11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
The mission of the twelve disciples
Matthew 9:36-38; 10:1-8
1. Opening prayer
Our Father, your Word dwells in the world through the coming of Jesus,
your Son. He proclaimed it by his teachings, but above all by his works.
The Word was made flesh. Before leaving us, he promised us the help
of the Spirit so that we may recall whatever he taught and understand
more deeply the meaning hidden form our hearts hardened by sin. Send
us then your revealing and consoling Spirit. Enkindle our hearts with
his presence and may your Word provoke in us a living and efficacious
service of our brothers and sisters, full of joy.
a) The context of our Gospel passage:
We are at the beginning of the second of the five “discourses” of
Matthew, the one concerning mission. Jesus, the new Moses, continues
to fulfil (Mt 5:17) the ancient law by sending the citizens of the
new Kingdom, not to judge (Jn 3:17ff; Mt 11:4-5), but to free his people
from every form of disease and infirmity, just as he did. This sending
takes place during the public life of Jesus. There will be another
solemn and universal sending after the resurrection (Mt 28:18-20).
The twelve apostles, the continuation and yet the breaking with the
twelve tribes of Israel, are called to gather the hopes of old Israel,
now looking like an exhausted people, like a flock without shepherd
b) A possible division of the text:
Matthew 9: 36-38: Narrative introduction
Matthew 10:1: The transmission of power
Matthew 10:2-4: The names of the twelve
Matthew 10:5-8: Instructions and sending
c) The text:
9:36 And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because
they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. 37
Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is rich but the labourers
are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his
10:1 He summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority
over unclean spirits with power to drive them out and to cure all kinds
of disease and all kinds of illness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon who is known as
Peter, and his brother Andrew; James the son of Zebedee, and his brother John;
3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the
son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who
was also his betrayer.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: 'Do not make your
way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; 6 go instead
to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. 7 And as you go, proclaim that the
kingdom of Heaven is close at hand. 8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse
those suffering from virulent skin-diseases, drive out devils. You received
without charge, give without charge.
We listen to the Word echoing within us.
a) Some questions to help us deepen the meaning of the text and
put it into practice:
Has the sight of the crowd sometimes aroused in me some kind of feeling?
Do I recall a time when I felt compassion? When and where? Have I known
someone who had a great passion for humanity? Have I ever prayed that
God may send me to be his apostle? What is the mission entrusted by
Jesus to his disciples? A mission impossible? Why was it accepted?
b) A key to the reading:
After Jesus presented his programme as an alternative to the current
mentality, (Mt 5), after he proclaimed the greater demands of love
over the law and observance (Mt 6-7), after he gave witness by concrete
actions to the freedom he had proclaimed (Mt 8-9), he calls his disciples
and sends them to the crowds, bestowing on them his own powers (Mt
10). The community is called to prolong and broaden his freeing, healing
and saving action. The new people of God, built on the foundation of
the twelve apostles, is a priestly, royal and prophetic people (1Pt
2: 4-9) called to collaborate with Jesus.
A deepening of some aspects.
9:36 When he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them
because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd.
The introduction, beginning with v. 35, summarises the public life of Jesus.
It partly repeats 4:23-25, the introduction to the discourse on the mount.
Our fragment begins with the fact that large crowds followed him. Crowds without
a shepherd (1Kings 22:17), tired of hearing words not followed by actions,
exhausted by innumerable observances, oppressed by leaders who imposed incomprehensible
rules (Mt 23: 1-4). The compassion Jesus feels (Mt 15:30; Lk 9:11; Jn 6:5)
for those hungry (Mk 6:34) is here transferred to the “ignorant poor
people in the country” cursed by the Pharisees (Jn 7:49). No one loves
them and no one seeks them out like a good shepherd (Jn 10).
9:37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The
harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the
harvest to send out labourers to his harvest’.
The mission is compared to a harvest (cfr. Lk 10:2-3; Jn 4:35-38). There are
so many ready to respond to the Gospel, so many who wait for a word of life.
The messengers of peace are always few and the multitude is so immense. The
exhortation to pray signifies that God is at the origin of the mission, he
is responsible for the harvest, and it is to him that we must turn in prayer.
The Holy Spirit is already working, indeed the harvest is already here. The
harvest is a term originally connected with the last judgement (Is 27:12; Hos
6:11; Job 3: 13). John the Baptist thought that the time of the judgement had
come (Mt 3,12). But here it is not the angels who are called to carry out this
task but men and women so as to save other men and women from the judgement
and not to judge them. We live in a time of mercy and the judgement is not
10:1 He summoned his twelve disciples and gave
them authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out
and to cure all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness.
This call of the twelve in Matthew is different from that in Mk 3:13 and in
Lk 6:13. It does not recount their choosing, but the task entrusted to them.
