A reading from the gospel according to Matthew:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.
This week at the Service on Zoom we were challenged to think if we are glass half empty or glass half full when it comes to being disciples. Some of us look at a situation of complex and desperate need – like the one we face today – and feel overwhelmed or helpless; others see need as an invitation to speak and act to make some positive change, no matter how small. If you’re in any doubt as to which category you fall into, try watching the 10’o’clock news and see how you feel afterwards – drained or energised. Perspective is what today’s gospel reading offers us, asking us how we see and respond to need. The passage starts with Jesus being all over the place, perhaps like our heroic doctors, nurses, and care staff, responding to the next need, then the next, then the next. For hours, for days, for nights. Then, just for a moment, he pauses to look over his city, his country, his people and what he sees are sheep without a shepherd. Needs run high and help runs low. Leaders seem to take rather than give. But instead of letting it go as a hopeless situation, he sees it’s a harvest, an opportunity for human sharing, fullness and plenty. If shepherds, healers and comforters are needed, he will not only go himself, but send others in his name to those who feel lost and in need.
If you’re glass seems empty at this point, and you think of yourself as too weak, too troubled, too ordinary to help anyone else then consider the 12 candidates he sends out to minister and serve. Peter is top of the list: he’ll go on to deny Jesus three times, but he’ll also be the first disciple to recognize that Jesus is the messiah. You couldn’t find more of a contrast between Matthew, collecting tax on behalf of the Roman’s and one or two in the group who would be considered Zealots – nationalists planning on removing the Romans from Israel by force. Yet in Jesus they are united in Jesus’ purpose to serve those in need. Thomas, full of doubts, is on the list too, as is Judas who will later give Jesus over to his death.
Jesus doesn’t wait till they have their problems and conflicts all sorted out. He doesn’t give up on them when their weaknesses come to the fore. Rather, he sends them as they are.
Jesus takes both perspectives, he sees the good in people and amplifies it; he spots the emptiness in people and fills it. Fills it until it overflows into other people’s lives. He takes what’s there or what’s not there in us and sends it out for the good of the world. You are the ones who will heal as he healed; forgive as he forgave; speak as he spoke and love as he loved. The disciples are not only called to do as Jesus did in this story, they are asked to be Jesus to others, and so are we. If we pause to look out over our world today, we may still see people – harassed and helpless – like sheep without a shepherd. But we can see the harvest too, the opportunity for God’s kingdom to flourish as we meet those spiritual and material needs for others. Allow yourself to be sent – with all your imperfections – to be Christ to other people, and watch as they are made whole, feel forgiven and find freedom in the Christ who sent you.
Lord of the harvest, send your church to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all the world. Stir up vocations to ordained and lay ministries in our midst, and encourage all of us to be Christ to those around us, meeting needs wherever they are found.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Good shepherd, the sheep are without a shepherd. Raise up leaders in politics, the business world and in local communities who are committed to serve. We pray for the integrity of policing throughout the world; we pray for an end to corruption and exploitation; we pray for the poorest communities to be protected from the worst effects of this pandemic.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Son of David, you make whole all who call upon your name. Be with all those who cry out to you in moments of pain or distress and comfort all who have asked for our prayers Stuart, Christine, Ian, Richard, Ros, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Louyse, John, Avril, Helga, Karen, Colin, Margaret.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer
The kingdom of heaven has come near, says the Lord. We pray for those who are at the point of death and ask for you to assure them of their place in your kingdom; and we thank you for those who have entered its gates, finding eternal peace and pasture with you, their good shepherd. Susan, Jane, Lorna, Douglas and Edward Sidney Sheather who’s year’s mind falls this week.
All of these prayers we offer in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.