Hearing the Call
A sermon-reflection on Matthew 9:35-10:23, from the perspective of the Disciple Andrew
[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by feey on Unsplash.]
Just getting to watch him minister to the people would have been enough for me.
There is a joy that I cannot describe in witnessing lives change right in front of my eyes:
Diseases that have defined a person’s life disappearing like smoke on the wind.
Parents carrying a child too ill to walk, and then being led away by that same child’s dancing, joyous feet after Jesus touched them.
The raving and wild sitting in perfect peace; the blind opening their eyes to see with sparkling wonder; the lepers smoothing delicate, touch-sensitive fingers over suddenly perfect skin.
And his words… words so heavy with wisdom, yet light enough to fly through the crowds on the wind of a truth that was so obvious once he spoke it, although we knew no one had ever said it so clearly before.
It was all I wanted to get to watch it all unfold… day after day, city after village. I couldn’t imagine anything more than just watching… just marveling and rejoicing that God’s chosen one was really here, with us.
But, day after day, I saw the look of pain behind his eyes.
He saw, really saw, each person who came to him in need. They were not just a task to him.
Each person was beloved, and he felt their pain, and fear, and vulnerability even as he reached out to them with healing in his hands.
They went away freed of their burdens, but I could see the way his shoulders dragged down. I could see how his eyes followed them knowing that the healing was temporary… knowing that the world to which they returned held so much confusion, and threat.
So, I suppose, I should not have been surprised when he spoke to us about the need he saw.
The need for more laborers to share the work.
The people were so eager… so aware of their needs… so ready to be welcomed into the new vision of wholeness and healing that had drawn us twelve to follow Jesus.
But Jesus could not be everywhere all the time.
And the people needed more than singular miracles. More than the immediate healing.
They needed leadership. They needed to see themselves as PART of what God was doing, not just lucky recipients of an act of power.
They needed God to equip others for this work along with Jesus.
First, he told us to pray… and that I could do.
But then he said more… he said it was us… we were the workers.
He said he was giving us authority to cast out demons and to cure diseases… to do the things he was doing… to look into the eyes of the same people whose need twisted his guts with compassion.
I wasn’t sure I could do it.
Looking around at our companions, some of them made sense.
James and John, “the sons of thunder” had the confidence for this task.
Matthew had been a tax collector, so he probably relished the idea of being a person that people would willingly come to see.
Even my brother, Simon. He could be a bit of a hot head, but he was passionate. He had the energy to address a crowd. He had the self-assurance to claim the authority Jesus offered and to do something with it.
But… I was a follower, not a leader.
First, I followed John, the baptizer.
Then, he told me to follow Jesus, so I did.
And, yes, I went and called my brother to join… but to join me in FOLLOWING. Because I could recognize the person who SHOULD BE in charge… and it’s not me. I wasn’t made for authority.
And then, I got even more confused, because Jesus told us not to go among the Gentiles.
Even though he had already led us to the land of the Gadarenes, where he had healed the man with the legion of demons.
And, before that, when a centurion approached Jesus to ask for healing for his servant, Jesus not only performed the healing but praised the Gentile’s faith.
If we were really intended to share Jesus’ burden with him, then why prohibit us from doing what he had already begun to do?
But then he kept going, and I stopped questioning the restriction… because it was scary enough to imagine doing what he was describing among my own people.
Take no provisions. No money as a safety net. Not even a change of clothes or a walking stick.
We were supposed to earn our food with our healings and our message.
Well, I supposed that we would. If he really had given us a share of his authority to heal and to announce the good news of the work God was doing in the world, that was worth far more than a meal and safe place to sleep for a night.
But Jesus KNEW the people. He saw their hearts when he looked into their eyes. And he knew that we could not rely on the gratitude of suspicious and desperate people in a land where we’re hardly the first itinerant miracle-workers to come through town and the Romans were still in control, after all of them, with their soldiers and their taxes.
There would be places where we would be rejected. It was all well and good for Jesus to talk about the judgment they will one day receive for this rejection, but it still meant a day without food for us… and a night without protection.
And Jesus wasn’t pretending anything different. In fact, he was making it clear the danger was much bigger than refused hospitality.
Flogging in the synagogues.
Being dragged before governors and kings.
I don’t understand what he means by telling us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves,” but I don’t think it would help even if I did!
And how will any of this predicted persecution meet the need that wrenched at Jesus’ heart when he looked at the harassed and helpless crowd? How could opening ourselves up for harassment and helplessness be a solution to the need for more “laborers” for the harvest?! What possible harvest was he expecting us to produce this way?
That was the question burning in my brain when he made eye contact with me.
And I knew he saw me.
He saw my questions and my hesitations.
He saw my fear and my sense of inadequacy.
He saw that I saw the burden he was carrying but that I felt utterly powerless to actually do anything that would truly help.
And, as he gazed at me… I saw him too.
I saw his compassion. Saw his understanding. Saw his love.
And what I saw sparked a flicker of hope… that I could trust him.
That’s what he was really asking for… just trust.
It wasn’t my ability, or my authority or even my courage that I would be relying on. Just like I wouldn’t be relying on my provisions for anticipated needs when I went without a bag.
He was teaching us to NOT plan on taking care of ourselves; to NOT put our trust in self-reliance. To not even plan out what we would say.
Because God would speak through us. The words would be given to us.
I wouldn’t be relying on myself.
I wouldn’t be alone.
I realized that was part of what I saw when I watched him looking into the eyes of the crowds and saw the compassion welling up in him.
He was feeling their pain, yes, of course. But he was also feeling alone.
He knows what it’s like to feel alone. To look at an insurmountable task and feel defeated before you even begin.
He knows what it’s like to have your first instinct be a prayer of desperation: God YOU figure this out because this is way bigger than me.
And, somehow, realizing that made a difference for me.
It didn’t eliminate all my fear. The whole brother betraying brother to death thing was pretty intimidating because I know Simon is way more hardcore than me, plus he’s one of Jesus’s favorites, so I am going to lose that faceoff.
But even with all of the terrifying things Jesus was predicting… something shifted in me when he made that promise that I wouldn’t be alone. That I didn’t have to rely on my smarts, and my eloquence, and my ability to make my case.
I wasn’t alone. I am not alone. Whatever he calls me to, I am not alone.
Because Jesus knows what it feels like to face a challenge alone and he will never put me through that.
In that I can trust.
Thanks be to God.