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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before June 18, 2017

Matthew 9:35 - 10:8

35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

10Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. 2These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.

What I Am Learning:

Jesus was proclaiming that the kingdom of God, God's way of mutuality was near. His people no longer had to live by the Lord of the Flies culture and the Godfather governance of the Roman Empire. The terms "sheep" and "shepherd" here were well-known metaphors for the interaction between people and their leaders: in this case the leaders were the Romans and their collaborators who did not lead people to abundance, but instead exploited the sheep.

Such cultures and governance have an actual impact on people's health and well-being. Today we have a significant uptick in the "deaths of despair" among white working class people. When Jesus spoke about God's healing and renewing work in the world, people actually felt better. They actually began to be more healthy.

Let's remember how big Jesus' movement was at this point: probably less than 30 people. He had a message that people needed to hear, but there was only one of him.

Then Jesus asked his disciples to pray to God for more laborers in fields where there were many longing for his message. And then he sends them.

Jesus is a trickster!

He sends the twelve in to the countryside to carry his healing message.

We could easily critique Jesus here: Why did he send the twelve disciples only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?

Strategy.

If you have a message intended for everyone, you have to find early adopters to help spread your message. The lost sheep of the People of Israel knew their scripture. They hoped for the Fully Human One (Son of Man) to come, lead, and empower them. They had experienced the pain of the harsh and bureaucratic exploitation of the people by the Romans and their collaborators. They were ready to see that they had begun to emulate their oppressors by refusing to love their neighbors.

Jesus sent the twelve to them, not because they were the only ones worthy of love, but because they were the best shot at finding other early adopters to also spread the message. To build a movement, you don't try to convince those who oppose you, you try to build with people who are open to joining you.

To build a movement, you don't do all the work yourself, but encourage people to find their authentic selves and to engage their power and vulnerability in the work.

And then he reminds them: they did not originate this message - God did.

In these days of numbing headlines, increased divisions, polarization and lack of human interaction, Jesus calls us to remember that God's healing work does not begin with our effort. Rather he invites us to share in public what we have received as a gift - to see ourselves as participating in God's way of mutuality that is near, among and for our benefit sometimes works through us.