Thursday

10 October 2013

“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. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food.’” (vv. 5-8)


Background

This passage begins the second discourse of Matthew's Gospel, the first being the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7). The first was addressed to the crowds, this, second, is addressed to the twelve. In verse 1 the twelve are named as disciples (learners); in verse 2, for the first time, they are called apostles (those who are sent).

 Discipleship is a word which applies to all Christians. We are all called to follow Jesus and learn from him. Simultaneously, however, these disciples are also sent out to make the kingdom of God known in word and deed. Although in some Christian traditions the word 'apostle' is restricted to these twelve, or those anointed in the succession of bishops since St Peter, all disciples need to be both followers of Jesus, and to be sent out by him in witness and service.

Here, the apostles are told explicitly only to go only to the lost sheep of Israel (verse 6). This is a more restricted view of Jesus' vocation than appears elsewhere in Matthew's Gospel (eg Matthew 28:19) though in chapter 15, a Syro-Phoenician woman persuades Jesus that although his original sense of vocation is "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" others might have a claim on his ministry also.

Like their master, the apostles are sent to be shepherds to the house of Israel. Unlike the failed shepherds who slaughtered the sheep and fed themselves (Ezekiel 34), the apostles are only to be clothed in what they need and are to rely on the hospitality they receive. Their mission is to not to be one of exploitation and death, but one of liberation and life.

Also, the apostles are to be pastoral (shepherd-like), but not in a watered down sense of being nice and failing to challenge evil. Jesus has already made reference to the need for harvesters (Matthew 9:38) and harvesting involves separating wheat from chaff. So, those who are not people of peace, and who will not welcome the coming Kingdom or its representatives bring a judgement upon themselves (verse 15) as serious as that brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) for their abuse of their guests.

 
To Ponder

  • If all disciples (followers of Jesus) are also apostles (sent out in witness and service), to whom do you think you are you sent?
  • This passage implies that there will be opposition to the God's mission of liberation and life. To be on the receiving end of hostility can be very uncomfortable - how helpful is Jesus' advice to "let your peace return to you and to shake off the dust from your feet" (v. 14)?
  • The conditions under which the apostles must serve are the most demanding recorded in the Gospels. Why do you think Jesus wanted them to be dependent on the hospitality they received?


Bible notes author: 
  The Revd Dr Jane Leach

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