Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
If you are confused after hearing the gospel, please don't think that you are alone! The same teacher who told his disciples to go out into the world and preach the Good News. . .the same teacher who healed Gentiles in the presence of those disciples; talked to an unclean Samaritan woman and fussed at his disciples who told him not to; and even sat down at table with tax collectors and prostitutes over the objections of his disciples. . .the same teacher who set himself the task of breaking just about every purity law on the books and earned for himself a reputation as a dangerous heretic and madman. . .this same teacher is now sending those same disciples out as apostles to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom, and he says to them before they go, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” After violating so many Jewish taboos, why is Jesus suddenly so squeamish about his apostles preaching to pagans and Samaritans? Jewish officialdom has rejected him, so why waste time and energy preaching to those who have heard the Good News and said, “No, thanks”? God promised the Messiah to the Jews. And so, to the lost sheep of Israel are the apostles sent.
How do we reconcile Jesus' words and deeds during his public ministry with his parting orders to the newly minted apostles? The Lord knows something that his apostles do not: the apostolic ministry to preach the Good News will not end when the last of them dies. In fact, their preaching ministry as apostles won't truly commence until the Holy Spirit arrives and sets the whole bunch of them on fire! Given the Lord's inclusive words and deeds in their presence; then, his instructions to limit themselves to the Jews; and then, the Holy Spirit's inspiration to set the whole world on fire with his Word. . .we can safely assume that Jesus isn't limiting their ministry, he's concentrating it; that is, with a truly daunting task ahead of them—evangelizing every living creature—the Lord focuses his apostles on a workable task: just preach to the Jews. If we think this for a moment, it makes perfect sense. Who is better prepared to hear that the promises made by God through His prophets have been fulfilled in the coming of Christ Jesus?
Hosea sets the scene for us. The nation God gave to His people is decadent, luxurious, ripe to the point of being rotten. The more it prospers under His blessing, the more it turns away from Him to idolatry, erecting altars and pillars to alien gods. They blame their spiritual adultery on political turmoil, and Hosea asks, “Since they do not fear the Lord, what can the king do for them?” Then his prophesies, “Sow for yourselves justice. . .break up for yourselves a new field, for it is time to seek the Lord.” And it is time for those who belong to the Lord to seek His lost sheep; thus, Jesus sends his apostles to those who are in most urgent need of the Good News, those who know the Covenant of Abraham yet live as if Abraham never spoke to God. Peter, James, John go to the lost sheep of Israel and along the way they find more and more lost sheep needing a shepherd. The Holy Spirit will not let them leave these all alone, so the Word—like a wild fire—spreads. And the people of God, those adopted as His children, grows and grows, beyond the lost sheep, into a nation of priests and prophets, a body of apostles sent out to find and rescue the lost, the wounded, those thrown away, anyone who desires to be loved as a creature created in the image of God. Go out, then, and show the world that no one is too small, too poor, too idolatrous, too decadent, too sinful to be called unworthy of the Father's saving mercy!
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