II Pentecost, Year A
Genesis 18:1-15, (21:1-7)
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on– since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.
They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son." And Sarah was listening at the tent entrance behind him. Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women. So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, "After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?" The LORD said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh, and say, `Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too wonderful for the LORD? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son." But Sarah denied, saying, "I did not laugh"; for she was afraid. He said, "Oh yes, you did laugh."
[The LORD dealt with Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as he had promised. Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him. Abraham gave the name Isaac to his son whom Sarah bore him. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Now Sarah said, "God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." And she said, "Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."]
The Israelites had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites."
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered as one: "Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do."
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person– though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
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. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These 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; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, `The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. [Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
"See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.]
What do ‘tous oklous’ (the crowds, the mob, the masses) need? They need tending. Their health, their physical health, their spiritual health are not being tended to. They have been left to their own devices, they have no models to follow, no vision to seek.
The Lord of the Harvest sends ‘tenders’ into the towns and villages, these ‘shepherds’ called apostles have authority (‘exousia’) to heal disease whether physical or spiritual. They bring near God’s ‘healing strategy’, the universe as God rules and they fulfill the Isaianic prophecy (as differs in Luke who does not have the saying applied to the commissioned in Matt 10:8).
The mission of these followers of Jesus is to heal. Bottom line, whatever they do or say it is good, good news because these actions of theirs are reflections of the Father’s power, the Father’s nearness, his very acceptance and intimate presence among them.
Crowds (that is, all of us) are driven to seek better. We, like lost sheep, seek safety, security and comfort. We desire stability and sunny days, bounteous tables. We go with the flow, we don’t rock the boat. We are the crowds.
Crowds are mimetically conceived social entities. But crowds are singular in that a single spirit animates them. “Crowds” is a collective entity. Crowds is both plural and singular at the same time. The plurality of the crowds is proportionate to it’s rivalries, its singularity resides hidden in the spirit of the crowd which non-consciously searches for a scapegoat.
We have mentioned that reconciliation can be boiled down to two behaviors, violence and love. Crowds, peoples, groups utilize the Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism (Bob Hamerton-Kelly) to maintain itself in a relative state of stability. The mythologizing of the victim is but the first step in violence bringing peace. But Jesus brings a “peace, unlike that which the world gives.”
Jesus’ mission and that of his followers is specifically to bring healing, peace, wholeness, this is true Shalom. Of course we are aware that the history of Christianity has brought more than this. Sadly, we have mingled violence and love. Sometimes we use the one, sometimes the other, but Christianity has not been wholly and entirely devoted to love for a long, long time.
The Mission Discourse is one that reaps dividends by study in a Greek synopsis. Each of the Synoptic writers has a different take on the mission and what constitutes the mission. Even from a minimalist point of view (assuming something of the historicity of the mission itself), it must have been a remarkable experience for the apostles to share, even if for a brief time, in Jesus’ power.
For Matthew, this is the power of discipleship. Matthew is not afraid to make the connections between the fulfillment of the promises in Isaiah to both Jesus and his disciples, for Matthew has already spelled out the spirituality of the disciple in the Sermon on the Mount. Healing power and the power to cast down Satan come from one who ‘follows Jesus’ (does his word).
The mission discourse really preaches itself. That is, it calls us to go out and do the very things that Jesus sent the disciples to do. Heal the sick (really! not figuratively!), raise the dead, (if not us, then who?), cast out demons (we don’t have to go to see The Exorcist to find them…), all of which is a part of declaring that, “The Kingdom of Heaven has come near to you!”
It is tempting, at least to me, to do one of two things with the discourse. I can 1) spiritualize it to death. That is, I can talk about healing spiritual ills, raising up the metaphorically dead, and take on the demons of depression or hopelessness. On the other hand I can 2) reduce the chores to the mundane. I can limit my goals to starting up a parish health ministry, or getting my parish involved in Hospice ministry, or fighting the demons of corporate greed.
Jesus, though, commissions me to do something that touches both poles, and yet speaks more loudly than either of the nearness of the Kingdom. If I will surrender myself and my mimetic cravings to the reign of the King of Heaven, then I can really be a part of the healing of the sick, and not just by doing a blood pressure screening. Jesus’ healing power is truly available to the Church, no less so now than in the First Century. Raising the dead? Why not? Because I’m afraid to ask? Cast out demons? You betcha. Because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The eschatological reality of the Kingdom is not bound by its future-ness.
What the mission discourse asks of us is willingness to risk, to risk seeming foolish, to risk seeming a little bit “nuts.” It is the Father’s will to restore all things in His beloved Son. Why should we not be a part of that, even now?