MATTHEW 9. 35- 10.8
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ 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. 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; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
In this reading we are told by Matthew about Jesus’ work in spreading God’s word. It was prophesied that he would come and free the Jews and in the previous verses in Chapter 8 and 9 he tells of the many miracles that Jesus performs. It shows Jesus’ great compassion and love for people, he sees the suffering, the disease and lack of joy in those around him, he likens them to sheep without a shepherd and of course he wants to rectify that by bringing them back to God. How will he do this? He needs help and he chooses 12 men to help him and he teaches and coaches them in what they have to do and how they will do it. He says that the harvest is plenty referring to all these people that are suffering but the labourers are few, referring to those that need to learn and spread the word. In this reading he actually names all the disciples, then something rather unusual, he tells them not to go out of Israel or to the gentiles and Samaritans – the non Jews. But to concentrate on the Israelites. This of course links to the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah where it is the Jews that shall hear the word of God first. Jesus came to tell the Israelites and his mission was for them to hear it first, to give them chance to repent. Later of course as we heard on Trinity Sunday, came the great commission, when he instructed them to travel the world and make new disciples to go out into other countries. Jesus was keen to emphasise that they should take no money or carry bags of belongings as this might show they were money makers, they were not to swagger around boasting that they were the chosen servants, they were to be healers and restorers and not have any status. Only to accept hospitality when it was given but the Gospel must be free. They really had to have a very humble existence. Matthew has recorded this in great detail, we obviously live in a very different world today, but wonder indeed if all that it says is still true, and I am sure it still can be relevant in the mission of our churches today.