Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Summons

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few," is a phrase we in the church are familiar with.  It comes in the gospel reading, Matthew 9:35-10:8, appointed for the Second Sunday after Pentecost.  This is the context into which Jesus summons his disciples, instructing them to go to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," proclaiming the good news, curing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, and casting out demons.  This summons continues to come to us, for we too have been given authority to continue in this joyful work.

(The following questions are a basic set of questions from my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, which can be purchased through or amazon.  These questions are not meant to be exhaustive for any exegete, but simply one lens through which to look at a text.  For more information on this genre, please see my brief guide.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  The text begins with a word of gospel, as we encounter Jesus proclaiming the good news, curing every disease, and having compassion on all.  With Jesus' announcement, however, that the harvest needs workers, the function of the Word changes; we are now into a call to obedience.  The disciples are first named, and then given authority and instructed to go forth and continue the work of Christ.  Perhaps it is because Jesus has increasingly been under attack ("By the ruler of demons he casts out demons." 8:34), that he now sees it necessary to appoint others who will carry on his work.  In any case, this text functions mainly to announce Jesus' authority and then hear him hand it off to his followers.

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  For the disciples - those being addressed by the Word in this text - there is no word of Law.  That is to say, they are not shown their need for Christ.  The needs of the crowd are clear, however, since they are spoken of as "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."  Even they, however, are not judged for their state.  Instead Jesus has compassion on them.

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  It is always important to identify with those who are being addressed by the Word in the text.  In this case, that would be the disciples.  We are the ones who Jesus summons.  We are those to whom he gives authority.  We are the ones he calls by name.  We are the ones who are to go to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," which, in our case, may mean those in the Christian fold who have wandered off.

4.  Exegetical work:  Mark Allan Powell, in his insightful commentary on the gospel of Matthew, says that there is a "communal focus" in Matthew.  He argues that Jesus does not assume the entire burden of the ministry, but makes disciples who will continue this work.  These disciples will necessarily be sinners, and Powell makes note of the fact that in the listing of the disciples in this text, Judas Iscariot is identified as "the one who betrayed him." This, says Powell, "serves as a paradigm for what Jesus claims to be an essential part of his mission: he has come to call sinners (9:9-13)." And these sinners Jesus "shapes into a community that he identifies as his family (12:49)." (God With Us, p. 14-15)  Powell's insight, that the call to sinners is not only the call to be saved, but the call to ministry, is an important one.  We might have little trouble assuming that sinners are called to be saved, but sinners called to serve?  Even though we should know better, we easily assume that those who are called to serve are somehow beyond sin, at least in some sense.  The listing of the disciples, with known foibles:  Peter the Denier, Thomas the Doubter, James and John the Ambitious Ones, etc, should put an end to any thought we might have that sinners are not called to ministry.  Perhaps the best news in this text is the clear naming of these sinners.  In that, we too find our calling.

5.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Timothy Hoyer, in his analysis, centers on the words "harassed and helpless".  He takes this description in new directions as he suggests that we are often harassed and helpless because of our belief that "everyone gets what they deserve" (i.e. if you are sick, it's because you have done something to cause this).  Hoyer shows how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, breaks into this desperate situation by seeking out the "lost sheep." To see the entire diagnosis/prognosis, go to study archived under Gospel A, 2008.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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