Third Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Matthew 9:35-10:8
Title: Vision, Compassion, Gathering, Sending
Vision, Compassion, Gathering, Sending, that is the movement in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. It is also the movement of Jesus’ response to those who are harassed and helpless, of God’s interaction with His fractured and fallen creation, and of the sanctified Christian life as it lives by the Spirit of Jesus. It may also be the movement for your sermon this Sunday.
As He went throughout the cities and villages, Jesus saw. This is not a minor detail. Many people go through life wondering if anyone sees, if anyone notices. The crowds Jesus saw were “helpless and harassed” (v. 36; these verbs could be translated more literally “whipped/flayed” and “thrown down”). He noted they were like sheep without a shepherd, which meant they had neither protector nor provider.
Jesus does not name the source of their harassment, but it is not hard to imagine. Simply look around today. Some are tossed about by injustice, grief, and abuse of authority. Others are flayed by disease, economic strain, and isolation. Everyone is harassed by a sinful inclination to respond with (un)righteous anger fear, and self-righteousness.
The problem, in part, is many people do not see. Perhaps they cannot, having never put themselves in the position to see. Perhaps they will not, refusing to look outside their lives and bubbles. Contrast them (us) with Jesus. Jesus sees. He sees the crowds in the text. He sees their helplessness. He sees those who are harassing them, and He does not look away. This is not surprising, for He is the Son of the One who sees all things—good, bad, and ugly
Truly seeing others and their plight is a necessary beginning. But if being seen is not accompanied by being helped, it does not do much. This is the second movement in the text. Having seen the crowds, Jesus has compassion. He suffers with them (from the Latin, com·passio). In this sense, the suffering of Jesus is not limited to the events of Holy Week. It encompasses His entire ministry on this earth. Jesus came among us to suffer with us before He suffered on Golgotha for us.
+Jesus came among us to suffer with us before He suffered on Golgotha for us. We are not as good at suffering with others. Luther’s explanations to the fifth and eighth commandments come to mind. We are to fear and love God by helping and supporting our neighbors in every bodily need. We are to defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on everything they do. We fall short, which must not be easily excused even though it is true. But Jesus does not. He protects and provides for His people as the Good Shepherd they have been missing.
The compassion of Jesus, which arises from seeing the suffering of the crowds, leads Him to gather. He begins by gathering the twelve (they are first listed in Matthew’s Gospel here at the beginning of chapter ten). But He does not stop there. As Robert Kolb likes to say, we worship a God of conversation and community. That is, God continually speaks and continually gathers.
It is still a little odd to speak of gathering these days. Some congregations remain unable to gather in groups larger than nine. Others have resumed gathering, but not within six feet and not without facemasks. This points to an important aspect of the gathering Jesus does in this text. He does not gather the disciples for their own edification; not primarily, at least. He gathers them so He might send them.
Matthew 10:2 is the only time in Matthew’s Gospel where the twelve are called “apostles” (τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων). In this instance, Jesus sends them to cast out demons and heal diseases It is not a stretch to say Jesus sent the Apostles to do what he had come to do: To see, to have compassion, to gather, and to send.
That is the continuing movement. Jesus continues to send His people to see others (especially the widow, the orphan, and all who suffer injustice) as human beings and fellow creatures of a loving God. He continues to send His people to have compassion on those who are helpless and harassed, to suffer with them, and to help them bear their burdens. He continues to send His people to speak words of life and forgiveness that create saving faith in the hearts of individuals and gather them together for life as His body. And He continues to send His people to continue sending others until all have heard and believed and come together in His name.
Last week the Gospel reading came from Matthew 28. We call it the Great Commission or Sending. In a sense, this week’s reading gives us the background of that text, for before there can be a sending, there has to be a gathering. Before there can be a gathering, there is compassion. Before compassion, there is the seeing. And it all starts with a gracious God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Vision, Compassion, Gathering, and Sending are what God does through the Holy Spirit, which dwells in all who believe in Jesus as their Savior. Amen