Good, better, salvation
The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. 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. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Luke 10:17-20 NRSV
We all like to be good at something, right? For me it’s writing. It’s something I love doing, even when I hate doing it. It’s part of the way I see myself, the way I express myself. Even when I’m not writing, I’m still a writer. This means two things for me: one, I take much joy and pride in writing, and two, I can be vain and insecure about my writing. Two sides of the same coin.
In our reading, the disciples Jesus had sent out return to him pleased as punch that they’d been able to drive out demons and fulfil this task Jesus had set them. I can imagine their giddiness. Their assignment was an important one. Earlier, in Luke 10:57-60, three would-be followers abandoned Jesus because their hearts were split. They couldn’t make that final leap to become disciples. Not so these seventy: their minds were made up. They were ready.
I imagine that they expected Jesus’ approval upon their return, at a bare minimum. A pat on the back. After all, they stuck it out. They did well. But instead they get a lesson: “The great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.” Jesus saw their hearts and reminded them that what was important here was not so much their doing, but their being. It’s not just that they, unlike those earlier would-be disciples, actually committed to following Jesus and spreading the kingdom message. They were saved where the others were not. The authority to bless and heal that these disciples took so much pride in? Those aren’t perks, they’re just responsibilities. They’re not what’s special; salvation is.
Don’t we treat spiritual gifts like perks rather than responsibilities? A few years ago I participated in the Network course. Ever heard about it? It’s this whole study dedicated to finding out what your primary spiritual gifts are. Nothing wrong with knowing it, but when we start wearing its results like lapels and badges and even medals? When we make it about us and not about God? Aren’t we also bragging about how we’ve subdued spirits? Jesus wasn’t just telling these disciples that their priorities were wrong – he was also essentially asking them what the big deal was. So you can tread on snakes and scorpions and all the power of the enemy – so what? That’s just part of the job description. So your top three gifts viz a viz the Network course are really cool – so what? That’s just part of kingdom life.
When we think of spiritual gifts as perks, we’re picky about using them. Like we’re doing folks a favour, like we’re doing the church a favour – like we’re doing God a favour. But they’re not perks. Spiritual gifts are merely by-products of salvation. They are what happens when Jesus saves our butts, purely out of the goodness and holiness and love of his being. It certainly wasn’t any of our doing.
When our joy and pride in kingdom life comes from anything other than the endless grace of knowing and being known by God, we’ve got our priorities mixed up. Oh, so you healed someone, or preached a great sermon, or you run a homeless shelter, or you didn’t punch Julie from book club in the face – so what? You personally know the Creator of the universe; these things were bound to happen; a given. This relationship, though? It hasn’t ever been something we deserved. That we get it is gift, an outrageous and extravagant gift.
Rather than be pleased with ourselves for being so ceaselessly cared for, this week let’s try to be pleased with God. Rather than hold out our spiritual gifts like they’re favours to be bestowed only on those we think are worthy, this week let’s see them as a responsibility to everyone God thinks is worthy.
Don’t you think when Jesus was hanging on that cross, his body a twist of pain, that there was a voice shouting at him that these people didn’t deserve his sacrifice, didn’t deserve to be forgiven, to be known, to be redeemed, to be restored, to be saved?
Know what he said?
Prayer inspiration: Psalm 122:1-2 MSG
When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”
my heart leaped for joy.
And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,
inside Jerusalem’s walls!