previously noticed. In that section, Jesus sends out 72 disciples to go in pairs and visit towns to heal the sick and preach the good news of the kingdom of God. This echoes his sending of the Twelve in the previous chapter, but this section goes into greater detail.

Similar to his directions to the Twelve, Jesus informs this group to essentially take nothing for their journey; they were to rely solely on the kindness and generosity of strangers. In fact, that served as a key test for each city, differentiating those who welcomed them from those who did not.

In these moments, Jesus sends his followers into potentially hostile territory, and they are completely vulnerable. They have no food or money. Anyone who welcomes them will receive their blessing of peace (5-6), while those who reject them will not:

But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.” I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. (10-12)

In my previous posts about the Good Samaritan (linked above), I wrote about the story’s comparison to, and lesson for, our modern treatment of refugees and poor immigrants. Similarly, in this moment in time, Jesus’ followers entered these towns in similar circumstances of need. While they were not brutally beaten (like in the parable) or fleeing violence and oppression at home (like modern refugees), they were poor, weak, and entirely dependent on the generosity of strangers.

Jesus warned that entire cities would be judged based on the people’s attitudes toward and treatment of these strangers in need. In fact, he warned that the judgment would be more harsh than it was on a city that infamously was burned to the ground for its wickedness according to the Jewish Scriptures.

Now, of course, some will argue that these disciples had something to offer the people, offering a harsh assessment contrast of modern poor immigrants and refugees. However, Jesus does not tell them to preach the good news of the kingdom before they ask for food and shelter. The first question is whether they are welcomed graciously into the town, before the citizens have an opportunity to recognize what these visitors have to offer.

Further, history is full of stories of immigrants who made tremendous contributions to the societies to which they moved. Refusing to welcome entire groups of people and dismissing them as providing nothing to society is not only deeply offensive to anyone who values the dignity of human life but also incredibly ignorant. We simply have no idea of the potential we’re refusing when we slam our door (or build a wall) to keep out strangers.

In fact, Jesus even attributes our treatment of these strangers to our treatment of him. This is most famous in Matthew 25, but even here in Luke 10 he says, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (16).

Later in this section of the story, he explains that God has “hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (21-22).

This statement is a bit convoluted, but in light of his earlier comments, I believe it calls back to his message in Luke 8 warning that the wisdom and true experience of knowing Jesus and the Father will be withheld from those who abuse his message and do not care for the vulnerable. For those, he will choose not to reveal the Father, and though they may claim to know the Son and the Father, in truth they will know neither. And as he warned earlier in the section, they will answer for their rejection.

This message makes perfect sense leading into the parable of the Good Samaritan. Both pieces – one the story of how Jesus chose to send his followers out to minister and the other a parable to convey the truth that everyone is our neighbor – underscore just how serious the treatment of the most vulnerable is to Jesus. It is the hope of better treatment for them that is at the heart of his good news. Without it, there is no kingdom of God.

And as Jesus warned, without that generosity and kindness toward our vulnerable neighbors, the message and treatment we receive will be anything but good news.


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