|Orchids in Daniel Stowe Gardens, Charlotte NC|
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead,cleanse lepers, drive out demons.Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Matthew 10:6-8These verses are from the beginning of the Mission Discourse in the gospel of Matthew. Coming just after a listing of the 12 apostles (first time the term is used in Matthew), these verses set the tone for the mission activity of the followers of Jesus. There are three things about this passage that strike me as important.
First, Jesus is extending his ministry of healing through commissioning his followers to do the same. This is a clear indication that Jesus was not just a miracle worker sent to improve the lot of the bedraggled and dominated Jewish community. He was seeking to create a newly formed and energized community (albeit within the Jewish community) which would rediscover the Law of the Divine One and lead lives formed by their faith. The role of the Messiah was not simply personal but communal. He was not just sent to save the community from domination but to change and form the community so that domination would be irrelevant. To do this, his followers had to become empowered to work in this mission. This is a key point that some contemporary ecclesiastical leaders would do well to remember.
Second, this passage restricts the mission to the Jewish community. In fact, the half verse before this one explicitly excludes the Gentiles and Samaritans from this mission effort. That is generally seen as an accurate description of the work of Jesus and by extension the mission work of the pre-resurrection community. However, this should not be taken as prescriptive for us today. The resurrected Jesus made clear that his message and mission should be extended to everyone and not restricted to our own group or tribe.
18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.* And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28Third, this commissioning by Jesus focuses entirely on actions, doing the merciful work of the Divine One. Before his healing actions, at least in Matthew, Jesus is typically "moved with compassion." Jesus tells his disciples to go and do likewise. Later he will tell them to teach as well but the first priority is to do the work of healing and compassion because this legitimates the teaching that will come later. Without this work of compassion, the teaching will ring hollow and be like the teaching of his contemporary religious leaders, who Jesus roundly condemns.