Do not go to any Gentile territory or any Samaritan towns. Instead, you are to go to the lost sheep of the people of Israel. Go and preach, “The Kingdom of heaven is near!” Heal the sick, bring the dead back to life, heal those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases, and drive out demons.
[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions For background see Day 83.]
So many people needing healing, deliverance and hope! Jesus decides to send out his disciples to put all that he has taught them into practice. Remember, he has revealed that the “Son of Man” – all humanity in all its frailty – can heal and forgive sins (See Day 75). Once again the theme seems to be that Jesus is not going to fix everything for everyone. Those who are called by him are called to work with him in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. We are not called to be passive observers who wait for God’s kingdom to fall out of the sky.
This scripture is the first of many that record the instructions Jesus gave his disciples before he sent them out. The mission was to the Jews. The disciples were specifically prohibited from going to any of the Gentile or Samaritan towns. Their instructions were to heal the sick, raise the dead, drive out demons and proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven is near. All supernatural stuff.
What strikes me is how different this mission trip is from most modern Christian missions where they build schools or hospitals, teach Bible study, work in food pantries, dig wells, or (for evangelicals) get converts. Healing missions always involve doctors; healing missions like this one that don’t involve doctors are generally frowned on by mainline Christians. More recently the emphasis is often on cultural exchange and group formation. Of course these kinds of charitable and theological missions are valuable, but sometimes there are more important things. Sometimes people have other less tangible needs.
On this mission Jesus’ disciples won’t do any construction projects or teach about the Torah, and there is no cultural exchange involved because both the disciples and those they are sent out to serve are Jews. Ditto for conversions – everyone involved is Jewish. I’m not sure if there’s any group formation involved because it doesn’t say whether the disciples went as a group, as individuals, or in pairs. It was a supernatural healing mission with a little prophetic proclamation thrown in for good measure.
I grew up Methodist so there was a big emphasis on missions. In the 6th Grade I learned all about missions from my Sunday School teacher Maude Woods. She was a passionate Methodist. She had one son who was pastor and I think there was someone else in the family who was a missionary. We learned all about missions in foreign countries, and she also set up hands-on local mission experiences for us.
One of the things we did that I remember very clearly was a mission to local Mexican migrant workers in our agricultural community. I remember how Mrs. Woods told us that the children didn’t get to go to school very much because they moved around so much. She was also worried about whether they had enough warm clothes for the winter, so we did a clothing drive. Then, because this was a hands-on mission, she made arrangements for us to deliver the clothing to the migrant camp. We packed all of the clothing and boarded a school bus that drove us out to the camp. I remember expecting to see a lot of sad, dirty little kids whose faces would light up with hope when they saw all the nice things we were bringing them.
I distinctly remember what I saw as we approached the camp. It wasn’t at all what I expected. These people weren’t sad. They we all singing and laughing and playing and dancing around a big campfire while several of the men played guitars. Just like in the Westerns on TV. I remember sitting on that bus with my face against the glass looking at these people – both children and adults – having so much fun together. They received the clothing but they didn’t seem that excited about it. They probably figured they would be back in Mexico by the time it got cold. They invited us to join them around the campfire and have something to eat with them. I think we got off the bus briefly but we didn’t really get to join the party. Where I grew up people generally didn’t party much unless they were drunk. I remember wishing that I could live somewhere where people partied around the campfire like that. I remember feeling sorry for myself, not for them. They seemed to be doing just fine.
Awkward mission moments notwithstanding, Maude Woods was a dynamo, full of boundless enthusiasm for her church and for the Christian life. In fact, her intensity made her a little scary even though she was always very nice. This is her picture:
One Sunday, late in the spring, just before we graduated from her class, Mrs. Woods gave us an insight into the source of her Christian enthusiasm. She talked about how she had a spiritual experience when she was praying in her chair. She said that both she and the chair were lifted up by the arms of Jesus. She said that she was literally levitated off the floor. It was a wonderful, loving experience that changed her life. It scared the crap out of me. I didn’t want to be levitated. Actually I thought she was out of her right mind.
From the perspective of age I totally understand Mrs. Woods. I now know how a precious spiritual experience can change one’s life. I guess Jesus sent his disciples out so that the Jews all over the region could be healed and have their own precious life-changing spiritual experience that would demonstrate God’s love for them.
OK – one more story. At our church in Chicago one of our African American members went to Africa on a mission trip to the Masai people. The Africans were very anxious to meet a rich black American woman, but they were soon disillusioned. They measure their wealth by how many cattle they own, and they were appalled to find out that our Hattie didn’t own a single cow. Disappointed, they said they would pray that God would alleviate her poverty by sending her some cattle.
What does this scripture say to you?