Today, our gospel message comes to us from the 9th chapter of Matthew, beginning with the 35th verse, “The sending of the twelve.”
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 9:35—10:8)
Father, You sent your Word to bring us truth and your Spirit to make us holy. Through them, we come to know the mystery of your life. Help us worship you, one God in three persons, And reveal yourself in the depths of our being, by proclaiming and living our faith in you. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
There are times the people image Jesus traveling around Judea and Galilee in something other than the traditional dress of the time. Instead of a loose-fitting coat and sandals, they picture Jesus clothed in blue tights, with a red cape and a large “S” on his chest. This might be a bit of an overstatement, but people do picture Jesus as a first-century, mid-eastern superman. He swoops down to those in need, performs whatever miracle is necessary to save them, and then flies off to the next town.
In reality, Jesus is anything but a superman. Superman was a type of lone wolf. He never needed anyone’s assistance, not even Lois Lane or Jimmy. Jesus establishes a community and works with other people. Jesus willingly shares his ministry, and he spends three years training his disciples to take over his ministry after his resurrection and ascension.
Our gospel text today records a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus sends his disciples out into the “real world,” and he bestows on them the same calling, and power that he has himself. As Jesus’s latter-day disciples, we learn a great deal from this story about how we are called to live and serve.
Our story opens with Jesus traveling around the countryside. In his description of the scene, Matthew gives us a summary of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth. Jesus was reaching out to the people around him, proclaiming the good news and that the kingdom of God had come near, casting out demons and healing the sick.
Even though the people had many obvious physical needs, Jesus saw a greater need. Jesus perceived that the people were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. The people were experiencing inward anxiety. They were heavily burdened with cares that they were never meant to carry. Jesus saw their predicament and was moved with compassion.
In the person of Jesus, we discover that God is a carry God. God feels our pain, shares our tears and walks with us through the triumphs and trials of life. His compassion motivates Jesus in his ministry, but Jesus realizes that more people are required to meet the great need that faces him. He tells his disciples to pray for more laborers in the field because the harvest is so plentiful. After having them pray for more laborers, he tells them that their prayers have been answered and sends them as laborers out into the fields to reap the rich harvest.
Jesus sends his disciples out to supplement his ministry. Matthew lists their names for us in this story. The list is remarkable because it is so ordinary. Four of the disciples are fishermen. One is a tax collector, and another is a political/religious zealot. We’re not sure of the backgrounds of the rest. None, however, are of noble birth. Except for their association with Jesus and their role in the Church, none are historically significant.
Jesus doesn’t send angels to minister to other people. Neither does Jesus send the politically powerful or the financially wealthy. Jesus sends ordinary people, who have struggled as the people to whom they have been called to minister have struggled. This group of people proclaims the good news, tells of the nearness of the kingdom, casts out demons, and heals the sick.
The disciples make an impact on the lives of the people around them because they have a purpose in life. They clearly understand what they are to do, and it is way beyond merely existing or making ends meet. Their mission was to continue Jesus’ ministry.
Not only were the disciples given a purpose in life, the Holy Spirit also empowered them. They did the impossible because God moved through them.
Today we carry on the ministry of Jesus and share the same purpose and power of the disciples.
Like the disciples, we are sent out. They were sent to the cities of the surrounding countryside. When we say that we are sent out, we mean that we are called to leave our personal comfort zones and enter into the world and touch the lives of the people we encounter.
We have good news to share with the people around us (and they have a hunger to hear it). We proclaim God’s love, forgiveness, and grace. These are more than theological concepts to us. We have experienced God’s steadfast love and forgiveness. We have been overwhelmed by God’s grace. Our encounter with God has transformed our lives.
We proclaim that the kingdom of God is near. Because of the cross of Jesus Christ, we are offered a new relationship with God. God’s presence in our lives is heaven on earth.
We have been empowered to overcome evil in whatever form it takes and meet the physical needs of the people around us. We do this as individuals and as a community of believers.
We do not need to be foreign missionaries to answer the call of Jesus. Nor do we need to be ordained pastors. We are missionaries—people who have been sent out—wherever we live and whatever we do. Empowered by the Spirit, we bring life and light to the situations that we are in.
Jesus told his disciples as he neared Jerusalem and the cross that they would do greater works than he did. Certainly, he did not mean that they would see still greater storms or walk longer distances on water. The church has been able to do great works because we have been able to touch more lives. There are more of us than one God/man.
I realize that in many ways, we are in as much need as the people around us. Though we walk with Jesus, we still struggle. In the ways of the world, we would seek to meet our own needs before we try to help others. God calls us to act differently. He sends us out, commissions us to minister to others. When we involve ourselves in the lives of others, we discover that our burdens grow lighter, and our needs are met in ways that we could not have imagined.
Let us pray: O God of grace abounding and love unlimited, we thank you for your infinite mercy. It has been the source of our life and faith through all our days, and before that, through the days of our ancestors.
Father, the fields of peace and justice and love are not yet ripe unto harvest. They have been plowed and planted, but they have yet to be cultivated with care and diligence. Send us forth into those fields, O God, as laborers in your service. Let them be made ready for the harvest. Let us and our neighbors around the globe live in love and peace, with justice for all. Amen.
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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Sermon contributed by Kevin Ruffcorn.
Jesus calls his disciples and then sends them out to continue his ministry of preaching, teaching, casting out demons, and healing.