3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary
Genesis 18:1-15
116:1-2, 11-18    
Romans 5: 1-8
Mat 9:35-10:8 (9 - 23)
Catholic lectionary:
Exodus. 19:2-6a
100:1-2, 3, 5
Romans 5: 6-11


Theme for our reflection is God’s response to God’s World. The call to worship in Psalm is a prayer of thanksgiving for God’s response to human need. The Old Testament reading from Genesis recounts Abraham’s and Sarah’s responses to God fulfilling his promise of a son. The epistolary text in Romans expresses confidence and trust in the God who provides justification, peace, and grace through Jesus Christ. In the Gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is proclaiming the gospel while healing out of his compassion for the crowd, and he commissions the disciples to do the same.

Matthew 9:35-10:8 

We continue our early steps into the season of Ordinary Time. You may recall this season was kicked off with Trinity Sunday where we looked at the end of Matthew’s Gospel where he commissions the disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Last week the lectionary track for the Gospels continued in Matthew with a selection from chapter 9 that begins with Jesus calling a tax collector to be a disciple, who, according to early church tradition, also happens to be the author of the Gospel that we are following. That calling is met with some scorn by the Pharisees, which prompts Jesus to say, “For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). That is followed by a beautiful story of Jesus healing a woman who had been suffering for twelve years as well as raising a little girl back to life who had died at only twelve years of age.

As we continue in Matthew, we will see a theme emerging – discipleship. And more precisely, what it means to follow Jesus. This is an appropriate theme to begin our season of Ordinary Time. This season is a time where we unpack all that we have learned about Jesus during the first half of the Christian calendar, to live it out in our lives. Or in other words, we look to live in alignment with who Jesus is, and who we are as those who belong to him. The passage we have today will help us further along that journey, as we see once again a little more of who Jesus is, and what that means for those who are his disciples.

Let’s see how Matthew chooses to begin this section:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV) That means that when we read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ activity on earth, we are not just reading stories about a man with a mission. We are being given a revelation of who God is in his very being.

First, we see that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages. We can see in this description that God is a God on the go. He is not a static God carved in stone sitting on a throne. He is active and takes the initiative to bring us into relationship with himself. This is good news seen in the work of Christ. God takes the initiative to come to us. We do not have to find him, he finds us. This echoes the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:8: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus did not first conduct a survey of the surrounding cities to see which ones were worthy of a visit. He went to “all the cities and villages.” God’s love is greater than our sin.

Also, this sound very similar to Jesus’ Great Commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” Jesus does not commission us as disciples to do something he is not doing. As disciples, we can follow him into “all the cities and villages” and participate in what he is doing in them, without any limiting requirements of those we are sent to. We are not left to go out on our own.

 Second, Jesus was teaching and preaching the gospel of the kingdom. This shows us that God comes to us with good news. And that good news is of his kingdom that he shares with us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is a God who shares. He is not stingy, holding back the best for himself. Rather, he aims to give all things to us, his very best. And we see that God is a speaking God. He comes to us, not to smite us into submission, but to teach and proclaim. He speaks to us personally. And his words are not words of condemnation, but words of healing and restoration. We could rightly say that God’s words aim to woo us back to him.

Third, Jesus backs up his words of teaching and proclamation with acts of healing. We are told that he heals “every disease and every affliction.” This reveals a God who does not settle for a little improvement in our afflicted state. He aims to cure all that afflicts us. The God revealed in Jesus Christ is not a part-time healer. He aims for a complete restoration.

Also, it is important to note the order of Jesus’ ministry being carried out. He begins with words. This is his primary ministry as he is the Word of God. The actions of healing only confirm the words that he speaks. The proclamation of the kingdom entails the good news of the complete healing and restoration that comes by way of God’s redemption of his lost children. When Jesus heals, he is giving a physical witness, although partial, to what can be expected in full in the kingdom of God. The order of Jesus’ ministry is important for disciples to understand if they are going to go and do likewise. The words of teaching and proclamation are primary. The deeds are secondary and serve to confirm the words. The words and deeds must be aligned if they are to serve as a faithful witness to God’s kingdom.

