Reflection on Luke 10:17-23
17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” 18 He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 19 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. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
21 At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23 Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”
There’s a lot going on in this text: strange situations with snakes and scorpions and spirits and Satan in the sky (almost as hard to say as “Sally sells seashells by the seashore”). Even scholars don’t completely agree on the meaning of all those peculiar details.
When I’m not sure about all the details, I try to step back and look at the big picture. Whatever all those details mean, this is ultimately a text about what causes Jesus to rejoice. Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, pauses and rejoices. It’s a spectacular Trinity moment in the Gospel, as the Father, Son, and Spirit all rejoice. So, in this text, it’s helpful to zone in on that joy.
In Michigan, we experienced unexpected joy this last month. Our town has a wonderful tradition every January. For the coldest stretch of the year, just to be certain we don’t hibernate, we have a festival. We boldly proclaim that winter will not steal our joy – and it’s been hard this year – we’ve just experienced the largest snowfall of any January in history. Determined not to let winter get us down, we get out and celebrate something you cannot celebrate in July: Ice.
So, as you walk along our main street, you see ice sculptures. There’s a theme every year. One year it was Disney characters. Another year, it was safari animals. This year, the theme was transportation (quite appropriate for greater Detroit), so there was a long ice sculpture limo, and a dump truck, and just to get in winter’s face, there was a sailboat and a surfboard. When it was negative 2 degrees, I found myself walking along Main Street with a hot coffee, taking in the joy of a fire truck made of ice; I felt like a little kid again.
To top off the winter enthusiasm, at the opening of the ice festival, we turn all the Christmas lights back on and announce that winter will be celebrated around here with a big fireworks show. It’s a show as big as the 4th of July, but the climate changes everything. It’s appropriately a celebration of both fire and ice. When I first moved to Michigan, I found it strange to experience fireworks in January, but there’s just distinctive joy when you stand in the frozen tundra and watch fire burst through the cold sky.
Now, back to our text, if we could get in an airplane and fly over Luke’s Gospel, we would see something similar to the fire and ice festival. In the midst of a very real world that includes all kinds of real life situations – like men, the shepherds, doing their work in the fields and sick people in need of care and people talking politics and maddening conversations with lawyers and stormy weather and family dysfunction – in the midst of all the ordinary events of life, we get out-of-the-ordinary bursts of joy, like fireworks popping off the page. Luke is telling us, don’t hibernate and miss these moments of joy!
So, Luke gives us the joyful story, not of just any ordinary birth but a story of joy that transcends even the happiness of childbirth in general. Jesus’s birth marks the coming of salvation, and it calls for celebration. God sets off fireworks in the sky, placing a star in the east. Even the unborn, John, still a baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps with joy. The unborn are not forgotten in this story – they, represented by John – are capable of contributing great bursts of joy on the landscape of Luke’s gospel.*
And so, as our plane flies over Luke’s pages, we ooh and aah at the sight of joy.
Mary’s song – the Magnificat- bursts into the sky and explodes with praise.
A paralyzed man stands up and walks, and the crowd erupts with joy and amazement, saying, “We have seen strange things today.”
A widow’s only son is being carried to his grave, already in the coffin, and Jesus raises him from the dead. A widow whose only son was dead is now alive – now that’s a joy story.
When I was ten years old, I was hit in the right eye with a bottle rocket. I know, I know, I’ve heard it before, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” As a result of the injury, I lived over 30 years with severely limited sight, and then a few years ago, technology became available to restore most of my vision. When I woke from surgery, I was amazed to see what I’d been missing on the right side of my body for so long.
So, I especially love the fireworks display as I fly over Luke 18. A blind man begs Jesus, “Please let me see again.” And he regains his sight and follows Jesus. When the people see it, there’s this surge of joy as people praise God for the display of power.
In our text from Luke 10, we have one of the most memorable moments of joy in Luke’s Gospel. The 70 disciples Jesus sent out to proclaim the Kingdom of God have returned to him. When most people in Jesus’s day thought of God’s kingdom, they pictured fireworks for sure– they pictured violence and war against Rome; they wanted to see sulfur and fire rain from the sky like God released on Sodom and Gomorrah in the good old days. But, these 70 disciples did the opposite of what was expected.
Upon Jesus’s direction, they didn’t fight any wars.
They didn’t arm themselves.
They simply spoke peace.
They worked alongside people.
They accepted hospitality from strangers.
They did seemingly ordinary things among ordinary people.
And it brought Jesus great joy.
So, in Luke 10, we get this image of Jesus, on his way to the cross where it will certainly look like Satan has won.
For 3 long days, it will look like Satan has won.
But Jesus is given a vision of what’s really going on in the kingdom of God.
And when he sees it, he says, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
I believe Jesus still sees those victory moments today, in our ordinary lives. When we speak peaceful words, work hard alongside others, and gather around tables in his name, Jesus rejoices at these glimpses of God’s kingdom coming in and through us.
The Theology of the Gospel of Luke by Joel Green