Gospel: Matthew 9:36-10:8

Receive as Gift, Give as a Gift

Have you ever felt gratitude for a gift received? What was the gift? Why did you feel such gratitude?

Certain American holidays require gift giving. Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, birthdays. More often than not, people ask others what others want, and try to fulfill those wishes. So, gift giving involves little surprise.

What would happen, however, if the gift given awed the receiver in an unexpected way and fulfilled a deeply felt need? Would the receiver want to repay the giver, not out of duty, but out of love? The answers to these questions form the basis for ministry. To receive freely great blessings as gifts. And to pass those blessings on to others as a gifts.

In Matthew's gospel, Jesus presented a need for ministers and empowered his Apostles to serve others freely, as those who passed on freely-given gifts.

Popular Translation

36 When Jesus saw the crowds, he felt sorry for them. They were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 So he said to his followers, "There are so many crops ready to be brought in, but there are only a few workers to help. 38 Ask God, the owner of the crops, to send out workers to help gather the ripe crops in."

1 Then, Jesus called his Twelve followers. He gave them the authority to throw evil spirits out of people and to heal every sickness. 2 The names of the Twelve Apostles are:

first, Simon, the one called Peter, and Andrew, his brother,
James, the son of Zebedee and John, his brother,
3 Phillip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector,
James, son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus,
4 Simon of Canaan and Judas Iscariot, who (later) betrayed Jesus.

5 Jesus sent these Twelve out with the command: "Don't go into Gentile areas or the towns of the Samaritans. 6 Go instead to the lost sheep, the people of Israel, 7 and tell them: 'God's kingdom is near!' 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, heal people of terrible skin diseases, and throw evil spirits out of people. What you received as a gift, give as a gift."

Matthew divided these verses into three sections: the concern of Jesus over the crowds, the names of the Apostles, and their commission by Jesus. In his typical style, Matthew created a "sandwich:" Jesus' compassion (first layer) caused the commission of the Apostles (third layer).

Literal Translation

36 Having seen the crowds, (HE) felt sorry for them, because they were troubled and aimless, like sheep not having a shepherd. 37 Then (HE) said to HIS disciples, "The harvest is large, but the workers are few. 38 Beg the Lord of the harvest to drive workers into his harvest!"

9:36 "like sheep not having a shepherd" paralleled Numbers 27:15-17:

Moses said to the Lord, "Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation, who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in; that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep which have no shepherd." (RSV)

9:38 "Beg the Lord of the harvest to drive workers into his harvest!" The verb "drive" is actually "to cast out." This is the same verb Mark used to describe activity of the Spirit to take Jesus into the desert for the Temptation (Mark 1:12). Implicitly, the Spirit would compel missionaries and evangelists into ministry. These people would not find rest until they found their calling.

Verse 9:35 (not listed) provided background for the gospel. The crowds gathered as a result of Jesus' preaching and healing throughout Galilee. Verse 9:36 revealed Jesus' reaction to his success. He identified with the plight of the crowds, considered his humble resources, and asked his followers to pray for additional help. In his request, Jesus painted an agricultural picture. The great harvest had so few workers. [9:37] So, the followers should ask "Master of the harvest" for more help. The request was really a prayer for ministry.

In 13:30 and 13:39, Matthew used harvest imagery as a metaphor for the final judgment. The verses above (9:37-38) foreshadowed the gathering for the final judgment. The Messiah would gather people before God through preaching and healing (i.e., restoration; see 9:35). Jesus' request for prayer in 9:38 extended his Messiahship over his followers in their missionary efforts. As the Messiah's ministry grew through his followers, so would the numbers of believers.

Consider your "unchurched" family and neighbors. Does the job of spreading the Good News to them seem a little daunting to you? How could you pray for strength and help in your efforts? How can Jesus help you with your evangelization?

10:1 Having called HIS twelve disciples, (HE) gave them authority (over) unclean spirits, so to throw them out and to heal every sickness and every disease. 2 The names of the twelve Apostles are these:

first, Simon called Peter and Andrew, his brother,
Jacob, son of Zebedee, and John, his brother.
3 Phillip and Bartholomew,
Thomas and Matthew, the tax collector,
James, son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus,
4 Simon of Canaan and Judas Iscariot, the one having handed HIM over.

10:1 "(HE) gave them authority (over) unclean spirits, so to throw them out and to heal every sickness and disease." In the time of Jesus, unclean spirits were blamed for mental and physical diseases. Authority over these demons allowed the apostles to perform exorcisms and healings.

