.When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matt 9:36
It is the sixth month of the first year in the third decade of the 21st century after the reports of Jesus resurrection changed humanity’s understanding of the world. And STILL the disruption throughout creation is immeasurable (Joy Moore).
I don’t know about you, but the events of the past three months have left me exhausted. I am close to my breaking point on a mental, emotional and spiritual level. Covid-19 has forced us to live in new ways, adapting to challenges of social distancing, limiting our contact with family and friends. Many of the things we did on a routine basis, the community social activities we participated in, have been suspended. We don’t truly know when they will return and when they do come back, we wonder how they will have changed.
The past few weeks have seen a great deal of civil unrest in the United States and in Canada and around the world there have been protests and rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. A time when I find myself stopping and listening, to gain understanding and a sense of how I can support.
We find ourselves in the midst of two pandemics: one a global health crisis and the other a crisis of race and ethnicity.
If we look around, we will find Jesus. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36). When we read the gospel accounts, we always find Jesus on the side of those who have been oppressed and marginalized. Those who are seeking justice, not retribution, but justice. They are seeking to balance the scales and these are the ones to whom we find Jesus ministering. Even when he was invited to dinner parties held by the temple elites, Jesus advocated for those left out. This is laid out for us in the parable of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the meal at the Pharisee’s house (Luke 14: 1-14), the parable of the great banquet (Luke 14: 15-23). Jesus is with the poor, the oppressed and those left out. This is something I have always held to be true about Jesus, which makes a part of our gospel lesson a bit puzzling.
Jesus calls his disciples together and he gives them the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”
Growing up, I always thought this was a message of exclusion. That Jesus didn’t want to preach to the Gentiles, that his message was exclusive to Israel. But that isn’t it at all. Jesus is sending out the disciples to reform Israel. By sending the disciples out to heal the sick, he is asking them to minister to those within Israel which Israel itself has forgotten. One might view this as a protest.
A protest against a religious elite which had lost sight of why God had gathered them into community in the first place. A protest against a theology which said people had to wait, because today is a day of rest. How often did Jesus find himself in the crosshairs of the authorities because he healed someone on the Sabbath? Who did such rules benefit? Certainly not those who were in need of healing and help.
We are called to be members of the kingdom of God. As Dallas Willard has written, the kingdom is real and it is real now. Because a kingdom is that realm where the effective will of the king determines what happens. That’s why the kingdom of God is real and that’s why we can see it, right now today. The kingdom is present wherever people pray the way Jesus taught us to pray. The kingdom is present wherever Jesus nurtures certain behaviors and lifestyles that we call the fruit of the Spirit. The kingdom is present wherever people pour water over the heads of babies or take bread and wine to their lips all simply because Jesus told us that this is the way we are to act in remembrance of him (CEP).
We are called to go out, to be the voice and advocates of the kingdom and all who reside within it. We know that we will be rejected, Jesus told us as much. We are living in a time of great upheaval and some of the upheaval is necessary. There is much chaos around us and we are confused about what returning to our past lives might look like after Covid-19. Certainly, it will be different and it will be so for some time. Despite all of this or perhaps even because of it we are called by God to out into the world and preach good news. We will be rejected, despised and spat upon. We are called and sent into the world to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven has come near and it has come near because Jesus came and dwelt among us.
Our passage ends with the words “freely you have received; freely give.” Scott Hoezee notes that in Greek this is four words, “’DOREAN ELABETE, DOREAN DOTE’ But the word DOREAN there is the accusative of the word DOREA, which means “gift” and when used in the accusative like this, it is emblematic of something that comes gratis, as a gift … In other words, this is a word that traffics in the area of divine grace, of that wild—almost irrational and incredibly lavish— and prodigal gift of God that always comes to us from out of a clear blue sky as the greatest gift ever given or received. That is what the disciples are supposed to pursue in their ministry: they are to embody and proclaim and proffer the same divine grace that they received from Jesus (Scott Hoezee)
That is what we are also being asked to offer to a world that is desperate for healing. The divine grace that Jesus offers, we are to offer it freely and without exception. Everyone is free to receive it, just as we received it freely. That is the task to which we are called.
I began by telling you I was exhausted. The past few months have been busy, perhaps amongst the busiest I’ve known since arriving here over five years ago. But my exhaustion doesn’t get to be an excuse for not offering God’s grace to people. As we grapple with questions on how to reopen a church that never closed, because we never stopped being the church, we recognize that new opportunities are before us. But we must be faithful to the call, the call to offer grace to all people even those who would reject us.
Jesus lived in a time of great unrest, it is written into our passage today: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). We are also called to shepherd a people who are harassed and helpless. To let them know about one who we call the Good Shepherd and the grace which is freely given. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.