Out From Prison to Save the Church

Jul 10, 2016

by Rev. John Harrison, PCA board member

In last Sunday’s gospel lesson, my church read the story of Jesus sending seventy people out two by two to go to every village around and to prepare for his arrival. After saying “the harvest is great, but the laborers are few,” Jesus tells the seventy “go on your way. See I am sending you out like lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” Their housing arrangements are simple: to stay with whomever gives them welcome, and to eat whatever is put in front of them. Their tasks are to cure the sick who are there and to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is near. What if no one in town will take them in? Then God help that town, for God’s judgment is coming.


This is a well-known story. After praying for fresh ears to hear it, I stopped to ask myself “if this story were happening today, who are the people being sent out by Jesus to face the world with no purse, no bag, no sandals, and no one to greet along the road?” Who finds themselves left out with nothing to hide behind, like a lamb without a shepherd or a flock? To me, that sounds like the people we send to prison every day and who come back out with no wallet, no change of clothes, no job and no place to go.  If that’s the case, then who would the villagers be, who are to welcome these strangers who prepare the way for Jesus? So often we read this story and we think Jesus is sending the church out to save people in prison, but we forget that God might be sending people out from prison to save the church!


“What is their task,” you might ask. What does this saving look like? It remains the same: to cure the sick; to proclaim the kingdom coming near; to prepare the way for Jesus to come into our presence. If folks in prison or just out of prison find we have nothing to offer except the dust of our feet and the judgment of God, then our gospel is indeed sick and in need of healing. When we build walls around our lives to keep out the people who have no place to lay their heads, we keep Jesus out too, and we act as if we could keep the kingdom at arm’s length. 


The good news is that Jesus is sending people into our lives every single day, giving us chance after chance to welcome the kingdom of God into our homes. Prison has so much to teach as about who Jesus really is, and returning citizens have so much to teach us about being healed in the Lord as the kingdom draws near. The villagers in this story cannot become part of the church until they allow the strangers sent by Jesus to become part of their community. Though not always the nicest characters or the easiest to get along with, these folks bring healing in off the street with them, and they prepare the way for Jesus to come into our lives.


Category: mission

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