Sent by Jesus

Pentecost 2 2011

Matthew 10:40-42

Marian Free

In the name of God who desires that we share Jesus’ love and compassion with all. Amen.

 Today’s reading brings to an end chapter 10 of Matthew’s gospel in which Jesus commissions his twelve disciples giving them authority to “proclaim the good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and to cast out demons. In other words, Jesus gives to his disciples the same authority that he has. They are empowered to do what he does, to preach what he preaches. This privilege however is not without some cost. If the disciples are to share Jesus’ authority, they must expect to share Jesus’ suffering – Jesus sends them out as “sheep among wolves”, warns them that they will be handed over to synagogues and flogged, hauled before governors and kings, persecuted and hated by all because of Jesus’ name. However they are not to worry what to say, for the Spirit of the Father will speak through them.

Despite all the difficulties that they will face they are to have no fear but are to proclaim the word from the housetops, for those who can hurt the body cannot destroy the soul and God who sees the sparrow fall, knows even the number of hairs on their heads so there is no need to be afraid. Besides those who endure to the end will be saved.

Discipleship does not lead to a life of ease. Those who represent Jesus, must expect to experience with him the world’s hatred and rejection. Jesus’ presence and teaching is divisive – he creates strong reactions of love or hatred. Families are split apart by their reaction to him. Finally, discipleship cannot be half-hearted – those who love father, mother, son, or daughter are not worthy of him. In fact, whoever does not take up the cross and follow him is not worthy of him.

A number of things become obvious in this chapter. First of all, when Jesus commissions his disciples, he does not give them subsidiary roles, instead he empowers them with all the power and authority that is his to give. Secondly, Jesus makes clear that being his representative in not without cost. If the disciples are to represent Jesus, they must expect the world to react to them in the same way that it has reacted to Jesus – that is with antagonism and outright violence. Thirdly, the disciples are assured of God’s concern for them and are encouraged to place themselves in God’s care.

The disciples are sent out, warned and reassured. Today’s gospel must be read in this context – the sending out, warning and reassurance of the disciples. In its immediate context, it follows the pattern of the previous verses that insist that love of Jesus have priority over all else. “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.“

In these verses there is a repetition of “whoever” and a consequence for behaviour: ‘whoever loves x more than me is not worthy of me”. These arefollowed by a statement that earthly realities are as nothing compared to the life that Jesus offers. The same pattern is found in today’s gospel. We read:“whoever welcomes”, “whoever welcomes”,“whoever welcomes”, “whoever welcomes” and “whoever gives”. Two sets of welcome are followed by receiving a reward and the third by the assurance that the welcomer will not lose their reward.

Those who are welcomed include the disciples, the prophets, the righteous and the little ones. In the first verse we are taken back to the beginning of the chapter the disciples – those whom Jesus sends – are his representatives. So whoever welcomes them welcomes him (just as whoever welcomes Jesus welcomes the Father whom Jesus represents). The remainder elaborate who these disciples are.

They are listed in order of perceived importance. Everyone would have known the significance of prophets and the value of welcoming them. “The righteous person” is another term that comes from Judaism meaning the faithful follower of Jesus – they too are to be welcomed.  The last to be mentioned would have caused some surprise, “the little ones”, the ordinary and the insignificant, find their place among the prophets, the righteous – even the disciples and Jesus himself!

Of course, we are not surprised at the inclusion “of the little ones” in this list. It fits with what we know Jesus’ egalitarianism, and after all, this whole chapter affirms that Jesus has the disciples his equals. There is no hierarchy among those sent by Jesus.  Jesus is keen for the Christian community to understand this. Up until now, Jesus has been addressing the disciples, those whom he has sent. These last few verses are addressed to the settled communities.  They are to welcome not only the prophets and the righteous, but all those who take the gospel to the hostile world and to understand that they are blessed by the presence of missionaries among them.

Through this instruction to the communities, Jesus is ensuring that those whom he sends, will be welcomed by the settled faith communities. At the same time, Jesus is reminding the faith communities that they will be blessed by the presence of these wandering teachers – their welcome will be more than amply rewarded by what they receive. Furthermore, if “the little ones” represents the ordinary Christians, these verses contain a reminder that all of us (not just the prophets and the righteous) are called, commissioned and empowered to spread the gospel, to heal the sick and to cast out demons.

Missionary endeavours have changed over the centuries. The association of mission and colonization and oppression has led to a certain embarrassment and confusion about the place of mission in the modern world. Proclaiming the gospel is different from imposing the gospel. In a multi-cultural, multi-faith world, we should not lose confidence in the faith that we hold, nor should we deny others its power to save. The challenge is how to share our conviction with integrity and with respect.

We are entering a new era in the life of the church. Whom can we send? How can we encourage them? How can we share in their mission?

Jesus says: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

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