Scripture:The twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go now here 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 kingdom of Heaven has come near.'” (Luke 12:25-26, 30-31)
Reflection: In Matthew’s gospel, the author is focused on the mission to the Jews, the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Jews are God’s chosen people; they are the heirs to God’s promises sealed in the covenant with Abraham and renewed with Moses, Joshua, and Ezra. Because of this context of the author of Matthew’s gospel, the Matthean Jesus instructs his twelve apostles to preach the nearness of God’s kingdom only to the Jews. Later in the narrative when a Canaanite woman, that is, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests help for her demon-possessed daughter, Jesus declares, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. However, she begs him for help, and he, recognizing her faith, instantly heals her daughter.
While the Matthean Jesus heals Gentiles, he instructs his apostles to stay away from them. In the world of the first century, there were only two groups of people: Jews and Gentiles. What distinguished them was circumcision. Jewish males were marked with the same sign of the covenant that Abraham received: circumcision. Gentiles, primarily Greeks and Romans, considered this practice to be mutilation. Jesus also tells the twelve to stay out of Samaritan towns. In Jesus’s world, Samaritans were like a third group – neither Jews nor Gentiles. They were the result of Israelites intermarrying with Assyrians; Jews hated Samaritans.
Only at the end of the gospel does the Matthean Jesus commission his disciples to go to all the nations, that is, the Gentiles. The mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel is not revoked; the purpose of the mission is expanded to the whole world. This is the mission inherited by followers of Jesus today. A spirituality of mission must be focused on the big picture, the whole world. While the ancient dichotomy of Jews and Gentiles no longer applies, many people find modern ways to place people into stereotypical groups. The mission of Jesus, from that to the Jews to that of all the nations (Gentiles), cannot be narrowed beyond the world.
Journal/Meditation: How narrow is your mission? How broad is your mission?
Prayer: God of Jews and Gentiles, your Son began his mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and from there he expanded it to the Gentiles. Strengthen my resolve to bring the good news of the nearness of your kingdom to the whole world. I ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord. Amen.