Now I know that Angela and I always seem to be going on about telling others
about God, Jesus, The Good News, church etc. there are many good reasons for this
and today’s readings are one of the main reasons why. It’s not about ‘bums on
pews’ nor is it about ‘collection plate takings’ (though Cyril may have something to
say about that) nor do we get assessed on ‘conversions to the cause’; it is because
we are told to – by Jesus – and I am not about to start ignoring him.
As you should know by now I am not someone to do something just because it is
written down; I need to know what is behind it, I need to ask the questions and I
have always encouraged you to do the same thing. Now let’s assume for a while
that Jesus knows what he is talking about – (anyone want to argue that point?) –
and that if he tells us to do something that there is probably a very good reason for
him to do so and, if you are a trouble causer like me, and need some background
information as to why Jesus telling us to do something, then looking at these
readings may well give you some pointers. Let’s see what these readings reveal?
Let’s start with the Old Testament reading. The children of Israel have escaped
their enslavers and reached the mountain where Moses first encountered God (Sinai
is likely another name for Horeb) and where they would soon receive the Ten
Commandments. Here God reminds Moses and Israel what he has done for them
and tells them their destiny; you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy
nation. Nice eh! The whole nation were to be holy priests! Sadly, as always
happens, they heard the ‘You are special’ bit but completely ignored the ‘This comes
with a responsibility’ bit. Sheesh, who’d have thought, human beings not listening!
God had told them that ‘The whole earth is mine’ before he mentioned the
business of being priestly and holy and surely if you are being priests then you are
doing so ON BEHALF OF OTHERS! Does it not follow then that the children of
Israel were meant to be the priests for the rest of the world? They were meant to
be the ones to tend the rest of humanity; shame that they got stuck on the whole
‘chosen people’ thing and forgot what they were chosen for!
Which brings us to the New Testament and today’s Gospel from Matthew. Now
Matthew wrote his Gospel for us all but with a particular emphasis on his Jewish
readers. To that end he would phrase things in a way that would resonate with
those who were raised and knew the Jewish scriptures. This requires us to tune our
own reading glasses and see just what he was getting at.
Jesus has been teaching his new disciples for a short while and they have seen and
heard all that he has been doing in the countryside and towns. They have heard the
Good News of God’s love and seen what God’s kingdom is intended to bring –
healing, wholeness of life and soul. They have seen Jesus reach out to the lost and
the fallen and heard him challenge the false piety of some of the religious groups.
Now comes the next step.
Jesus knows that the people are in need of leadership and guidance, he describes
them as ‘like sheep without a shepherd’. It is a well to point out here that the idea
of the people being sheep and the priests being the shepherds is a very old one
going back hundreds of years before Jesus himself. What Jesus is saying here is
that the established priesthood have let the people down and left them helpless in
the face of what the world throws at them. How can people be expected to know
about a God that cares about even the lowest of the low if the ones who are
supposed to be telling them are more concerned about their own personal piety?
There is much to do, a harvest of people to bring in, and so he sets about sending
out the first of the labourers, the twelve disciples. Those twelve have specific
instructions: As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come
Now is a good time to remind you of the significance of the number 12 in Jewish
understanding. Twelve is the number of tribes of Israel, it is the whole country, it is
an inclusive number, leaving no one out. The twelve disciples represent the first in a
new Israel, The Church, but one that still has the same purpose - you shall be for
me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.
Some of the readers amongst you will be saying something like – ‘aha! Wait a
minute, didn’t Jesus just send the twelve to the Jewish people though, gave them
specific instructions not to go anywhere else?’ – well yes he did, because that is
where his church was to grow from; God has never forgotten his promise even if the
children of Israel had forgotten their part in return. God’s message was always
meant to begin here but it was never meant to stay there!
We are the torch bearers of God’s message in this place and in this generation. The
generations of Christians before us have been faithful in their role to a greater and
lesser degree but they have never failed in their responsibility in passing that torch
on. Someone or perhaps and number of someone's have, at some point, told you
about God’s love – well now it is our turn.
We are God’s priestly kingdom and holy nation – one that spans countries, borders,
genders and race and yes, even our slightly different ways of worshipping; and we
are here to bring that message to the whole earth. The disciples began with
people they had things in common with before they took that message to the ends
of their known world. We too can do the same thing – witness to God’s love in the
world to those you have something in common with. Not because you have to, not
because I am telling you to, not even (though it is a good enough reason for me
these days) because Jesus is telling us to, but because it is what the world needs
and it is what the people we care about need whether they realise it or not.
They are still sheep without shepherds and the harvest still needs workers to bring it
in and we are still sent out into the world.