Here, at the beginning of Matthew’s tenth chapter, we see Jesus commissioning the twelve Apostles to go out on their first missions. We see that Jesus gives them very specific instructions. He tells them that they are not to go into either the territories of pagans or into the towns of the Samaritans, rather, they are to focus first on “the house of Israel.” (verse 6) And they are to proclaim to the house of Israel that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (verse 7) But there is more. And this is where we will focus our meditation today.
Jesus makes it clear that this proclamation of the kingdom of heaven is to be more than just words, more than simply preaching. They are to do the kind of work that shows that the kingdom of heaven is near. They are to “heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, [and] cast out devils.” This is powerful stuff. Look at the progression of ideas here. It is one thing to heal the sick, this is something that we are moved to do by dint of our natural compassion. But touch the leper? We know how lepers were treated in Jesus’ time and before. To draw too near to a leper was to be defiled and a prolonged, ritual cleansing would be required, before one would be allowed back into the community. But Jesus is saying that the Twelve are to “cleanse the lepers” they encounter. This has physical and spiritual dimensions. One must touch the leper to cleanse their sores. The Twelve had to have had a profound faith in God, which was manifested in the way that they approached and dealt with the lepers they met. That faith was, after all, inspired by their personal experiences of Jesus. We can also believe that their living faith would have affected the lepers faith in the them, and the God they professed, as well.
Then the Twelve are instructed to “raise the dead.” This is a step beyond our natural ability, isn’t it. We can understand the powers of healing, and of touch, on the sick and the leper, but raise the dead! This is not something that we can do. Only God can do that. The Twelve had been around Jesus enough by this time to see him doing such things. We can imagine that they would have understood that this kind of power could only come from God. Jesus is training the Twelve here. He is giving them a kind of faith boot camp experience. They have seen the power of God working in Jesus, but they are now going to have to trust that God can do that work through them too.
Then the most difficult instruction of all…”Cast out devils.” The Devil and his fallen angels are the very enemy of God. They see themselves at war with God. They are supernatural, eternal beings. How could the Twelve stand up against the master of sin and death and “cast him out”? They cannot do this without God. Nor can we. Today, Jesus asks us to be his champions against the forces of sin and death, hear and now, just as he instructed the Twelve to do then. Jesus was instructing the Twelve to freely give to others what they had freely received from him, that is, their growing knowledge of, and faith in, the One who can do all of these things perfectly, without end. Jesus was asking them to show others what they had learned about the kingdom of God through him. Do we believe that he is saying this to us as well? Right now, today, Jesus is commissioning us, just as he did the Twelve. Do we have enough faith to put our whole trust in Jesus like the Twelve did? Do we believe that he wishes to do these things through us for those who are sick, for those who are treated like lepers today, for those who have let their hope die in a maelstrom of despair, as well? Indeed, do we have faith enough in God to cast out the devils of temptation within and without? If our faith is the size of a mustard seed, Jesus will do all of these good things through us. Blessed be God, forever!
Jesus, we believe. Increase our faith so that, in all humility, we can open ourselves to your many graces more and more each day, and allow them to flow through us to those around us who are in need of your love, your healing forgiveness, and your protection from evil. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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