The march of the unqualified- Wednesday, 14th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 10: 1-7
With this pericope we walk right into the second of the five discourses found in Matthew. This one is often referred to as the ‘mission discourse’.
Jesus is not a solo artist, though He could be. Strictly speaking, He does not need us. His invitation to share in His ministry should thus be seen as a privilege, for we share now in His ministry. Chapter ten elaborates that invitation. There is a call, there are consequences and then there is the courage needed to live that call.
Though Jesus has many disciples, He narrows them down to twelve, calling them apostles. The very word apostle means, ‘one who is sent’. The twelve are now emissaries with real power. While the mission discourse is primarily to the apostles, it is not limited only to them.
But the mission of Jesus in Matthews’s Gospel is not to all. Remember that Matthew is communicating to a predominantly Jewish Christian audience. His principal focus is to them, the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ and while Jesus is not closed to the evangelization of the Samaritans and the Gentiles, His purpose is principally to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’.
How could we best understand this in today’s situation? It’s as if Jesus was calling us to make His name known to the whole world, but His primary focus would be re-evangelization. First, reach out to lapsed Christians, the lost sheep of Israel, rather than principally focusing on evangelization to all. Such a situation may arise if the number of Christians falls sharply and the need would be primarily to re-evangelize and invigorate the faith. For now the mandate to evangelize all stands!
The JBC explains it as follows. “Perhaps Matthew included this command here because it was important to members of his community and expressed the strongly Jewish consciousness of his own special traditions.” One should not read this text as permission to reject others and serve only Christians, as some unfortunately do. Interestingly, at the close of this very Gospel, Jesus will proclaim the great commission to go to the whole world.
Jesus, in qualifying His words, tells the apostles to go to ‘the lost sheep’ of the house of Israel . He has not only qualified the people, but a certain type of people, namely the ‘Am ha’ares ‘(עם הארץ), or the ‘people of the land’; people who for whatever reason were marginalized and alienated from the main circles of religious leadership and zeal. It is for these that Jesus had a particular, but not exclusive concern (References from the JBC).
There are many take-aways from today’s gospel? But what stands out the most and which may miss our eye, is that Jesus never chose the qualified; He qualifies the chosen. None of these ‘chosen ones’ would even be given an appointment to apply for such a position in the modern world. Perhaps we often apply the same standards to ourselves in wondering if God wants us to be His apostles, to be ‘sent out’ in His name.
Might we fail the Lord if He calls us? Of course we might, look at the failings of the twelve, proof enough that even those chosen and sent by Jesus, failed Him at multiple levels! Spiritual life is a journey; not a moment of success or failure. For a man who could barely pass maths in grade seven, here I am sharing His word. God calls and sends; it’s the march of the unqualified and I am a witness.
Fr Warner D’Souza