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."

Runaway slaves

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 us."

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 community.

Chosen ones

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 Judah.

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?