Packing for Jesus' Mission Trip: Reflections on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
You are not to take snacks because you'll be mooching off the people you stay with. Or, put more delicately, you'll be relying on the hospitality of the people you stay with to provide you with food.
These instructions on what to pack and what to leave at home clue us into the purpose of this mission trip. We are to be representatives of Jesus, announcing the advent of the kingdom of God. Given that purpose, you are to leave all the unnecessary stuff at home, but be sure to take along your faith and your courage.
When the seventy return in 10:17 they express surprise at the way even the demons were subject to them when they acted in the name of Jesus (Mt. 7:22; Lk. 9:49f; Acts 19:13). The power to exorcise demons appears in the sending of the twelve in 9:1 (Mt. 10:8)
Jesus' reply in 10:18 expresses the power of his name over the demons. When he says he "saw" Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning, he is using the mythological idea of the fall and defeat of Satan to express the significance of the exorcisms (see Rev. 12:7-9). They are a sign of the defeat of Satan. The eschatological defeat of Satan is taking place in the ministry of Jesus and his disciples (11:20). (Marshall, 428-429)
Then Jesus says, "See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpion, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will hurt you" (10:19). This is not a literal promise that you can handle snakes and not be susceptible to their venom. It actually makes a much more powerful promise: that, even in the face of the violence and injustice of life, evil cannot destroy the one who goes forth in Jesus' name.
This promise reminds me of Matthew 10:28 where Jesus tells his disciples, "Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell." Snakes and scorpions in verse 19 refer to the demons, the evil forces marshaled against God's kingdom. The enemy is Satan himself who is called a scorpion in 2 Corinthians 11:3 and Revelation 12:9, 14f, 20:2. (Marshall, 429)
Jesus has another enigmatic comment to offer the seventy. "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (10:20).
The theme of heavenly books in which the names of the faithful are recorded is widespread in Jewish sources as well as throughout the New Testament (Ex. 32:32f; Ps. 68:29; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev. 3:5). Why did Jesus say this and why did he say it at this point?
It seems to me that he is talking about spiritual pride. He is saying bring your faith and spiritual power along when you come on my Mission Trip, but attribute your successes to God. Leave your ego at home.
Come to think of it, I can't remember a time when I did leave my ego at home when I wished I had brought it along. And I can't think of a time when I brought it along that I was glad I did. We are to be representatives of Jesus, announcing the advent of the kingdom of God. Before you go on your next trip, take your ego out of the suitcase, but make sure you pack your faith and your courage.
Howard Marshall, New International Greek Testament Commentary on Luke (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1979)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.