I recently had a tough visit with my doctor. I was told that I’m getting older and, if I want to continue to get older, I have to stop eating like I’m still in my 20s or 30s. It was, if you will, a “come to Jesus moment.” So I’m making some fairly radical and hopefully sustainable diet changes. This isn’t the first time I’ve adjusted my lifestyle after a physician required changes. I’m pretty good at sticking with it, but I’m far from perfect. Sometimes it’s easier to vow to make changes in the doctor’s office than it is following through, especially when my kids at the church potluck leave extra cupcakes on their plates because their eyes were bigger than their stomachs. This week’s lectionary texts are about people following through—at least somewhat—after God has told them what to do.
The first scene is set at Sinai. The Israelites and the mixed multitude of people with them arrive at the foot of God’s holy mountain. Moses goes up to speak to God, who instructs him to tell the Israelites two things. First, they should remember that God defeated the Egyptians and carried them out of the house of bondage on eagles’ wings to Godself. Second, if the people gathered at God’s mountain obey God’s voice and keep the covenant, they will be a treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
This was offered, it seems, as a choice. God provided the rescue and sought to know if the people wanted a deeper relationship with God. The Israelites and the mixed multitude agree with one voice and proclaim, “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” And to some extent, it works out. Israel becomes God’s holy people. As a nation of priests, they have God’s special attention, as Scripture says again and again. Of course, we also read the prophets and know that the relationship isn’t perfect—frequently far from it. Still, God is faithful, slow to anger and quick to reconcile.
Jesus calls his core group of 12 disciples together and sends them out to preach about the immanence of the kingdom. They are also to heal the sick, raise the dead, cure skin diseases and cast out demons. All that Jesus tells them to do, they do!
In first-century Galilee, Jesus calls a select group to undertake a role similar to his own. Jesus travels around, preaching and teaching about the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness (Matthew 9:35). Jesus is moved by compassion for the many people who need hope and healing, so he tells the disciples to pray for more workers for the harvest. Then he decides to have the disciples answer their own prayers. He calls his core group of 12 disciples together and sends them out to preach about the immanence of the kingdom. They are also to heal the sick, raise the dead, cure skin diseases and cast out demons. All that Jesus tells them to do, they do!
We must note that at first, during his earthly lifetime, Jesus only sent the disciples to the lost sheep of Israel, telling the 12 to stay off the roads that led to Gentiles and out to the villages of Samaria. But, as we read two weeks ago in Matthew 28, Jesus eventually commanded these same disciples to make disciples out of all nations.
Moving beyond the lectionary a little bit, Jesus also instructs his disciples not to take any kind of money for their purse, bag for their journey, extra clothes or anything that would help them rely on themselves instead of the people they were to serve. The disciples are to do what Jesus tells them to do. And the people who are healed, freed and preached are to do what their culture and, frankly, good manners tell them to do: feed and welcome those who preach the good news among them. Not just the disciples, but also those to whom they minister, are fulfilling their calling. For those who don’t receive the disciples, their fate would be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah for the same reason: they weren’t practicing hospitality to visitors.
This week, we have a least a couple stories of humans doing what God called them to do. Make no mistake: God first freed the Israelites and brought them to Godself. Jesus preached, healed and embodied the good news of the kingdom long before he asked anyone to partner with him in the work. God moved first. And then God calls us to partner in the work of the kingdom. How might God be calling you?