‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
You received without payment; give without payment’ ’
(From St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 9)
Jesus takes a message of transformative grace into the towns and villages of Galilee. And calls the Twelve disciples to share in a ministry of healing and cleansing, deliverance and enlivening. As he calls you and me to the same. What I’ve omitted though are the words which immediately precede the ones above:
‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans,
but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.’
The Gentiles were chiefly Syro-Greek communities peppered across the same landscape a Jewish towns and villages, living often in intimate proximity with them. In it fullest sense, the term ‘gentile’ included all non-Jews. Like the gentiles, the Samaritans shared the same landscapeas the Jews, descended from an intermingling of Israelites and people forcibly relocated the area by the Assyrians some 750 years earlier.
Jesus’ clear instruction to the Twelve is to avoid those ethnic communities of gentiles and Samaritans, and go only to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’.
Recent weeks have seen an increasing intensity of protests, here and in many parts of the world, against the misuse and demeaning of human lives on the basis of colour; a
historical prejudice that continues to inform the experience of many people in our world.
People experience other prejudices too: because of their gender, their sexuality, their
religion; because of disability or intellect, profession or unemployment, status or poverty. Could we imagine that in these words Jesus endorses such intolerable discrimination?
The whole word of Christ frames a salvation accessible to all. His command is to love one another without distinction, as a reflection of our love of God our Father. And the work of the Spirit is to unite us into one family, regardless of race, gender or status. The Samaritan and the Syro-Phoenician women, the Gentile Centurion, the woman caught in adultery, the demoniac, the tax-collector: Jesus gathers them all up into his rainbow kingdom.
We’ve each and all been given a gift, which relies in no part on our worthiness. Jesus died for us while we were, while our people were, while our world was lost in sin.
There was a particular concern expressed by Jesus in this passage, that God’s people had lost their way; like sheep without a shepherd. Those who should most properly have know that they were to stand as a beacon of light to attract all nations, had hooded that light and sought to keep it for themselves alone. In doing so, they had continually narrowed down the field of grace; excluding group after group, on the basis of gender,
In protesting injustice, and affirming that Black Lives Matter, none of us should think too highly of ourselves, or despise another human being. All of us are complex creatures, sometimes choosing the good, often choosing the bad. We should count no one as them less worthy, less valuable, less deserving of God’s grace. Such an attitude is self-excluding.
It is by the free grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, that we live, and our daily task is to demonstrate that grace, so freely given to us, as a free gift to all.