Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sent Out

In Matthew and Luke, Jesus sends His disciples on mission.  In Matthew we read “Jesus sent out these twelve, instructing them as follows: ‘Do not go to Gentile regions and do not enter any Samaritan town.  Go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” (10:5-6)  Luke’s sending is different from that of Matthew, in that there is no national, ethnic, or geographic restriction to Israel in their exemplification of divine blessing when “He gave them power over all demons and to cure diseases” (9:1b), sending “them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (9:2).  Let us take the time to notice that Matthew’s and Luke’s record operate on a dual level.  At one level, as they report the instructions of Jesus, they are also informing us as to what it was that these disciples were going to go out and do.  There is no reason to believe that they did not go out and follow these instructions, and indeed, Luke, ever the historian, moves from Jesus’ instructions to mentioning that “Then they departed and went throughout the villages, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere” (9:6). 

Shortly thereafter, again playing the historian, Luke reports that “When the apostles returned, they told Jesus everything they had done” (9:10).  Luke even expands upon this in relation to the time that Jesus, at the beginning of the tenth chapter, appoints and sends out a much larger group of His disciples with nearly identical instructions as that which was given to the twelve (either seventy or seventy-two disciples, depending on the manuscripts in use), informing his audience that “the seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” (10:17)  Though the analogy is not precise, if the Abrahamic covenant is foundational, as it truly is for the whole of the story of Israel, and therefore for Jesus as the summation of the story of Israel, then the twelve can be looked upon as Abraham, while the seventy-two can be looked upon as Israel. 

At the second level, the instructions to the disciples are something of an elaboration on God’s words to Abraham.  When we hear Matthew and Luke recount Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, can we not also hear “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing”? (Genesis 12:2)  Luke rounds out Jesus’ instructions very quickly.  For Luke’s purposes in this setting, Jesus is done speaking at the fifth verse of the ninth chapter, concluding His remarks with the “shaking of dust.”  Matthew, on the other hand, extends this time of instruction all the way to the close of the tenth chapter.  In fact, the eleventh chapter of Matthew opens by informing us “When Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in their towns” (11:1).  Though the fact that the disciples acted on Jesus’ instructions is implied by Matthew’s presentation, Luke seizes upon the opportunity to make it explicit.  Though Matthew certainly implies that the disciples fulfilled the Abrahamic call to exemplify divine blessing, Luke wants to be sure that his audience knows that this is what took place.     

In the end, for Matthew, because he does not provide any type of report on the activity of the disciples themselves in relation to Jesus’ instructions, what is important is that Jesus went out teaching and preaching and presumably doing all of those things that He had instructed His disciples to do.  Does this mean that Matthew was unconcerned with the activity of the disciples?  Clearly, that is not the case.  In all of this, we do not forget that Matthew and His audience (like the other Gospel writers) are viewing the story of Jesus through Resurrection-colored goggles as a community that recognized and worshiped Jesus as God.  What this serves to communicate, keeping in mind the context that has been created through the way that the story is being told and the covenantal context in which the life of Jesus unfolds and in which His teaching is presented, is that it is God’s activity that is of paramount importance. 

Even in Abraham’s case, it was the God of Abraham that was to be recognized through Abraham’s life and actions---not Abraham himself.  It was God that was to be revealed through Israel---they were not to be made into a great nation (as promised to Abraham) simply to be blessed by God and to no greater purpose that simply being a great nation.  Being a blessing and exemplifying divine blessing, as these disciples were being called to do and be, is meaningless if it does not derive glory for the Creator.  Foundationally, it would be God at work, through Abraham.  It would be God at work, in Christ; and it would be God at work, through Christ’s disciples, when they carried out (and continue to carry out) His instructions. 

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