In today’s Gospel, Jesus summons his Twelve disciples, now called Apostles, and sends them out. St. Matthew refers to the Twelve Apostles by name and then records Jesus’ instruction to them, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The first thing that strikes me in reflecting on this passage is that Jesus sent incredibly imperfect and flawed individuals to go forth in his name. Judas who will betray him…Peter who will deny him, and so on. I always benefit from the reminder that God writes straight with crooked lines and looks at us in all our human frailty and says, “I can work with that.”
The second thing that always strikes me when I read this passage is its evidence of Jesus’ humanity, something I think we sometimes give too short shrift to. There is a tendency on the part of some people to think that Jesus was born like Athena springing fully formed from the head of Zeus, with complete and perfect knowledge of his destiny.
This passage reminds us that even Jesus needed to grow. Jesus here gives his apostles a limited commission: do not go into pagan territory or Samaritan towns; go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. But that is not the commissioning we hear at the end of Matthew, where Jesus says “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Mark records Jesus saying the same before his Ascension: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” There is growth, there is change.
And that simple truth, that (in his humanity) even Jesus needed to grow, is I think a helpful one for us. It is an enormous source of strength to accept God’s invitation to labor with him even when we fear we are not up to the task.