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The compassionate shepherd

Ordinary Sunday 11, 15 June, 2008
Br Chaplain Soma, St Peter's, Eastern Hill

Matthew 9:35-10:8.

Following last Sunday's gospel on the call of Matthew, today we continue with a summary of Jesus' ministry of compassion. This passage is a presentation of the compassionate shepherd, and a remarkably fitting transition to the next section of the gospel. It is introduced by a presentation of Jesus' threefold ministry that covers teaching, preaching, and healing.

Jesus as a preacher was a herald of God as he proclaimed the message of God's kingdom. The gospel of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed, is a key for the understanding of God's message if considered as important. It is the good news of the rule among his people, now actualized in the person and presence of Jesus Christ.

The implications of this gospel are that, firstly the kingdom happens wherever Jesus is ruling, secondly the kingdom creates a dualism in society and thirdly the kingdom calls us to a decision making in this world. As shown in the Sermon on the Mount, the message of the kingdom is the word by which we can live through the will of God who send Jesus into the world. The reality of this kingdom is not the general society organized according to the will of God as set forth by the social gospel movement, but is the rule of Christ in his people.

Christ is calling forth the new Israel, and while the kingdom is even yet to fully come, it keeps coming into our lives in different circumstances according to God's will. The social gospel movement humanized the concept of the kingdom, making it a sociological factor and missing the redemptive mission of the Church. But Jesus said in his encounter with Nicodemus, "no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the spirit". Adding to that Paul wrote, he has "translated us into the kingdom of his dear son. This demonstrates that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Jesus had compassion by considering the multitudes as sheep without a shepherd. This image appears frequently in the Old Testament passages, where Moses pleads God to lead Israel so that they may not be as sheep without a shepherd (Num. 27:17). Moreover, prophet Micaiah saw Israel scattered like sheep without a shepherd (1 King 22:17). Interestingly in John's gospel, Jesus calls himself the good shepherd; this was due to the fact that he got moved with compassion by the world's suffering and bewilderment.

Jesus further presented a clear message to his disciples, the harvest is great and the laborers are few. The caution is to pray so that God can send out laborers into his harvest. The understanding is that, God's harvest is the key that interprets the vision of need and the commissioning is to follow.

The prayer for God to send workers is followed immediately by Jesus calling the twelve and sending them out for a task. They had no idea what it would be like out there, however in trust and faith, they accepted. Prayer conditions us to the will of God as it prepares us to share with him. He sometimes uses us all to help answer our own prayers. Jesus composes the twelve as a body of leaders, a symbol of re-establishment of God's covenant. The similarity with the creation of Israel as a nation under Moses, led Paul Minear to assert that Jesus was deliberately creating a new Israel.

This new community of God was a successor of what God had been doing in the salvation history. His authority as the Messiah is in the establishment of new inhabitants of God. Who are later called the church, the body of Christ, and it is the visible expression of the head of churches on earth.

This was a major step for Jesus and he made choices after a night of prayer. The twelve called disciples would carry on his mission and extend it into the entire world. Thanks be to them for their hard work that extended Christ's mission to nourish, encourage and strengthen our faith. As we look at these disciples, they are ordinary people from the communities in which Jesus ministered, and they were a group with variety of backgrounds and personalities. They would not have worked together apart from their common commitment to Jesus.

Jesus commissioned them to go to the Jewish communities, not to the Gentiles for the message of the Messiah was for the Jews. In the human point of view, there would not be enough time for Jesus to cover all of the villages in Palestine with his ministry.

But rather than to see this as a discrimination against Gentiles, it may be interpreted as a confrontation which challenged Jewish pride and called them to repentance. The message of the disciples was, the kingdom of heaven is at hand as Jesus clearly proclaimed. This commissioning emphasizes that preaching needs the action to confirm it and the action needs preaching to explain it.

Beside placing these instructions in a framework, Matthew has emphasized the continuity between the preaching and the activity of Jesus and those of the twelve. They are to do what Jesus did, it doesn't matter whether they can or not.

For us today as Jesus instructed the chosen ones He still instructs us in our daily life. This is because he said his father will give us another advocate to be with us forever. Furthermore he encouragingly said he will not leave us orphans.

The Lord be with you.


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