Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has touched me!
Why do you, like God, pursue me,
never satisfied with my flesh?
O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!
O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 'Eve the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town."
There is an urgency in each of these readings. Job wants his words to be "cut in the rock forever" "with an iron chisel and with lead." Jesus sends out the seventy-two disciples with no provisions, lest they be hampered in their keen and rapid announcement that the reign of God is at hand. Job sets aside all human means of justification and reaches out for God's immediate presence. Jesus announces that our best wishes will be fulfilled in the reign of God. Yet, we also know that this reign, inaugurated by the Gospel, did not lead at once to a glorious paradise but rather to the long period of church history, still awaiting the second coming of Jesus.
One text may seem to suffice at this time. Yet, we need to be prepared for the many tomorrows that lie ahead, lest we reject the Lord's messenger, and when it is too late, we see only the dust of our mistake, shaken from the messenger's feet. Jesus told his messengers, "If the people of any town you enter do not welcome you, go into its streets and say, 'We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God is near.'"
Job is faced with a once-in-a-lifetime ordeal. Human comforters, with their ancient wisdom and respected advice, simply intensified his agony. Job does not want theological explanations but called out, "Pity me, pity, O you my friends.. Why do you hound me as though you were divine?" Then he takes his case directly to God. Each of us too at singular crises may be face to face with the awesome God in the depth of our conscience.
Jesus brings us a major imperative with the message, "The reign of God is at hand." Once we stake our very life on accepting the reign of God, then the rest of our journey through life will benefit from the gospel and especially from the presence of Jesus, "my Vindicator.. whom I myself shall see."
Jesus tells his missionaries that regardless of the reception they receive from a particular town, they are to announce, "the kingdom of God is very near to you." If they are made welcome in a town, they are to make that announcement, but even if they are not made welcome, they are still to make that announcement. Jesus is saying that regardless of whether the gospel is well received or badly received, the kingdom of God remains very near to us. In other words, people may differ, but God remains the same. God remains powerfully present, his reign of love is close at hand, regardless of how the message of Jesus is received. It can be encouraging to remind ourselves of that, especially at times when the hunger for the Lord and for his word does not seem to be as deep or as prevalent as it once was. It is always good to remind ourselves that God was as much present on Good Fri. as he was on Easter Sunday. God is powerfully at work when the gospel is being rejected as much as when it is being received.