Matthew 9:35-10:8 (9-23)
The Rev. Denise Vaughn
The Simple Method of Discipleship
In 2004, Jorge Munoz was driving a school bus by the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd street in Queens, NY, under the shadow of the elevated train. The underpass was populated with scores of hungry folks, looking for work, mostly immigrants to the U.S. like himself. When he saw them, he remembered some of his friends in the food service industry telling him about all the food wasted each day that they could not use or sell. Jorge saw both the hunger and the food. Connecting the two became his passion. Starting a few days a week with bag lunches, he soon began serving hot meals made after work in his home kitchen from the back of a truck to everyone who wanted one. He has served over 100,000 meals for no compensation. He says “I know these people are waiting for me….You have to see their smile, man. That’s the way I get paid.” Eduardo, one of the regulars, can see right through Jorge. “I thank God for touching this man’s heart.”
As Jesus looked out on the crowd gathered in the underpass of his day, he saw the same hungry people harassed, helpless like sheep without a shepherd. As Matthew tells it, Jesus has spent the previous six chapters teaching, preaching, and healing throughout the highways and byways of Galilee. And things seem to be going well. Wherever he went, Jesus found himself surrounded by teeming crowds of would be followers, many desperate and dejected, searching for help and for hope. And suddenly it dawns on Jesus “I can’t do this alone.” “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I need help, so he summoned his twelve disciples, empowered them to go into the harvest and sent them out with instructions.
If we look at the original group of twelve, we find people at that time who are not the heroes of faith; they are not in the “who’s who” of religion, they are not the model citizens. Not one is a priest or rabbi or prophet. Jesus chose twelve common and ordinary imperfect people. He avoided all the religious professionals, telling the disciples “beware of them, for they will persecute you because of me. The message they are to carry out into the harvest is a simple message. They won’t need to memorize all the books in the bible or its content, or even get a seminary education. The message is simply: The kingdom of God is at hand. God is real and present; in us and around us.
And the method they will use is rather simple. Go to the needy, the sick, the blind, the crippled, those with leprosy, and those who experienced death. Go to the people who have a real felt need for God’s help in their lives: those who need the power and presence of God to help them. Jesus later said: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; it is sick people who do. This is the attitude you are to have Jesus tells them. You are to have compassion to those in need and to those who are hurting.
The text tells us that Jesus had compassion on the people, like sheep without a shepherd. In the Greek “compassion” means deep feelings, gut feelings of love for the hurting. The way you reach people Jesus tells us is with this attitude of compassion. Not with an attitude of cynicism: those people are all messed up and nothing can be done about it. Not with an attitude of condemnation: boy, did those people mess up their lives. Not with an attitude of constructive criticism: let me point out the ten mistakes that these people made to mess up their lives. Rather, the attitude of deep compassion, that gut feeling of love, is what makes ministry possible. So the recipe of discipleship Jesus gave to those first twelve disciples, common ordinary, imperfect people, had a simple message, a simple method to those in any need, and compassion was crucial.
Also included in this recipe of discipleship is a dress code. The disciples are told to carry no gold or silver with them and they are to dress simply. One tunic, two pairs of sandals and that is all. He prepares them for the adventure to come by stripping them of basic necessities. He sends them off on a potentially dangerous journey with no provision of comfort or cash. These seem very strange instructions for this mission. We may wonder what is behind this request by Jesus. More than likely Jesus was very aware that some people may be attracted to the good news for the wrong reasons for example: it will make you healthy, wealthy and rich. The only thing the disciples have to offer is the kingdom of God, the power and presence of God to heal their lives, to make a difference in the way they live. Nothing more.
There is not a thing wrong with preparation and planning. There is nothing wrong with provisions. But if we are not careful they can become a substitute for obedience, humility, dependence and trust in the One for whom success bore a striking resemblance to failure. Jesus strips his disciples of those basic resources upon which they would have depended for safety and comfort, not to harden or to test or to punish them, but to free them from the illusion that the success of the gospel mission and message has anything to do with human strength and worldly wisdom. They are not to rely on their own resources but on the grace of God and the kindness of others.
They are not to settle in and settle down either. Rather, they are to keep moving, keep going, and keep growing. Jesus invests them with his own power and authority, he sends them forth in his name as a way of saying that his life and their life, his mission and their mission, are finally one and the same. The message of the gospel and the mission of Jesus are to be part and parcel of who we are and what we do and where we go and how we conduct ourselves along the way. The heart of discipleship is reaching out to our friends and neighbors and strangers in need with the genuine love and compassion of God living inside of us. These relationships of compassion are the means, the simple method that God uses to reach others and this simple method is still working.
The Holy Spirit is still seeking her harassed, helpless sheep through contemporary disciples, and people are still brought to faith and church by every day common people like us. This is our call to discipleship. So let us not forget the simple recipe that Jesus gives us. The kingdom of God is real, present and all around us. We are to go out to the people showing compassion to those in need and to those who are hurting, inviting them into our community. We are not to rely on our own resources but on the grace of God and the kindness of others. We have been commissioned by our baptism. May we wield the powers of God’s new creation with loving compassion toward all whom we are made, by grace to see under the underpasses of life!