Dont worry! You are better at this than you think. — late 90’s book on parenting infants
Today, we are reading the great missionary discourse and its prologue, Matt 9:35- 10:4. The lectionary being what it is, then launches into part of the missionary instructions but also leaves parts of them out.
To outline it simply: Jesus is immersing himself in the base needs of the people. They are hungry, sick, they are without hope because they do not know of the promises of the Kingdom of Heaven, and they have no one to tend to them.
There are so many of them. They are the poor that we shall always have with us. Their need will stand in contrast to the “fewness” of workers. Pray, pray that the Lord send you more workers for only the Lord can ultimately fashion them.
Jesus then bestows on them, the disciples, the church to be, and extension, a franchise, of the powers of heaven. They become not holders but humble middlemen of the powers of the king of creation.
Now invested with these powers, how shall they carry themselves?
To begin with, they are to do exactly as he has done. 9:35 has a mirror image in 10:7-8. I note that the raising of the dead is one of the charges given. They are to give the gifts they have been bestowed “freely.” In other words: the sharing and giving of the gifts of heaven is not their choice nor is it their possession. They are not masters of the charism given. They are not freelancers. They are not shaman type people who, for a price, treat your ills. But, in mideastern 1st century society, those who received the gifts they brought would have felt themselves indebted. Yet, as they preached the Kingdom of Heaven by whose consent they healed, the indebtedness would probably be pointed to heaven, not the disciples.
They are to carry no special provisions on their journey. In other words, they are to rely on the natural, customary sense of hospitality that was built into their culture at the time. One welcomed travelers, knowing that in doing so, one kept up a tradition that then meant one would oneself be hosted when one had to travel. Pilch points out that traveling was not at all common in the days of Jesus. The ideal was to stay in ones own place. Pilch further notes that the journeys they embark on are taken during the dry season when everyone was waiting for their crops to ripen so that people were not busy and could indeed host traveler.
The simplest lesson of 10:8-15 might be that there is a harvest to be gathered. It must be gathered where it has grown. It makes no sense to attempt to harvest a field that is is just plain rocky ground grows no crop. Such a place will be inhospitable to the harvester and simply a waste of time. There are, however, places that are hospitable. There are place that are ready. Go there! Let God be the judge of those places that are not hospitable. It was God who judged Gomorrah. Maybe you, like father Abraham, can beg for mercy upon it, but you have no business with it right now. Bethsaida, Chorazine, take not: The judgment on Sodom is not just a thing of the past. (11:21)
Our reading of today reads all the way to 10:23. Seems to have two minds. First it warns that there is a very personal price to be paid by the disciples as they are in mission. Our early martyrs will attest to this. They were missionaries, beginning with St Stephen, and suffered death as a result. Willibrod, Winfred, and Boniface can attest to this, all of them murdered by local chiefs who envied their good standing with the people they had ministered to.
Buried in there are two important sentences. “do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you, “ and “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
To be honest, the first of these — though taken from the parallel in Luke — has rung in my ears ever since seminary. It is like the schoolyard game “Tag! You’re it!” There comes the time when everyone in the room says: “Oh, good, you’re here . .“ and leaves, leaving you behind with the teenager everyone thinks you should now fix, the old person whom no one has confided that her best friend has died, the proud elder who has slipped into dementia and no one wants to be the one saying: “This is it dear . . .” There comes the time to say: “Dad: you are done driving.” No one will take those moments from you, no one will do them for you. Sometimes you are found in these places on behalf of God. Your college roommate notes you went to church and wants to know what it is like to believe but does not know how. Tag, you are it. Don’t worry. You are better at this than you think because it is not you who vouches for God’s honor but God.
But we are more interested in having our opportunities on our terms and by our planning and brilliance. To that says the 10th chapter of Matthew: You are wasting your energy. There are more opportunities ready right now. As a matter of fact, there will be more than you can handle in a lifetime.
The Lord, Jesus Christ, is in charge of this mission, not you. Relax . . No . . Don’t relax. The harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. Your mission is right in front of you now. Anywhere they don’t actively reject you, you are at work. Rejoice! The Lord attests that he sees the enemy falling from the sky. (Lk 10:18) Trust! All that is needed to do the work has been given. Find your Peace! For where it rests is your place in Heaven’s work.