After Jesus requested prayer for more ministers, he empowered the Twelve Apostles to carry on his ministry, especially exorcisms and healing. Then Matthew listed names of the Twelve. Notice the pairings of the list, beginning with two sets of brothers, then three pairs of individuals, and ending with an unusual pair. Simon of Canaan (literally "Simon the Cananaean") did not refer to his place of birth, but to his nationalist fervor. However, there was very little revolution in Palestine during the life of Jesus. So, while Simon was probably not a revolutionary, his name does seem to indicate his distrust of the Romans and their collaborators, the religious leadership in Jerusalem.

But, Judas betrayed Jesus by plotting with these "collaborators." Indeed, the name "Iscariot" could find its root in the Aramaic word for "deceiver" or "false one." So, Matthew paired the extreme ends of the political spectrum among the common people, possibly to make a point. Jesus welcomed all to his ministry, even natural or political enemies.

Who are your friends and fellow workers? How are they different from one another? How do you think Jesus would fit them into the Kingdom?

5 JESUS sent these twelve, having commanded them, saying, "Do not go onto the road of the Gentiles; and you should not into a city of Samaritans. 6 Better, go to the sheep of Israel, the (ones) having been lost. 7 Traveling (along), preach, saying, 'The Kingdom of heaven is near!' 8 Heal the (ones) weak (with sickness), raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, expel demons. You received as a gift, give as a gift."

10:5 "Jesus sent these twelve." The Greek word for "apostle" is "one being sent." So, Matthew had a play on words with the verb "sent." To add the noun "Apostles" after the "twelve" would have been redundant in Greek.

Many different nationalities settled Galilee, some Jewish, some Greek and Roman, some Samaritan. Each group lived separately in their own hamlet or town. But, because the area mixed so many groups together, one could not conduct business or trade without contacting people from other groups.

In 10:5-7, Jesus wanted his Apostles to serve Galilean Jews with the Good News and healing. Their ministry, like that of Jesus, would concentrate on the "house of Israel," the common people [10:6]. Notice Matthew used the image of the lost sheep found in 9:36 again in 10:6. Jesus expected the Apostles to have the same success as he did.

Verse 10:8 listed particular signs of Messianic times: healing, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, and exorcisms. Signs that only the great prophets performed would become common place and they would be freely given [10:8]. Like the forgiveness of sin, all other signs of the Kingdom were grace. This placed the Kingdom itself outside the economic and social systems of the day, yet, directly in the lives of the people.

How can you "grace" your friends, neighbors, and co-workers? How can you help Jesus bring a touch of the Kingdom into their lives?

Catechism Themes: Grace and Merit (CCC 2006-2011)

In the time of Jesus, people practiced hospitality as a virtue. The stranger would be treated like a brother or sister. The visitor would have the place of honor. These people did not deserve such treatment. Society expected such freely given treatment.

The transient ministry of Jesus depended upon such hospitality. But, for such freely given accommodations, Jesus gave a greater gift, the words and the fruit of God's Kingdom. In the final analysis, what Jesus offered was so much greater than the housing and food he received.

The spirit of grace, freely given favor, stands starkly against any notion that we some how merit or earn God's blessings. The greatness of God's blessings should cause gratitude and service, not complacency or expectation. God blesses because he chooses to bless. He offers healing and wholeness out of love, not out of duty. He adopts us as his children; he does not force or make arrangement for one class of people or another. If we merit anything on our own, that merit will be microscopic compared to God's love and grace.

God's freely given gifts, however, must be used with care, with responsibility. Exercised wisely, they can bring great joy and peace in life. They can be a means to care for others. We must always remember that our good works, the things for which we take pride, ultimately find their source in Christ, not in us. And even those works, as beneficial as they may seem, will seem so small before the love of God.

What gifts, both material and spiritual, have you received from God? How have you passed those gifts onto others? How have you thanked God and given him the credit for those gifts?

The passages from Matthew's gospel present us with a challenge. Pass along grace. Jesus gave his followers this key to evangelization. And he gives us the same insight.

To convert others means to convert ourselves. To drain the world of selfishness means to give freely for others' good. Let us then give freely so we can live in a freedom that comes from God. And bring others to Christ.

Make a short list of your talents, your schedule, and your finances. What two or three things can you do this week for other's good? Plan a way to accomplish those things.