And Jesus traveled around all the cities and the villages, teaching in the churches, and preaching the good news about the Kingdom. He healed everyone who suffered from any disease and illness. But when he looked at the crowds, he was filled with compassion because they seemed to be troubled and distressed, like a flock of sheep that did not have the guidance and protection of a shepherd. So he said to his students, “There’s so much work to do, but so few workers to do it. So plead with the Lord, who oversees the work, and ask him to send out more workers!”
Then he chose twelve men from among his students and gave them the same credentials that he had to exorcize demons, and to heal all kinds of diseases and illnesses. These are the names of the twelve men that he sent out: first there was Simon, who’s called Rocky, and his brother, Andrew; then there was Jacob, the son of Zebedee, and his brother, John; then Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew (the tax-collector); Jacob, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
Jesus sent out these twelve with the following instructions: “Don’t travel along any road that leads to where foreigners and non-Jews live! Don’t go into any Samaritan city! Instead, just go collect the sheep that have wandered off from Israel’s flock! Everywhere you go, announce that the Kingdom of Heaven is coming closer and closer all the time! Heal the sick! Raise the dead! Cleanse the lepers! Cast out demons! All of you took without paying so give without charging!
The first paragraph ends the ninth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the second paragraph begins the tenth. Chapters Eight and Nine recounted the story of ten miracles of Jesus. Chapter Ten begins with Jesus sending out twelve of his disciples and calling them “apostles.” Most people never read the opening of the tenth chapter as part of the closing of the ninth because in our mind that is not how chapters work. Chapters are complete units of writing; therefore, Chapter Nine stuff is Chapter Nine stuff, and it has very little, if anything, to do with Chapter Ten stuff.
The problem with trying to apply that notion to the Bible is that none of the writers wrote in chapter and verse – they just wrote a story. The adding of chapters and verses occurred during the middle ages, and although it may make finding a piece of text easier, it artificially breaks up the narrative so that most people reading the Bible make a mental stop at the end of Chapter Nine, close a mental door, and then move on to Chapter Ten as if it has nothing to do with what they just read. This is why I do not use chapter and verse in my translation The New Peace Treaty: A New Translation of the New Testament For a New Millennium. I wanted people to read the story as A STORY without the structure of the text creating subliminal barriers that may inhibit understanding and identification.
THE POINT IS THAT THE SENDING OUT OF APOSTLES IN CHAPTER TEN IS THE IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THE PRAYING OF CHAPTER NINE!
We also learn that there is a difference between being a “disciple” and an “apostle”; yet, it also does not mean that the two terms are mutually exclusive. Disciples are students who learn from a teacher and seek to apply the lessons of that teacher to their own lives. Jesus had many disciples. Apostles are, as the Greek word means, “sent out” – they are sent on a mission and they bear the authority of the one who sends them, so that what they say and do is said and done with the authority of the one who sent them out; therefore, what apostles do and say has the same authority as if the one who sent them did it and said it.
Jesus gives the Apostles His own authority to do what He is doing, and to say what He is saying. In Luke’s Gospel He will send out disciples too, granting them authority; yet, those others who are sent out, even though they are sent out with Jesus’ authority, are not Apostles.
The praying to send out workers and the calling of the Twelve Apostles is reminiscent of the choosing of Joshua to replace Moses in the Book of Numbers.
Then Moses said to the LORD, “May the LORD, the God of the spirits of all humanity, set over the community someone who will be their leader in battle and who will lead them out and bring them in, that the LORD’s community may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” And the LORD replied to Moses: Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man of spirit, and lay your hand upon him.
~ Numbers 27:15-18
From the beginning of his Gospel, Matthew presents Jesus as a New Moses, even to the point of having Jesus ascend a mountain and issuing a New Law in the Sermon on the Mount. In the Book of Numbers, Moses is preparing for his death and putting a leader in place who will continue in his place once he is gone. This is what Jesus is doing with the Apostles. Just as Jesus is the New Moses, the Apostles are the New Joshua – one Apostle for each tribe of Israel.
The “God of the spirits of all humanity” has the sense that God knows the character and abilities of all people and therefore knows best whom to appoint. It is the God who sees and knows all people deep down to the very core of their being. This means that ALL the Apostles were chosen because of their core-abilities – EVEN JUDAS!
