Reprobates and Sinners

June 18, 2017/Matthew 9:35-10:23


Matthew was a tax collector.  One of that band of collaborators who, under the guise of collecting taxes for the occupying Roman forces, also extorted money from the people around them.  His job made of him a traitor.  His job turned Matthew into a person who was not invited to the party, who was excluded from the A-list of desired guests, who was resented and hated and maligned.

Simon the Cananaean was a Zealot.  Part of a guerilla band of Jews who rebelled against the Roman forces, Simon might more appropriately have been called a radical.  Loved by the Jews but also feared for the danger he might bring upon all of them with his outspoken opposition to the Roman Empire, Simon also was not on the list of desired guests for the party.  He represented fear and possible violence; no one wanted him around.

Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, must have had some redeeming qualities to recommend him.  He served as treasurer for the band of disciples closest to Jesus.  In the end, he would betray that trust, stealing from the community purse, sealing Jesus’ fate with a kiss.  Judas, the betrayer, excluded from the party because, after all, who wants to invite a traitor to dinner?

A tax collector.  A Zealot.  A betrayer.  You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called these three – along with the others – to go out and preach and heal in his name.  You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking when blatant reprobates and sinners, including the very one who would betray his life, were those whom he sent out in his name.

Then again, it wasn’t the best job going.  The pay was nonexistent – even if someone offered a denarii, Jesus told them to refuse it.  Entering a house, they could eat the food and share the shelter, but there would be no signing bonus or big paycheck waiting at the end of the mission.

In fact, Jesus was quick to point out that it would be tough going.  He sent the disciples because these people touched his heart.  They were like sheep without a shepherd.  There were so many of them, and so few laborers to do the work.  So Jesus told the disciples to pray for laborers to serve this flock.  And in the next breath, he sent them.

He sent them out, these twelve apostles, to carry his compassion into the world.  He did not send them out without empowering them.  Indeed, he gave them authority – power to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick.  But along with that authority came a warning – they will be like sheep wandering into a pack of wolves.  They will be arrested and flogged, betrayed and hated, persecuted and despised.  It’s amazing that any of them went.

Or is it?

This rag-tag band of disciples – fishermen and tax collector, Zealot and betrayer – were sent out by Jesus to be his hands and feet and heart in the far places where he could not go.  Literally aching in his gut when he saw the great need of the people around him, Jesus called this band of followers together and made of them a sent people.  “They are called and commissioned by the Compassionate One to do service in the world. … The authority the disciples have is the authority of Jesus; thus, Jesus is the one meeting the needs of the people through his disciples.”[1]

A tax collector.  A Zealot.  A betrayer.  You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called these three along with the other nine. None of them were anything special.  They were simple people, living simple lives, when Jesus came into the picture.  You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called them.  You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking when he called … us.

“When Jesus tells the disciples to pray that the Lord will send out laborers into the harvest, they become the answer to their own prayer.  They are the ones they are praying for, reminding us that we may be the answer to our very own prayers.”[2]  Like those first disciples, we are sent out by Christ to show his compassion in a world that struggles and sorrows and bleeds every day.  Like those first disciples, we do not go out because of our own ability or power or even our own love and compassion.  Jesus meets the needs of the people through us, his 21st century disciples.  “We do not meet needs; God does.”

Like those first disciples, we as the “church [are] to be ‘those sent out,’ apostolic in nature.  We do not send ourselves out; the Lord of the harvest sends us out on a mission.”[3]  It might not be a mission of our choosing.  In fact, a “mission toward the sick, dead, leprous, and demon-possessed may be a distant cry from [reaching] out only to those who look like us and cannot harm us.”[4]

Those early disciples headed out to roam the streets and byways not knowing what they would find, not knowing how they would eat or where they would sleep.  They headed out like sheep into the midst of wolves.  They headed out because, “when there is a need, Jesus shows compassion, and his compassion causes him to send out others on a mission to serve those in need.”[5]

A tax collector.  A Zealot.  A betrayer.  You and me.  “Perhaps someday, in the fullness of time, all humanity, chosen by God, may answer God’s call as one: ‘Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.’”[6]

[1] Luke A. Powery, Feasting on the Word A/3, 143

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 145

[6] Barbara G. Wheeler, Daily Feast, Year A, 341

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