June 12, 2005
Matthew 9:35 - 10:8, (9-23)
• 35 Jesus went around all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, and he cured every sickness and disease. 36 When he saw the crowds he was moved with pity, for they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the workers are only few. 38 Ask the master of the harvest to send workers to gather his harvest.”
The twelve apostles
(Mk 3:13; Lk 6:12)
10 • 1 Then he called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority over the unclean spirits to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew; 3 James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thad-daeus; 4 Simon, the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, the man who would betray him.
Jesus sends out the first missionaries
(Lk 9:1; 10:1; Mk 6:7)
• 5 Jesus sent these twelve on mission with the instruction: “Do not visit pagan territory and do not enter a Samaritan town. 6 Go instead to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.
7 Go and proclaim this message: The kingdom of heaven is near. 8 Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. You received this as a gift, so give it as a gift. 9 Do not carry any gold, silver or copper in your purses. 10 Do not carry a traveler’s bag, or an extra shirt, or sandals, or walking-stick: workers deserve their living.
11 When you come to a town or a village, look for a worthy person and stay there until you leave.
12 As you enter the house, wish it peace. 13 If the people in the house deserve it, your peace will be on them; if they do not deserve it, your blessing will come back to you.
14 And if you are not welcomed and your words are not listened to, leave that house or that town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 I assure you, it will go easier for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than it will for the people of that town.
You will be persecuted
(Lk 12:11; Mk 13:9; 8:38)
• 16 Look, I send you out like sheep among wolves. You must be clever as snakes and innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard with respect to people, for they will hand you over to their courts and they will flog you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of me, and so you may witness to them and the pagans.
• 19 But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say and how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. 20 For it is not you who will speak; but it will be the Spirit of your Father in you.
21 Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against parents and have them put to death. 22 Everyone will hate you because of me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.
• 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next. For sure, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
= = =
• 35. With this paragraph that briefly summarizes the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, Matthew intends to show that indeed the kingdom of God is there: evil has been given a fatal blow.
He was moved with pity, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. See Num 27:17; Ezk 34:5; Zec 10:3; Jn 4:35; Mk 6:34; and Lk 10:2.
God himself, in Jesus, had come down to cure humankind. Because this work would be very long and painful, it was necessary to provide some visible signs to help people believe in this almost imperceptible healing.
Jesus ought to heal sick persons and, even in our days, the Christian community should give signs of what they preach. They must cure today’s world of its sicknesses. The gifts of healing are not limited to healing bodily ills and the devil is responsible for more than individual maladies.
People seek after those who can cure their illnesses, and so great crowds followed Jesus. For him, however, sickness as well as the exploitation of the human person, hunger and war, are only fruits and signs of a deeper illness attached to our heart, which is sin. Constant work and the unity of all people of goodwill are sufficient to remedy some of our misfortunes, but the only way to eradicate evil at its roots is to restore human persons to their dignity as children of God. This requires a personal transformation that comes from God sending us his Spirit.
Jesus asks each of us to serve humankind with our own talents. He needs also workers for the harvest of the Kingdom, that is, to gather into the Church those who receive a call from God. “Pray,” says Jesus, “and you will perhaps hear God’s call.”
Of course, each Christian community prays to God and the Spirit brings forth the charisms and ministers and pastors that are needed. Here Jesus asks us to pray for workers in the mission field: they are and always will be too few, especially those who evangelize and build the Church among the poor.
• 10.1 Till then, Jesus had spoken only in the synagogues around Capernaum. Now he attracts fame and followers and begins to draw multitudes. In that moment he establishes the group of the Twelve. He needs them to prepare meetings, to spread his doctrine, to multiply the miraculous signs effected among the sick.
At the same time, Jesus is planning his Church and wants to give it a head: this will be the group of the apostles. They will be the witnesses of Jesus among people, so he teaches them a way of living a common life that will serve as a pattern for the Church.
These are the names of the Twelve. The Jewish nation was integrated into twelve tribes. This is why Jesus calls twelve apostles: he wants them to understand that they are the foundation of the new people of God will form (Ps 102:19). See Luke 22:30; Revelation 21:14.
He called those he wanted (Mk 3:13). These, in turn, will call others. In the Church everyone can do “apostolic work,” but no one makes himself into an apostle, an official witness of Christ: one has to be called to this responsibility.
Regarding these twelve, see commentary on Mark 3:16.
• 5. From the paragraph beginning in 9:35, Matthew was preparing this third “Jesus’ discourse” (see Introduction). Jesus has begun his mission, he forms and sends out missionaries.
Apostles means “sent” and “mission” also means “being sent.” The Father has sent his Son to earth, and the Son, in turn, sends his apostles. The Father sends messengers of his word, but he also sends his Spirit to touch the hearts and minds of those who listen. Through the Spirit they recognize the word of God in the poor preaching of these messengers who have received no great instruction. The Spirit will give signs: healings and astounding graces supporting the witness of the missionaries.
