Matthew 9:35-10:8 (12 June 2020)

Matthew 9:35-10:8

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness.36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’
1Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness.
2These are the names of the twelve apostles:
first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew;
James son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
3Philip and Bartholomew;
Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus;
4Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”8Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
9 ‘Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – 10no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.19But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

____________________________________________________________________________

There seems no end of things to pray about and, especially, so many people who are dear to us but troubled with problems and poor health. Of course, I pray for their healing and at the same time wonder over how Jesus did it, how he prayed for people to be healed.

Matthew 9:35-37 tells us about one of these times

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

How wonderful it would have been to see these things happen, to experience the thrill of people released from pain, from debilitating disease, to see them rejoice and be comforted by the warmth of Jesus’ compassion, to find peace despite the environment of harassment and helplessness, to find a loving shepherd who had such power and authority.

They could have been in no doubt that Jesus’ message, the good news of the kingdom of heaven, was so true and wonderful when it was brought to them by such a messenger.

As I read these verses I can’t help but wish for such wonderful things to happen, for those I love and pray for to be blessed with such healing power and to be so pleased to learn about the kingdom of heaven.

In our time, just as in Jesus’ time there are so many who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” that we can find ourselves overwhelmed. Where to start? How can I cope?

It seems Jesus may have felt much the same! He called in his disciples to carry the load. We read, “then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness.”

It was as if these disciples had spent time watching how Jesus did thing, watching and learning and then Jesus turns to them and says, “OK, now it’s your turn.” How would you have felt? What a responsibility! 

Jesus turns to you and gives you authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and illness and expects you to get on with it. OK with that?

Here are the 12 in this first batch of disciples. Which one would you pick as a role model?

Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

This 12 had some additional instructions which seem to me to have made the job even harder:

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

The message and the help was first to go to God’s people of promise, people who had been given so much and then lost so much. They were first to go to the lost sheep of Israel. Not the Samaritans, not the Gentiles but to their fellow Jews. Of course, the time would come when there would be those who were sent especially to the Gentiles; the Apostle Paul is a notable example of such a messenger. Our responsibility is first to those nearest and dearest but never restricted to them. Paul later wrote to the Galatians (6:10) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

And they were to travel light! As they set out for the towns around and about they were not to pack a bag, not even a change of clothes and no money either! They were to be completely dependent on the leadership and provision by the Holy Spirit, even for what they were to say. Jesus said, “At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”

When they came into a town they should look for “some worthy person and stay at their house”. If they could not find such a household they were to leave and “shake the dust off your feet”. They were not to force their gifts onto people who did not want them, respect them accept them. No one had the message forced on them. They weren’t to be persuaded. But it was to be a bit more than “take it or leave it”. If they don’t want what you have to offer walk away, take no responsibility for them. There comes a time we each face judgement and those who don’t want your message will face theirs and take responsibility for themselves. Give them no more thought.

A person who is “worthy” obviously is hospitable, welcoming to strangers like the disciples, receptive and welcoming, ready to listen to their words. When they entered such a home they were to give their greeting, a blessing and bring into it the peace of God which travelled with them.

They had received so much from Jesus and now they were to give freely, generously and for no payment just as they had received blessing, peace and authority. They were to “Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons“, and as they did these things they were to proclaim this message: “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Indeed, wonderful as it was to bring such amazing blessings as healing people their main job was to proclaim the gospel message, just as Jesus had done from the beginning of his ministry. Jesus’ own message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2)

Jesus’ words of warning sound so discouraging but they were realistic. The truth is often sad, disappointing and regrettable. Jesus told them, “‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.”

Of course, these predictions all came to pass. Not only these 12 disciples but ever since their time. It happens to Christians every day, even in our time. The disciples of Jesus have had to be on their guard. They have been handed over to various authorities, been locked in gaol, beaten, flogged. They have been told not to tell the truth about Jesus. They have been mocked, scorned, censored. They have lost their jobs, homes and businesses. They have been like sheep among wolves. They have needed to be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

So now Jesus says to us, to you and me, and says, “OK, now it’s your turn.” 

Here in Matthew chapter 9 he says, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’ So we are told to pray that the Lord our God will send workers to continue the work Jesus started and which the 12 disciples continued. Jesus wants us to pray for people to go on his behalf and do what he would do, even if we are the ones who are go go.

In the last chapter of Matthew’s gospel in his last address to his disciples he said, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

This is our calling. It’s our turn! 

We are authorised to go and make disciples of all nations – and if travel restrictions won’t allow us to go to other nations we are certainly already and at least in Bellingen.

Wherever each of us may be or go the Kingdom of heaven goes with us because Jesus, the king of Kings and the King of the Kingdom of heaven, says, “surely I am with you always” and as he assured the 12 disciples the Holy Spirit gives us the words we need as we need them.

Some will turn against us, with some we will need to be shrewd, with others gentle. Some won’t want to know us ans we will just have to follow our Lord’s teaching and leave those people to deal with Almighty God themselves. 

As we go about our lives we unavoidably bring the peace of God with us and we can do as the 12 did: bring a blessing and a peace to those we come across. Some will receive the blessing, others will not. 

We do as Jesus wants and we pray for people, for their needs, their health, their relationship with Jesus. We never know until we try whether God will answer in unexpected ways, in his own time or even by a miracle!