18 June 2017

Matthew 9:35 – 10:8

“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.” (vv. 5-6)

Psalm: Psalm 116


Verses 5-6 could be read through a kind of 'charity begins at home' lens. Implied is that the preferred place for God's work is among God's already chosen ones who share the same culture, customs, history, heritage and blood ties: the nation of Israel. Yet "the harvest is plentiful" (v. 37) suggests a wider reach too, as does the reference to crowds and sheep who might be straggly and spread out (verse 36). Jesus is unlikely to be telling his disciples here to keep mission outreach ethnically pure, straightforward and safe. That narrowness would niggle in Matthew's greater scheme of things. Rewind to Matthew 8:5-13 and perhaps we discover a clue to the 'only Israel' command. A Roman officer, a Gentile, impressed Jesus immensely. A respected army man, clearly not from the 'house of Israel', had touching compassion for a household servant who lay sick, and heartening faith that Jesus had the power to heal. Jesus was amazed: "Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith" (Matthew 8:10). For Jesus, as he commissioned the disciples, it's living, demonstrable faith that he wanted them to discover, across all communities, whatever the family line or ethnic origin. Sometimes the best examples will not be found among their own. Jesus loves his own: no question. He's from King David's line after all, central to the 'house of Israel'. Matthew's Gospel makes it clear that only after the cross and Resurrection will mission to Gentiles 'outside the house' really kick in. Until then, intriguingly, Jesus finds himself finding faith as much outside the house as inside. Learned leaders steeped in Israel's law accuse him of exhibiting demonic power not divine compassion (Matthew 9:34). Even among his own little gathered household, the Twelve he gave authority to and sent out, fear got the better of faith many a time (Matthew 8:26). Jesus wasn't displaying narrowness driven by religious identity but rather nervousness fuelled by experience. Better you start with the ones you mightreasonablyassumehave got faith in God sorted out, he suggests to disciples on the starting blocks. Just in case they haven't.

To Ponder

  • "Go nowhere among the …?"(v. 5) Imagine you're imparting advice to a loved one off on gap year travels. How would you finish this sentence and why?
  • What kind of authority should a follower of Jesus assume they have today?