Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Church's Mission

Matthew 10:7-15 ~ Jesus’ Instructions for the Apostles’ Mission to Proclaim the Kingdom to the Jews
“7 Jesus said to his Apostles: ‘As you go, make this proclamation: “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. 9 Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; 10 no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking s stick. The laborer deserves his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave. 12 As you enter a house, wish it peace. 13 If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you. 14 Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. 15 Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town.’” Today’s Gospel passage is a continuation from yesterday’s passage. Jesus is instructing His Twelve Apostles before He sends them out to proclaim the coming of His Kingdom, but they are instructed to go only to the people of the Sinai Covenant (Mt 10:5-6). After the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they will be commissioned as the faithful remnant of old Israel to carry the New Covenant Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles and to the ends of the earth.
Ever since His baptism by St. John, Jesus has been conducting His ministry in the Galilee:
1. He proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom (4:17)
2. He taught the people (5:1)
3. He cured different illnesses and afflictions (9:2; 9:20-21)
4. He cleansed and purified the unclean (8:2-3)
5. He cast out demons (8:16; 9:32-33)
6. He had the authority to command nature (8:26)
7. He raised the dead (9:24-25)
8. He forgave sins (9:2)
These signs demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets and that He is truly “God who saves,” the meaning of His name “Jesus” = Yah’shua in Hebrew (Yehoshua in Aramaic in the 1st century AD).
In their mission, Jesus gives the Apostles the authority to:
1. Proclaim the coming of the Kingdom (Mt 10:7)
2. To cast out unclean spirits (Mt 10:8a)
3. To cure every disease and illness (Mt 10:8a)
4. To raise the dead (Mt 10:8a)
5. To cleanse and purify the unclean (Mt 10:8a)
At this time, they do not have the authority to command nature, to teach God’s divine plan revealed in Scripture, and to forgive sins. The authority to teach and to forgive sins will be given to them only after Jesus’ Resurrection when they have been fully instructed by Him, and understand how He has fulfilled the Law and the prophets, and when they have received the power of the Holy Spirit to guide them.
The Church has received the same authority to proclaim the kingdom and to heal the sick in both body and soul. The Church believes in the life-giving presence of Christ among His faithful and that this presence is especially active through the sacraments (CCC 1509). Jesus also gives them rules of conduct in Mt 10:5-14
1. They cannot go into pagan territory or Samaria (Mt 10:5).
2. They cannot charge for their acts of mercy in which they are only God’s instruments of healing (Mt 10:8b).
3. They are not to take any supplies for the journey, no money and not every any sandals or a staff for protection. They will rely on God to provide for them (Mt 10:10).
4. They can accept food and lodging from those who offer it, and they are to give those who are generous enough to provide for them their blessing when they leave (Mt 10:10b-13).
5. Where they are ill-treated, they must regard those Jews like Gentiles and shake the dust of that house or town off their feet (Mt 10:14). He instructs them how to respond to covenant members who are not kind to them or refuse their message. To refuse His messengers who speak with His authority is to refuse Jesus Himself. They are to “shake the dust” from their houses/towns from their feet. This is a sign of repudiation. It was the custom for Jews and Israelites returning from Gentile territory before crossing the border into the Promised Land to shake the dust of the pagan lands off their feet as symbolic of the “uncleanness” of pagans and the “purity” of the Promised Land and those in covenant with Yahweh. Jesus is telling the Apostles to treat covenant members who reject their message proclaiming the kingdom like heathen Gentiles who are outside the covenant with God. Jesus also tells His emissaries not to accept any monitory payment for their spiritual gifts; they can only accept food and hospitality. One can only give and receive spiritual goods freely. To assign a material value is to appropriate those spiritual goods to one’s self. For the person or persons dispensing spiritual gifts to assign a value to that spiritual gift is to behave as though they are the owner/master of what is spiritual. No one can own what has as its source the power of God; one can only receive what is spiritual from Him without payment. To sell spiritual gifts, like the sacraments or indulgences, is the sin of simony (see Acts 8:9-24 and CCC 2121). It is a sin forbidden by Jesus in Matthew 10:8b and condemned by St. Peter in Acts 8:20. The Church defines simony as a sacrilege; a sacrilege is the profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions (CCC 2120). God’s grace is a free gift, as the prophet Isaiah wrote prophetically concerning the Messianic kingdom: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! … Come to me heedfully; listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David” (Is 51:1,3 with an allusion to the eternal Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7:16; 23:5; Sir 45:25; 47:11). Then in verse 15, Jesus gives the warning that the judgment of the Old Covenant brothers and sisters who reject their message of the coming of the kingdom will be greater than the judgment on the citizens of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah were two communities that were destroyed because of their wickedness and their refusal to honor God’s emissaries, the two angelic beings sent there to save Lot and his family and to seek out ten righteous men (Gen 18:32; 19:1-29). Sodom and Gomorrah, two of the five cities destroyed in the plain near the Dead Sea, became symbols of wickedness and judgment in the Old Testament (Dt 29:22-23; Is 1:9; 13:19; Jer 49:18; 50:40; Wis 10:6-8). The same symbol of wickedness and judgment connected to Sodom and Gomorrah was employed by Jesus and New Testament writers (Rom 9:29; 2 Pt 2:6-9; Jude 7; Rev 11:8). Only the twelve Apostles are mentioned in 10:1-4. However, after their return, Jesus will send out 70/72 of His disciples two by two (Lk 10:1-3) with basically the same instructions as in the Matthew account and with the same warning for those who refuse their message. Jesus probably sent His disciples out on many such missions, training them and giving them experience in the mission field before He could no longer be with them physically to guide and teach them. It is clear that the disciples’ mission is the continuation of Jesus’ mission—it is a mission that continues in the Church today. Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015