Thursday, June 15, 2023

Sunday Gospel Reading and Reflection (June 18)

Matthew 9:35-10:8
9:35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.

9:36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

9:37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;

9:38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."

10:1 Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness.

10:2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;

10:3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;

10:4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,

10:6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

10:7 As you go, proclaim the good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.'

10:8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

10:9 Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts,

10:10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.

10:11 Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.

10:12 As you enter the house, greet it.

10:13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.

10:14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.

10:15 Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

10:16 "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

10:17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues;

10:18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.

10:19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time;

10:20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

10:21 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death;

10:22 and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

10:23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes."


The First Century was a violent time in Judea. A series of Roman rulers spent decades stamping out rebellions against the occupation. Well before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem in the year 70, there were major factions within the Jewish community. There was unrest among Jews who vied on the question of how to exist with each other and the Roman occupation. 

One group active before, during, and after Jesus, the Zealots, directed assassinations of Roman officials and urged that large scale war was needed to finally purify the Temple and free its priesthood of pagan influence. Jesus and his followers were not insignificant but a small sect within Jewish religion, worthy of one brief mention in the volumes of the major historian of the time, Flavius Josephus.*

In the Matthew text, Jesus sets forth the boundaries for those sent out. One, the mission is empowered by Jesus' compassion for the lost sheep of Israel. Two, it is limited to Jewish homes and towns. Jesus plainly instructed his team to avoid Gentile areas. (This will change in Matthew 28:19-20) 

Here are Jesus' instructions to the missioners.
  1. Do what Jesus does: proclaim the nearness of God's rule, and heal sicknesses.
  2. Don't take advantage of others' hospitality or generosity- don't push your luck. 
  3. Don't react violently when you are treated with disrespect and rejection.
  4. Expect fierce, organized resistance, expect threats, betrayal, punishment, and violence. 
  5. The subtext: Jesus was betrayed and handed over to the authorities.
  6. Learn to survive: go to the next town for safety and to continue the mission. Be wise and gentle.
  7. Your salvation lies in endurance and waiting things out. 
We live in a time when anger, hostility, and violence has hit the roof- and this is the baseline, the norm. The greatest threat to our freedom and peace seems to come from within our citizenry. Mass shootings happen several times a day. America, the land of the free and home of the brave, if once an ideal, leads the world in mass shootings. It seems we are not free to choose a better way. Gun violence is the leading cause of death among our children and youth. Not drugs or car accidents or disease or suicide.

Our willful refusal to clamp down on weapons of war loosed on our fellow citizens is appalling, disgusting, harrowing. Churches provide no escape or safety, because so many of our national denominations refuse to get along and instead choose to hurl insults, divide, dismember, and disaffiliate. Hopelessness, powerlessness, and neglect are having their day. It seems no one really cares unless it's our family or neighborhood.

I bring the mission of teaching. What does the nearness of God's rule mean?? There are opportunities, choices, faith, hope, patience. That mission includes my faithful action for healing the spiritual blight surrounding me and within me. Not because it works but because I am commissioned by the greatest power. I pray the Lord's Prayer regularly. How can I be a faithful participant with others in God's deliverance from evil? My faith without works is a dead end-  powerless and purposeless and depressing.

John Wesley, the English clergyman and founder of Methodism, in the General Rules, stated the mission of the people called Methodist. Here is the first Rule:
First, by doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced...
Paul also had a mission to the Jews. It, too, was marked by betrayals and conflict, false accusations and imprisonment. This makes his benediction of peace all the more amazing: "For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God." Galatians 6:15-16 

*"Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works-a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; (64) and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, The Works of Josephustranslated by William Whiston, Hendrickson Publishers, 1987.

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