CLB Commentary – Dr. Richard Erickson
Luke’s larger context for this pericope includes (a) the way he arranges the Gospel and (b) the way Luke and Acts operate together as one work.
The season of Pentecost focuses our attention on the presence and the power of the Spirit, in his ministry of providing for and empowering the Church, God’s people, as they live out here and now their Jesus-like prophetic calling.
To our ears, the passage before us sounds completely unrealistic. It might work for someone like Francis of Assisi or for Jesus (of course!), but in our culture—with its concerns about salaries, retirement funds, careers, families to provide for—it doesn’t sink into our consciousness very deeply. We either “soften” a few selected parts of it and ignore the rest, or we ignore it altogether. We can hardly do otherwise, can we?
But as Jim Wallis asks (reportedly), “What if Jesus really meant what he said?” This passage comes in the midst of Luke’s long “travel narrative” (Luke 9:51–19:44); in it Jesus and his followers are “on the way” to Jerusalem (mentioned frequently; 9:51, 53; 13:22; 17:11; 18:31; 19:28). This extended section of the Gospel concerns Jesus’ teaching on what is entailed in being his disciples; mainly it means traveling with Jesus to Jerusalem and all that is implied in that—crucifixion, namely (9:22-26). This passage, however, reminds the disciples of what God has provided for that journey.
Jesus here gives his followers three main points of instruction: (1) “do not worry” (v. 22); (2) “stop striving” (vv. 29-30); and (3) “do not be afraid” (v. 32). Worry, fear, and striving (other translations: seek after, set the heart on, chase after) pretty well describe the fundamental angst of our generation, in fact of our human race throughout all generations. It is this basic insecurity that gives traction to the entire advertising industry. What would it be like to be free from this anxiety complex?
We see Jesus himself living this angst-free way in Luke’s Gospel account. Twice he instructs followers to live like this as they go out on his behalf (9:3-5; 10:4-8). He demonstrates his ability to provide abundantly for the crowds (9:10-17); why would he not do likewise for his own people. In Acts, we see Paul and companions living this way, too.
Yet the assurance Jesus gives his followers in this pericope does not mean that he calls them to a life of irresponsibility; Paul must still ply his tent-making trade, and not everyone whom Jesus heals or touches is expected to abandon “normal” life and to become a wandering prophet. He returns a healed boy to his father, evidently expecting his father to continue raising the boy (9:42); the “sinful woman” is sent away in peace (back home, evidently; 7:50); Paul and Silas bless the household of the Philippian jailer and move on without taking him along (Acts 16:30–34), and after being released from jail, they visit the believers at Lydia’s house and then leave without them (16:40).
Yet, these three commands—do not worry, do not strive after, and do not be afraid—apply equally to those who are called to “wander” (like Paul or Saint Francis) and to those who are called to live “normal” lives (like most of the rest of us). We may not have to wander like the Seventy in order to live the kind of Jesus-like prophetic lives God calls us to live, but we can be just as confident, even in the face of a threatening economic crisis; just as generous and open-handed with our resources, especially toward the poor and homeless all around us; and just as fearless, even when we contemplate what it costs us in this world to obey Jesus’ call.
The role of the Church is to model the kind of selfless, others-oriented humanity that Jesus lived, the kind of humanity that will populate the New Heaven and the New Earth when Jesus returns. But we the Church are called to live that life now, here, both in the Church and in the world. It is not impossible; the Spirit of Jesus dwells within the Church and makes all things possible. We can trust him.