Following the advice of the classic Greek
philosophers, some of us have developed a spirituality that teaches there
are specific things we can do to pressure God to work in our lives. If we
pray, fast and do penance, we can develop an ascetical lifestyle, thereby
"forcing" God to notice us.
No matter how embedded his concept is in our
everyday practice of religion, it's not a biblical concept. Though some of
our sacred authors urge their communities to perform these actions, they're
still convinced that God is working in our lives before and in spite of our
acquiring such a lifestyle. God saves those who haven't even noticed they
need to be saved.
Together with all Jews, our chests probably
expand as we hear Yahweh's proclamation in the first reading (Ex 19: 2-6).
"If you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my
special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth
is mine. You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation."
The book of Exodus revolves around Yahweh's
relationship with a small band of runaway slaves. God actually enters into a
covenant with these outcasts of society.
Yet, we can easily forget that, in the
preceding chapters, the author clearly states that the majority of
Israelites didn't want to leave Egypt in the first place. Their leaders
pleaded with Moses to stop confronting Pharaoh. They preferred the security
of slavery over the insecurity of following Yahweh's path to freedom. In
the Exodus - the most glorious event in Jewish history - Yahweh saved
people who didn't want to be saved!
Notice the parallel in the second reading (Rom
5: 6-11). Paul reminds the church in Rome, "While we were still
helpless, Christ died at the appointed time for the ungodly....God proves
His love for us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for
No wonder he concludes, "If while we were
enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much
more, once reconciled, will we be saved by His life."
Acts of piety aren't a prerequisite for God
to work in our lives through Jesus; they're simply what people do who
recognize that God is already working in and through them.
The Gospel (Mt 9: 36-10:8) echoes the same
biblical concept. Long before the Church developed a hierarchical structure
and began to defend it scripturally by Jesus' appointment of the Twelve,
this special group had a different meaning - especially for Matthew's
Biblical scholars remind us of something
Matthew's original readers took for granted: The Twelve aren't the
Church's first priests or bishops; they represent the tribes of Israel.
Just as some of us today fall into the trap of thinking that God works in
and through some people and not others, so the historical Jesus had to deal
with Jews who thought that Yahweh worked through and in some of their number
and not others.
By choosing and sending out the Twelve, Jesus
is announcing that God's kingdom is something in which all Jews are
participating, even those who don't belong to the prestigious tribe of
Listen carefully to Jesus' instructions.
"Do not go into pagan territory, or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather
to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation:
'The kingdom of God is at hand.'"
Jesus historical ministry revolves around good
news and bad news. The good: He announces that God is currently working in
our lives. The bad: God is doing the same thing in the lives of those who
have done nothing to prepare for such a terrific event.
Now it's clear why Matthew's Jesus ends
this passage with the command, "Without cost you have received; without
cost you are to give." How can someone be expected to pay for something
for which God never expected any payment?