(Matthew 9:36 ESV)

The first thing that we see about God is that he sees us. Do you ever feel like you are lost in a crowd, and no one sees you? I think we all feel this way often. We may feel overlooked and misunderstood. But we are told here that Jesus “saw the crowds.” And he didn’t just see a mass of indistinguishable people. He saw beyond the numbers and into the depth of their sorrow and suffering. As Matthew describes it, “they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The crowd did not become a hindrance to Jesus seeing their need and situation. The primary impulse of ministry is God’s activity first, which we then participate in.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37-38 ESV)

Again, let’s take note of the order of what Jesus says to the disciples. This is the first thing he wants to convey to them, and he sets up what should serve as our primary ministry. Jesus starts by letting them know the situation. Basically, those who are in need are ripe to hear the gospel. But there is a labor shortage. If we were to guess what Jesus was going to say to them as a solution to this problem, I suspect we would come up with something very different than what Jesus tells us. I would imagine we would guess that Jesus would tell us we need more laborers. Perhaps we would imagine Jesus giving a call-to-action speech, full of emotional appeal and affirmative “you can do its.” Maybe he would follow that up with some strategic program amounting to an all-out blitz of recruitment. That is, after all, how we so often react to dire predicaments. Pull up our bootstraps and get busy. However, did you notice what Jesus says to do? His solution is “therefore pray…” I hope we don’t overlook that and dismiss it with a “Well yeah, we pray but what we really need is to address the situation.”

Jesus begins here. Pray. That is the primary emphasis of how we are to address the mission of the church. Prayer. And not just a passive, obligatory nod to prayer, but earnest prayer to the Lord of the harvest. In other words, we live in complete trust of the one who oversees the mission in the world. It is not our mission; it belongs to the Lord. On that basis, we pray knowing that that is the most powerful and effective thing we can do in light of who God is.

Do you see the parallel to what Jesus has empowered his twelve disciples to do? It sounds very much like what Jesus was doing at the beginning of this section. In fact, “heal every disease and every affliction” is the exact wording describing Jesus’ mission. To be a disciple is to participate in the very ministry and mission that Jesus is doing.

Now, here is a trick question. When you read this verse, what would you say the disciples are primarily called to? We may miss the obvious and think their primary calling is to cast out that which afflicts and heal people from those afflictions. But that is not what the text says. They are given authority to do these things, but their calling is to Jesus: “And he called to him his twelve disciples.” That is our primary calling. We are called to the Lord. We follow him wherever he leads, receiving the authority he gives and exercising that authority for his good purposes. But disciples, by definition, are those who follow the one who has called them to himself. Again, we see that Jesus is more concerned about our relationship with him as we participate with him in his ministry and mission. He is aiming to grow our faith in him and grow us up to be more like himself in his relationship with Father.

Jesus is now going to instruct the disciples on exactly how they are to go about the ministry he is sending them on. Verses 5-8 contain the beginning of those instructions that entail a description of the apostle’s work. You can also read further to hear Jesus’ instructions regarding other matters that they will need to contend with in ministry – economic concerns and matters of hospitality as well as how to handle the opposition that will come from proclaiming the gospel. We will not explore those issues today. Rather, the main point to see in this section is the dynamic of Jesus being the one who is instructing them. To be a disciple is to follow the Lord’s instructions. Notice that the first thing they are told is the boundaries of their ministry. They are only to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” If you remember, this boundary changes and is expanded to “all nations” by the end of Matthew’s Gospel. Following Jesus in ministry means we must listen to him as we go. His instructions to us may change. What he has us doing one day may have to change on another. This fits the nature of being a disciple of a living Lord. He is present with us, and we are in a real, dynamic and personal relationship with him. We should not expect any static, predictable, or cookie-cutter approach to ministry. The Lord may have a few surprises along the journey. After all, he is more interested in us coming to know him than he is in the task we may be asked to do along the way.

But we can also expect some consistency in the ministry he shares with us. The disciples are instructed to continue to do what Jesus himself had been doing. Namely, proclaiming that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” while doing deeds that point to that proclamation. Jesus lists several such deeds – “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” We are not to read these too literally, but rather we see in them all in the context of healing the kingdom reign of Christ brings. In ways big and small we can witness to this kingdom primarily with our words that proclaim Jesus’ words to us, along with deeds, great and small, that confirm the words.

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Revd. S. Balasundaram

Revd. S Balasundaram is the mission secretary of the Diocese of Colombo

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