(It is the first part of the lectionary passage for Sunday, June 18, or Proper 6).
“He had compassion on them, for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
It seems like not much changes, does it?
On Friday, it was announced that the officer who shot Philando Castile seven times, was found not guilty on all counts against him. I find this incredibly troubling, deeply disturbing, on so many levels that I find it hard to make them all clear to you.
A man shot another man seven times with a child in the back seat, and he was found not guilty of all charges brought against him—including reckless discharge of a firearm.
He fired a gun seven times into a car with a child in the back seat.
I don’t know about you, but today I feel a lot like a member of that harassed and helpless crowd. I need Jesus to have some compassion on us, and come on in, and magic away the sicknesses and demons that plague our society. I would love for Jesus to show up and fix this—take away this fear, this gun culture, this racism, this system that seems so impossible to break down.
But that’s not how this works.
We don’t believe in a magician.
We believe in discipleship, the work of the spirit, and real wholeness being restored to really broken things. The kind of healing we believe in leaves scars, because though Jesus comes back from the dead, he still has the wounds of the cross. And though the struggle is long, we persevere by the love and presence and commitment of our God, because even if we can’t feel it, Spirit can always be at work in us. As disciples of Christ, we are always capable of Kingdom Work, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable injustice.
This passage from Matthew tells us this, and it brings me some good news, and I hope it will do the same for you.
My hope begins in this seemingly boring list of the twelve disciples.
You know, we don’t really see them listed out all that often, and when we do, it’s sort of surprising. There are folks in here that I barely recall existed. How many of you have heard of the Apostle Thaddeus before? Or Simon the Cananaean? You maybe have heard of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus nicknamed the “Sons of Thunder” because they have a temper.
The disciples are quirky people. Naming each of them like this gets to the core of their uniqueness, their identifiableness, their selfhood.
At first, this must look like just some boring old list of weird names, but the peculiarities of each of these people is called out in naming them like this. Jesus doesn’t just call “a bunch of perfect people”. Jesus calls Simon Peter, who says things before he thinks, and James and John, who have an anger problem, and Thomas, who doubts, and Thaddeus, who does nothing particularly interesting at all. He calls Judas Iscariot, who betrays him.
But, what’s even more surprising, is the authority that Jesus gives them. If you take a look at this passage, there are three parts: Jesus does the work, leads and shows them how to do the work, and then he sends them out to do it too.
It says that Jesus gave the disciples the authority to cast out unclean spirits, and to cure every disease and every sickness. The language even mirrors itself: he sends them out to do exactly what he has been doing. They are spreading the kingdom too—before they’re perfect people, while they are still flawed, quirky, and only just beginning to understand.
They are given this authority even when, later in the story, they will mess it up big time. Thaddeus and Simon the Cananean are given this authority, even though they do nothing else to be especially remembered.
In some sense, what this passage is saying, is that to be sent by Jesus is to be sent as Jesus—not when you reach some ideal of strength and perfection and perseverance, but simply by answering the call.
This is why we don’t believe in a magician.
Jesus’s leadership was never meant to be that of a blindly followed tyrant, who did all the work. He never meant his ministry to be a ministry of instant gratification, or benevolent monarchy, where he is on a pedestal of power all alone. He didn’t come back from the dead to fix this, but to give us the power to bring the kingdom of God near.
There may be days when we do not feel as if we have that power—there may be days when we feel small and incapable in the face of this society’s demons, injustices, and tyrannies. But, Jesus didn’t call doubtless people. Jesus called real people who answered, just as they were, and gave them the authority that comes from resting in the imperceptible love of God.
And that means that we don’t do this alone.
God goes with us, and Jesus goes with us, and we go with each other. Jesus did not do his work alone, and we don’t either. It is established here for us that kingdom work is work that is not done by one person: it is done in community, with the help of God, and the help of others. We support each other in this work, and we hold each other to account when we make mistakes. That is why we can begin this work before we are perfect—because we aren’t alone.
And so, knowing that you are not alone, and have been given authority by God to spread the kingdom, just as you already are, I say to you:
Let us cast out the demons
of ignorance, by listening, truly listening, to Valerie Castile mourn her son. Let us cast out the unclean spirits of fear, that caused Jeronimo Yanez to believe that his life was threatened. No one, no one deserves to grow up in a society that makes us so readily fear for our lives. No child of God should be that afraid, and no child of God should be killed like that, and no child of God should have to witness it all at four years old.
Disciples of Christ, Jesus is calling is to confront the sicknesses of gun culture that makes these incidents so likely—
to confront the Racism that makes us make these choices—and to confront fear in all forms, that makes us incapable of hearing one another speak. And we have no excuse, because we have already been given the power to do it.
We have been sent.
We need only answer, for the power is given to us.
And, before we cascade as righteous fighters into communities that are not our own, let us go to the lost sheep of our own Christian tradition. Let us go to the lost sheep of our own white communities, who so desperately need to have these sicknesses confronted. Let us seek our own harassed and helpless, not because we don’t believe that others deserve healing, but because we cannot presume to know what others need for healing. We go first to the lost sheep of our own communities, because we look first to our own sicknesses.
With the authority of our God and our faith, let us confront and cast them out.
The Spirit hasn’t abandoned us yet, and the spirit won’t abandon us now.