In the previous chapter Luke had already given an account of how Jesus had sent the Twelve on a mission to preach and heal (Lk 9: 1-6). Now he records a mission of the seventy other disciples (Lk 10: 1-12), the instruction given to the missionaries is the focus of this narrative; we are not told anything about whether they were sent or what the course of their mission journey was.
None of the other gospels presents an account of such a mission by any disciples other than the Twelve. The instruction addressed to the wider group of disciples in Lk 10: 1-12 is considered to be a ‘doublet’ of the instruction given to the Twelve (Lk 9: 1-6). These sayings have parallels in Matthew (Mt 9: 37-38; 10: 7-16; also, Mt 11: 21-24). Obviously, their source is ‘Q’. scholars are of the opinion that Luke has probably fashioned this account of the separate mission of the seventy from the account of a single mission or sending-out of the disciples by Jesus (See Lk 22: 35). It may, however, be stated that Luke regards the accounts of the mission of the Twelve and of the seventy, which he found in his two sources ‘Mark’ and ‘Q’ respectively, as referring to two distinct missions of the disciples. That is why he retains these very similar accounts in his gospel. It is probably Luke’s intention to show that the mission entrusted by Jesus is not confined to the Twelve. Luke may be also seeing in this second mission a prefiguration of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles (But see Lk 24: 7).
The opening saying (Lk 10: 2) expresses the need for more labourers because of the ripe and plentiful ‘harvest’. ‘Harvest’ is figuratively used to denote the season for the widespread proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Cf. Lk 8: 16-17) and the great number of people who are ready to accept the message of the Kingdom (Cf. Jn 4: 36-38). More disciples are now sent out precisely because the harvest is ripe and abundant. There is an emphasis here on the collaboration of the disciples in this work of God.
We should note the two important aspects of the mission-instruction. First, the disciples are to accomplish their mission of preaching the Kingdom with utmost haste and single-mindedness characteristic of labourers at harvest time. Therefore, they should not waste time on ceremonious and time-consuming salutations and conversations on the road (Lk 10: 4). For the same reason, they should not be pre-occupied with scruples about what kind of food is permitted or forbidden according to the laws of ritual cleanness of food; they should not also go on searching for better accommodation. With a sense of urgency, they must proclaim: “The Kingdom of God has come near…”; they should announce the presence of the Kingdom or reign of God and manifest its nearness or actuality by healing and by the bestowal of God’s peace. Peace is the bounteous gift of God’s saving presence and action in its fullness (Shalom). To receive this gift people must be open to it, (be ‘sons of peace’).
Second, the missionaries are bound to meet with hostile opposition; they will be exposed to dangers. This is expressed by the image of “lambs in the midst of wolves” (Lk 10: 3). The disciples are defenceless by themselves. The urgency of their mission is thus further highlighted. Opposition is growing; therefore, in spite of the precarious situations, the Kingdom must be proclaimed.
A prophetic warning or threat concludes the instruction proper. People who refuse the message of the Kingdom exclude themselves from it. The disciples are to warn the people about it by ‘wiping off the dust that clings to their feet’ (Lk 10: 11). The fate of the towns (like Nazareth or the Samaritan villages) which reject the message of the Kingdom (Cf. Lk 9: 53-54) will be worse than that of the notorious Old Testament town of Sodom which was destroyed by the fire and brimstone (Cf. Gen 19: 24-28).