It is an already formed group (Mt 4:18; 8,:9-22) that now receives a mandate.
The number 12 is a reference to the 12 tribes of Israel. To proclaim the new
law of the new Moses, there needs to be a new people that welcomes the word
of the new Moses (Jesus). In Sacred Scripture the number 12 indicates, above
all, the people of God in its totality. The call of the “twelve” is
placed against the background of the people of the 12 tribes (Mk 9:35; 10:32
par.; Jn 6:70; 20:24; 1Cor 15:5 and elsewhere) by Jesus during his ministry
in Galilee. The number 12 must not be understood in a restrictive sense, but
as an ideal. The mission of the disciples is placed in strict parallelism with
the mission of Jesus. The dominant idea is that the ministry of the apostles
is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus. The disciples are given the same “power” that
Jesus had (9:6-8; 7:29; 8:9) and the same healing action (4:23; 9:35). This
is not the power of a leader or a commander, but one which is necessary to
carry out the mission entrusted to them, to serve humanity. The context here
is that of the resurrection. The term “apostle” is found only here
in Matthew, elsewhere he speaks of disciples (11:1; 20:17; 26:14.20.47). It
is not used as in Luke and Paul to indicate a task, but in the sense of ones “sent”.
Thus we could understand the term as an invitation given to the whole of the
new Israel, through the twelve, the pillars of the people of the new law, the
law of love. The community of converted Jews for whom Matthew wrote, saw here
the beginning of the new Israel, the Church, the continuation of and, at the
same time, breaking with the synagogue.
10:2-4 These are the names of the twelve apostles:
first, Simon who is known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James
the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew;
Thomas, and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus,
and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who was also
The various lists of the twelve (Mkc 3:16-19; Lk 6: 13-16; Acts 1:13) always
place Peter first and Judas last. The names carry a few remarks that vary from
list to list. We should note the two pairs of brothers (Simon-Andrew and James-John)
almost as if to indicate the fraternity at the heart of the new community.
Also we should note the diversity: a publican, a Canaanite, an Iscariot who
will betray him. These are not all good people, nor are they highly placed
or learned or very faithful people. The call then comes from a free choice
by Jesus and not from the merits or importance of the persons, so that their
weakness might reveal God’s strength (1Cor 27-29).
10:5-8 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing
them as follows: ‘Do not make your way to gentile territory,
and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep
of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that
the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those suffering from virulent
skin-diseases, drive out devils. You received without charge, give
The instruction for the mission, only partly given here, goes
on up to verse 16. Verses 5-8 are only in Mathew except for the mandate
to proclaim that the kingdom is close at hand (Lk 10:9.11). The limitations
of the mission in this context before the resurrection do not contradict
Mt 24,25, after the resurrection, where Jesus says to go into the
whole world. This text simply gives priority to the House of Israel.
First comes care for the “lost sheep” (Ez 34:1-16; Is
53:16), then care for those “unknown” (the gentiles).
Matthew emphasises the love of God for the people of Israel. The
mandate entrusted to the apostles is very demanding: heal the sick,
raise the dead, drive out devils. Is this to be understood metaphorically
only? Certainly there are those sick and dead spiritually, no less
easy to heal and raise than those physically so, there are those
possessed by destructive ideologies and mentalities. However, we
must remember that Jesus, for whom nothing is impossible, is the
one who sends, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father
and the Father is in me. If not, believe because of the things I
do. I am telling you the truth: whoever believes in me will do what
I do – yes, he will do even greater things, because I am going
to the Father” (Jn 14: 11-12). John Paul II, of venerable memory,
wrote in his encyclical Redemptoris missio: “The freedom
and salvation brought by the Kingdom of God, come to human beings
in both their physical and spiritual dimensions”. (RM 14).
The mission then consists of preaching and healing, proclaiming and human promotion,
the coming of the Kingdom together with the struggle for justice and peace.
The mission then cannot be gratuitous, it does not belong to those sent. It
cannot be exploited for one’s own material advantage, and thus is realised
the spirit of the beatitudes (Mt 6: 25-34).
5. Praying with Psalm 100
Serve Yahweh with gladness,
come into his presence with songs of joy!
Be sure that Yahweh is God,
he made us, we belong to him,
his people, the flock of his sheepfold.
Come within his gates giving thanks,
to his courts singing praise,
give thanks to him and bless his name!
For Yahweh is good,
his faithful love is everlasting,
his constancy from age to age.
Father, you have made us a prophetic and priestly people, called to
be a visible sign of the new reality of your Kingdom, grant that we
may live in full communion with you in our sacrifice of praise and
of service to our brothers and sisters, so that we may become missionaries
and witnesses of the Gospel. Grant that your compassion may be our
compassion, that your missionary zeal may be our missionary zeal. Yes,
Lord, send me!