The successors of the apostles will be missionaries like them. They will not be primarily the administrators of an established Church, but living poorly among the poor, they will establish new Churches (see 1 Cor 3:10; 12:28). This new chapter will speak of a mission, the major responsibility of a Christian community. In the first part (vv. 5-16) Jesus addresses the first missionaries of Galilee. In the second part (vv.17-42) we find Jesus’ words pronounced in different circumstances that Matthew adapts for his readers at the very time in which the Church begins to be persecuted in the Roman world.
See commentary on Mark 6:7 and Luke 10:1.
Do not visit pagan territory. Let us not forget that many pagan communities were established in Galilee together with the Jewish ones. Jesus follows his Father’s plan of salvation as described in the Bible. The Savior should first gather the strayed sheep of Israel, and then bring salvation to all the pagan nations: Is 49:6; 60:1-10; Zec 14:16; Mt 15:24.
Whoever welcomes you (v. 40). To reject the messengers is to ignore the call of the Father and to lose the greatest opportunity of one’s life.
• 16. The Martyrs
Matthew here puts advice that Jesus gave to his witnesses on how to confront persecution. Jesus himself spent long weeks hidden away and his first missionaries probably had to take similar precautions. In relating these instructions Matthew has perhaps adapted them a little to the situation of Christians of his time; he has not invented them.
We have just spoken of witnesses, and martyr in Greek means: witness. Certain of these martyrs were before long glorified, but the majority remain unknown. They have often been disfigured by calumny (5:11; Lk 21:17) isolated even from the Christian community and later eliminated. In certain cases entire Christian communities were massacred as in the time of the Roman empire. Today in certain countries such atrocities continue without the media even mentioning it. In many other cases, persons or Christian groups became martyrs that had assumed a risky position. When Stephen was assassinated (Acts 7) the apostles were not pursued, and many may have taken Ste-phen to be a fanatic. When the young Christian women of the Roman Empire were persecuted for having decided to remain virgins many said: Why do they flout their family duties? When the Catholics of England, France or China refused to form national churches separated from communion with Rome, were they not rebelling against the laws of their nation?
Maybe we must recognize that martyrdom is a grace and is not given to everyone. Many would be ready to give their life for Christ, but confronted with situations of violence or corruption, they do not see the necessity to expose a scandal and so submit in order to avoid the worst. Others, on the contrary, understand that God is asking them to witness (18) to the Good News that is opposite to what is imposed. In so doing they face the repression by which Society defends itself. Revelation affirms that the murder of witnesses advances Salvation History.
• 19. Brother will hand over brother to death… (v. 21) you will be hated by all. This is usual in a climate of terror. Without going so far, witnesses to Christ may find themselves unappreciated by a majority, in their own Church, while perhaps their persecutors are acclaimed (Lk 6:26). In time the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth, but the majority of those witnesses, the lowly, often those who suffer most and are the greatest, will remain unknown until the day when Jesus himself will acknowledge them before his Father (v. 32).
In reality, Jesus does not only speak of those who are massacred. Far more numerous and doubtless nearer to us are those who have had to conquer fear (26; 28; 31) of being his witnesses on the streets, in schools and in every area of this perverted and evil world. (Gal 1:4; Phil 2:15).
Do not worry. The witnesses of Jesus do not work on their own, and the more they are identified with Jesus in persecution and in prison, the more they are assisted by the Spirit. By worrying while preparing their legal case, they would hinder the freedom of the Spirit and also lose the peace that the Spirit grants the persecuted.
• 23. You will not have gone through…. Possibly this sentence would have been better placed in the first part of the speech, which is about the mission in Galilee. But it may refer also to Christians of Jewish origins who were persecuted by the Pharisees at the time Matthew wrote his Gospel.
Matthew gives this sentence a broader meaning: though people may cast out the future missionaries, they will never be short of work until the second coming of Jesus.
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Comments from Wesley
1. It is recorded that Jesus was moved with pity when the poverty of the crowds surrounded him. A key question for our own lives is what emotion wells up within us when we finally recognize the poverty of the world around us?
Is it a negative emotion that we need to work hard at to allow us to go forth to interact with the poor and sick? Is it a positive emotion that would wear us out if we gave into it and so some protection is needed?
Where does "pity" fall into these categories for you? Is it something you can feel but ignore acting upon? Is it a driving force that must be acted out?
2. As we listen in to the phrase "kingdom of heaven" we can hear that as a distant splendor or a present paradise. What we hear when that phrase is spoken or written will mightily shape our response to the rest of what is said.
Here we can hear it as present Paradise because of the instructions that follow to heal, raise, cleanse, and drive. These are present actions based on present need for present glory, not something done for a deferred gift.
3. To continue the present Paradise image we find that we are acting in the present for the present because of the gift we have received -- we ourselves were in need of healing, raising, cleansing, being driven. As we have received these in the present world so we are to pass them on in the present world.
Paradise here. Paradise now. Paradise forever. This is the reality of the "kingdom of heaven" kind of talk.
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