Matthew 9:35-10:8 Exodus 19:1-8a
1st Sunday after Trinity
My son’s driving license dropped on the mat and after he had shown it to me with some appropriate pride, I said, ‘Alright, then; you and I, we’re going to pick up the car and you will drive it home.’ The car was at the garage for its MOT and service, and ready for collection that same afternoon. So that’s what we did. If he felt any trepidation at the prospect of driving my car with me as a passenger, he didn’t show much of it! It was interesting, though: we had been on those roads often enough, but I had to tell him which lanes to take, where to go left or right, etc. It wasn’t the first time he made that journey, but never as a driver himself… You may remember the little story of the person who asked for directions at a cross road, from a man standing nearby. This man looked up the person asking for directions to, say, Upton, and then said, ‘Upton, you say? Well, I wouldn’t start from here!’
We spoke about directions before, and following a map. And about sheep. All some kind of images about following Jesus. Up until this point in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has been doing the driving, but now he is commissioning his followers to do what he has done. They have been astounded by his work, but he’s made all the decisions. This included steering them through towns and villages, and taking criticisms. Now, says, Jesus, it’s their turn. Their turn to do what? To go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to proclaim to them the good news ‘The Kingdom of heaven has come near’: To cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. All in a day’s work, really. ‘Just’ do as I do, says Jesus, and don’t take any back-up provisions. You’ll have all you need, and you won’t be paid for your effort, either. ‘You received without payment; give without payment.’ Well…, that was different, wasn’t it!
Verses 5 and 6 seem a little puzzling: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Hmm. Why would Jesus give this instruction? Hadn’t he said before that others would come flooding into the Kingdom as well? (Matthew 8:11). And we may well remember that foreigners had come to pay Jesus homage at his birth… Well, that’s all true. After the resurrection, Jesus tells the disciples plainly that they are to go out to all the nations; the reverse of this instruction to them now. But there is an urgent task for the Twelve at hand first: to give Israel itself a chance to hear the message and repent. If Jesus and his followers had taken their message to the Gentiles first, no self-respecting Jew would have paid them any more attention, saying that he was in league with the devil. But he isn’t. He has not come to destroy but to fulfil. Israel’s God is the Creator God, who loves the whole world and is working out his plan of saving all of it, including the Gentiles, the non-Jews. But the way he is doing this is by fulfilling his promises to Israel. That is Jesus’ primary concern, as the Church realised later (eg. Romans 15:8). The Gentiles will follow later; now it is time for the chosen people of God to hear that the fulfilment of their dreams has arrived, according to the prophets.
Now, would the task that Jesus laid before the disciples have made them nervous? I wouldn’t be surprised if it had! But if they’d paid attention to Jesus before, they might have known that with Jesus’ authority they could carry it out, if only they obeyed. It’s daunting, isn’t it, to carry out a new task. So is driving for the first time. So is telling others about your faith for the first time. So is finding new ways for the Church to engage others in the life of faith. But I think it’s about attitude of heart. Jesus’ own identity is revealed as much by his compassion as it is by his power or his words. Even if we don’t raise the dead or cast out demons, we do have the power to act in ways that make the compassion of Christ known in the world, so that when we then talk about the Kingdom it sounds like good news. May we all, on that journey of living and sharing our faith, find that Jesus’ directions and instructions will get us there! Amen.