I know it is easier for us to think that Judas was bad, or that he became bad, but Judas was chosen as an Apostle – HE HAD THE RIGHT STUFF TO BE AN APOSTLE! It is tempting to just think Jesus chose eleven good guys and one bad guy because He needed someone to betray Him, but Judas was not chosen because of what was wrong with him, he was chosen for what was right with him. If he went bad, or made a bad decision, or became a bad-guy, or fell from his position, it was not because he was a rotten scoundrel, but because he was a flawed human like the rest of us. AND THAT IS THE POINT: If Judas, one of the Twelve Apostles, who was chosen because of what was inherently good about him, can fall, then any of us, no matter how good we like to think we are, can fall. And that is a scary thought, which is why most of us just want to make Judas out to be a bad-guy, rotten through and through from the very beginning.
So, at the risk of sounding Catholic, Jesus had compassion over the crowd because they were like sheep without a shepherd, He told his disciples to pray for workers to go out into the harvest, and then He chose twelve of His disciples and made them shepherds of the flock, then He sends them out into the harvest. The Apostles were chosen to carry on for Jesus when Jesus was no longer around, just as Joshua was chosen to carry one for Moses after Moses died.
But maybe another point is that we are all the answer to prayer. Sometimes we are the answer to our own prayers, and many times we are the answer to someone else’s prayer. People are praying for things we can do for them. They are praying for things we have – often things we have in abundance and no longer use. Everyone is the answer to somebody’s prayer. If this is true, then maybe we should spend less time praying for things we want and need, and pray instead to be the answer to somebody’s need – we just may be the “miracle” that someone else is waiting for!
God does not just come down from heaven and announce Himself, neither does God act on His own. God does everything through a partnership with people. The same is true with evil – if demons could just act, why would they bother to “possess” people? The spiritual realm works through the physical realm, good and bad. So we need to stop praying for God to do something and then sit around and wait for God to do it because WE ARE THE SOMETHING THAT GOD IS DOING!
Jesus sends out the Apostles, He sends out disciples, and He tells them to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God – and they announce it by doing things! They heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons – they do all the stuff they saw Jesus do – and by doing it, they announce the coming of the Kingdom. What they are doing is the evidence of that the Kingdom of God is real and that it is here!
Maybe, too, our prayers are often answered, but since we expected them to be answered a certain way, we do not think they were answered. Sometimes we ask God for something, and when God does not give it to us in the manner we imagined in our own minds, we say that God did not answer our prayers. So many times people call me, or text me, or IM me telling me that God is not answering their prayer, and so often when I listen to them, I realize that God has answered the prayer, just not in a way they expected, or in a way they wanted, or in a way they are willing to accept.
Very often I may pray to God that I am hungry and I need food and in my mind I’m thinking lobster, but God gives me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Because I wanted, or was expecting, lobster, I can find myself complaining. But I was hungry and needed food. I asked for food. God gave it.
IT MUST BE VERY FRUSTRATING FOR GOD FOR US TO KEEP PRAYING FOR GOD TO DO WHAT GOD HAS ALREADY DONE!
And of course, I would not be me if I did not mention the “doing.” God chose us to do for others. God is love. Love is what God is. God wants everyone to be fed. God wants everyone to be clothed. God wants everyone to be healed. God wants everyone to be free. God wants to be partners – but if we do not let ourselves be the agents through whom God acts in the world, then it does not get done.
The question people ask a lot is “If God is real and God is good, why does God allow children to starve in Africa?” People ask me that a lot and expect me to give them an answer. But I cannot answer their question because I do not accept their question. God does NOT allow children to starve in Africa, people do!
God works through people, and God is love. Yet, people are apathetic. Apathy is the opposite of love. So apathetic people, who really do not love – because it is impossible to be apathetic and love, just like it is impossible to mix matter and anti-matter – justify their own apathy by projecting it onto God. So the question is never “Why does God allow children to starve?” but “Why do WE allow children to starve?” Why do we refuse to let God feed children through us?
It is usually about this part in the conversation when the one who originally asked the question begins to become angry with me because I refuse to indulge in mental masturbation, and place the burden of responsibility where it belongs – on the one who asked the question, as well as on the one who is answering it.
Jesus Christ is God’s compassion and God’s dynamic and decisive activity in the world. Jesus Christ is embodied by the Church, made up of disciples and Apostles, to continue to be God’s dynamic and decisive activity in the world. If God is silent, or if God is inactive, it is because we have silenced God through our own inaction.
It really does not matter that God is love if God’s people are indifferent. It really does not matter what God wants to happen in the world if God’s people do not want it. The harvest is huge and the workers are few, so pray to the Lord of the harvest to make what we want the same as what God wants. Then, and only then, will the world see the power of God, which is the power of love.