by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church, Pasadena
The gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday —the 2nd Sunday After Pentecost— with food for thought on cultivating compassion, what it means to be “sent out” and finding the balance between serpents and doves … Gnaw away!
Second Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 9:35-10:8(9-23) — Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kin-dom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kin-dom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of God speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of God comes.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
Following the special readings appointed for Trinity Sunday, the lectionary now begins the longest season of the Church year, the “season after Pentecost,” also called “ordinary time.” The word “ordinary” hear doesn’t mean mundane but instead comes from the word “ordinal” … which means “counted time.” It is the daily life of the church an daily life of us as followers of Jesus … which, we all know can have it’s own seasons of mundane or incredible interesting, joyful and even tragic. “Ordinary time” is the season of the lectionary where we dive deeply into the primary Gospel for the year, which means it’s lots and lots of Matthew from here on in.
There is a randomness to where in scripture we begin “ordinary time” as it all has to do with when Easter happens to fall. This year, ordinary time begins with this passage from the beginning of the Second Discourse of Matthew’s Gospel. The first discourse is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount and has some of Jesus’ best teachings about discipleship. But the second discourse is where stuff gets real — it’s about taking it to the streets. It is Jesus missionary instructions to his disciples. This week and in the weeks to come we will hear Jesus preparing his disciples to go out and live what he has been teaching.
A few things to chew on:
Matthew says, ”When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The motivation for Jesus sending the 12 out wasn’t conquest or exasperation or despair. It was love. Jesus had compassion – deep feeling of love – for the people. Everything Jesus says as we work through this second discourse in the coming weeks needs to be seen through this lens. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of trying to change the world out of contempt, frustration or even despair with those who differ from us. Jesus reminds us to cultivate compassion for the crowds – even when the crowds turn on us.
There is a subtle but important language shift that happens here. Matthew writes:
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles.
First, they are disciples, then they are apostles. Disciples are followers … students of a teacher. Apostles are people who are sent out. They are not just learners but doers. It is the balance of the inward journey and the outward journey – of studying and learning on the one hand and acting and proclaiming on the other. Both are important. And the hinge between the two is “authority.” It is truly believing that what we have been taught has power. That it is transformational not just for ourselves but for the world. We come together and learn and trust that it is true (even as we struggle with it ourselves). And that trust-building continues as we put what we have learned into practice out in the world.
“Cleanse the lepers.” That’s a command from Jesus that seems to have zero application today. When was the last time you saw someone with leprosy in America? Except a prime consequence of leprosy was that people were ostracized and excluded from community … and that still happens all the time.
This week, each day keep your eyes open for someone who is being excluded. It can be from a conversation or from society in general. Then do something to bring them in, connect them with community and let them know that they have value. Do something to break down whatever barrier is excluding them and casting them out.
And if you feel cast out and excluded … you can still do this with someone else. Even if the community you create is just two people, it’s still community.
Jesus says: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Do you have an experience of family or close friends turning on you because of what you believe or because of who you are or who you love? You are not alone. And here, Jesus says not only that he is with us when that happens but that we should expect it. So if it hasn’t happened yet … wait for it.
If you have had that experience, revisit it this week. Write about it. How did you endure? Where was God’s presence. How has the experience changed you.
Serpents and Doves
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Jesus tells people that preparation for ministry is a balance of being “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” It means faithfulness is both being practical and trusting – always holding those two things in tension. Living in the world but not being of the world.
It means recognizing that there is conventional wisdom in the world, and it’s a good thing to recognize it and take it seriously. But that there are also moments of trusting where we need to leave the strategizing aside and be open to the Holy Spirit doing her thing. There are moments where we need to plan and take great care and there are moments where we need to let go, take leaps of faith and trust God.
We need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
I like to think of it as a spectrum. A “wise as serpents – innocent as doves spectrum” … and always try to make sure I’m not falling to heavily on one side.
Years ago, when we were looking at the possibility of starting a Magdalene community (a two year residential community for women recovering from sexual exploitation, drug abuse and violence) in St. Louis, we brought the founders of the original Magdalene in Nashville, the Rev. Becca Stevens and several of the women of that community, to St. Louis for some gatherings.
Two of the gatherings were hand-picked … nonprofit/civic leaders and potential donors. The third was open. I called it the “Y’all come” gathering … and we had it because God is much better at gathering than we are. We had it because in addition to being wise as a serpent, we needed to be innocent as a dove.
So many of the people who ended up being absolutely critical to Magdalene St. Louis coming into being were not only people who came to those first two gatherings but people who came to the third … or who just showed up and we trusted that God has sent them. Today, there is a house with nine women living in community with a thriving social enterprise … and none of it would have happened if we hadn’t, every step of the way, tried to be both wise as serpents and innocent as doves.
Think about our life as All Saints Church. Where is that balance for us? Are we tilting too much to one side and not enough to the other.
Think about your life. Where is that balance for you? Are you tilting too much to one side and not enough to the other.
Truly, we are sent out as sheep amidst wolves. For me, the temptation when that happens is to be more serpentlike than dovelike. Yet Jesus tells us we must be both.
What would living this out look like for us? For you?
Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – click here for this Sunday’s readings.
Collect for Sunday: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Keep, O God, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.