When it comes right down to it, we don’t much like being told what to do, even and especially when we are perfectly capable of doing it.
I was reminded of this fact just the other day when the grandson was visiting. Children are often the best reminder of essential human nature.
Toward the end of lunch as the final urging came from parents and grandparents to take another bite of the delicious meal, he extended his arms in cruciform fashion, fork in one hand, spoon in the other, and with a look of delight in defiance and full intention upon his face, he opened his hands to let the utensils drop to the floor.
The statement was made: “I may be capable, but I choose this….not what you would have me do but what I choose to do.”
We don’t like being told what to do, even when we are fully capable of doing it.
That’s why preaching on the Gospel for today is a little tricky. It is Jesus giving marching orders to his Disciples. The first thing worth noticing in this story is the premise upon which the marching orders rest.
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
The authority is given. You can do this! Jesus is not raising any unrealistic expectations of the disciples that he has chosen and taught at all. They are capable!
The second thing worth noting is the need. When he (that is, Jesus) saw the crowd he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few…” Jesus says a moment later.
So, not only is authority and ability given to the disciples, but the need to do something is also a clearly identified.
Who could possibly turn down an opportunity to make a difference in the world and do this work since indeed, you are given the ability to do it?
The third thing worth noting in the story is how clearly the people who are to be sent to do the work are identified. This is no generic “disciples” or “apostles” or “the seventy” story. No, here we get the apostle’s names, by name! “These are the names of the twelve “apostles” … “Apostles” which in Greek means in fact means “sent ones.” It couldn’t be any clearer! Here is the task, here is the need, here are the folks specifically named and able to do it!
In the face of such obvious need and freely given authority, who would do anything other than go?
But, here’s the interesting thing about Matthew’s Gospel. Unlike Mark and Luke where Jesus sends the disciples out and then we have a scene of him rejoicing at their return and praising them for what they were able to do, in Matthew there is no such “homecoming” recorded!
Instead of hearing about the great work the “sent ones” were able to accomplish, Jesus launches into a series of teachings and parables as if they were still very much in his presence!
In fact, in chapter 11 we will read “Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.”
It appears as though while instruction is given, and the command is made, the actual launch of the apostles on their own is much delayed!
Now, it could be that the disciples really did go out as instructed and Matthew just didn’t record a homecoming because he didn’t feel any need to.
Or, it could be that even though authority was given and need was identified, instead of going and doing what Jesus told them to do, they did …..this….(drop the fork and spoon.)
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’m also trying to make sense of our own actions or rather, inaction at the call of Jesus.
You see, in baptism we hear the same call as those first named disciples. This is, in fact, where we get our naming. We are given the first command to “go” and to do the things that we are given the authority to do. We talk about the hope and promise that God will cause the little one’s light will shine. We are baptized into a world filled with quite clear and obvious need. It’s all done with the expectation that the call will come to “Go!”
That call to “go” is reiterated in Confirmation or Affirmation of Baptism, when we lay hands on young ones and commission them, asking that the Holy Spirit be “stirred up” within them to be able to take the baptismal promises on as their own. It’s a celebration of that authority given, and the ability to now glimpsed to step out and respond to that authority and empowerment that God bestows with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Heck, every Sunday we end the service with “Go in peace, serve the Lord…” Which we might say perfunctorily, but is not really meant as a mild suggestion, or hopeful wish but rather as a commissioning. Now that we have been fed at the table and have received the teaching from Jesus, the task of the Disciple should be to follow the example or to do as the teacher directs, and if the word is “Go” …well then….Go! Serve!
Not “Go” and be the first one to hit the Father’s Day Brunch Buffet.
You and I are the “sent ones” now, which brings me back to the illustration of my Grandson.
While we fully trust in Jesus, and know that God has given Jesus all authority, and that authority to do the work of healing and liberation is given to us, why is it then that we tend to…..(extend hands, drop silverware.)
Sent? Really? Me? You expect that? You can’t be serious Jesus!
We read this Gospel lesson and are torn in our response.
Part of us really wants to lay claim to this confidence that Jesus has in us, to go out and heal, to release those captive, welcome the outcast, confront the demons that afflict our society. We look down at the plate before us and wonder just where we can “dig in” to make a difference.
But another part of us has doubts, and to be honest, a little streak of stubbornness and independence.
It’s not that I’m not capable of doing these things Jesus says I can do, but what would happen if I did them? Would that be the expectation of me from now on?
And so, our willful self (much like in my Grandson) rears its head, — the part that doesn’t want to be told what to do.
Sent? Really? Me? I don’t think so!
Honestly, I think that’s much of the difficulty we have with Jesus’ words here. The commission comes off to us as a command, and we don’t like being told what to do, and so we do the very human thing when we hear a command.
Now, typically, the first instinct of a parent when rebellion kicks in is to exert authority. Be honest here, you’ve struggled with an independent child, an adolescent.
You’ve cajoled them.
You’ve threatened them.
You’ve warned them.
You’ve tried to encourage them.
You’ve laid down expectations, …counted to three, …shown them how to do it.
No display of your authority over them really works in the long term. You get short fits and starts of results, but the rebellion returns.
We don’t like being told what to do, what we need to do, what we are capable of doing, or what we ought to do. Church has been really bad about that in many ways, appealing to guilt or gratitude to try to launch the “sent ones” into activity.
We have 2000 years of uneven response from God’s children to show in that regard.
So, what does work?
Honestly? Maybe what we see Jesus doing here, and what you have done as well. Diversion!
If you throw the focus away from what the child feels as the “ought to do,” and toward another activity, you will likely be able to motivate them better to do what they are fully capable of doing on their own.
So, it’s not about taking one more bite, it’s about what we get to do next. “When you eat all of that we’ll be able to….”
It’s not about putting your shoes on and then struggling to wrestle down a leg and make them put it on, it’s about where we are going to go once the shoes are on the feet. “Hurry up, we’re going….”
It’s not about picking up the toys because you have to, they need to go back in the box or the room has to be clean, …it’s about the game of who can get to that toy first….
Seen in that light, I wonder now if Jesus isn’t engaging in a little diversion as well?
Send forth laborers…
But not followed by compulsion, rather with instruction and accompaniment. The “do it with me” approach.
So, of course there is no homecoming celebration in Matthew! The understanding here is that while Jesus uses the language of sending, he actually accompanies! Jesus goes along with them into all the villages and into the cities.
What if we read Matthew as one big diversion by Jesus toward doing the word of Discipleship?
What if instead of chafing at the command of God to “go and do” something, we began to look to watch for what God is already doing, and listen to the story that God in Jesus tells along the way as we join with God in that work?
What if instead of trying to figure out how to bring in the Kingdom of God, (though we are fully authorized so to do) we looked for where Jesus is doing that very work already. What if we watched and joined him in the task, listening to what he might be teaching us along the way?
Can you catch the difference?
Just because Jesus says “go” doesn’t mean we have to try to figure out which direction to launch off toward, and then check over our shoulder to see if we’re getting it right.
Maybe, just maybe — Jesus is accompanying us already and inviting us to go along with where God is already at work and leading the way.
That’s what our Visioning process here at St. James will be looking at this summer. Less about where we need to “go” and more about where Jesus is already at work and joining in and joining with that work already under way.
“Sent? Really? Me?” Yes, and probably already liberating and healing. What remains is to have the eyes to see it in what Jesus teaches us to do along the way.