Labor of Love
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
‘You received without paying; give without pay.’ [Matthew 10:8b]
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
You can see the signs in all the restaurants, grocery stores and other shops around the valley – We are Open!
Summer is here (more or less) and the tourists have already begun driving their huge R.V.s and trailers up and down Hwy 93. Every vacationer is looking for a nice little spot to hunker down and spend a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months, kicking their feet back and enjoying some time off from work.
The towns of St. Ignatius, Ronan and even Polson prepare to double in size with cars, trucks and motor homes with out of state license plates. Traffic flow slows down and more vehicles fill our roads. This creates an inconvenience for the locals as they now must add more time to their commutes to and from work.
Yet with the latest shut-down of the nation’s economy, we see the break in the chain from producer to consumer. Business owners lament in the past was, ‘We can’t find anyone to work!’ Now it is, ‘We can’t find anyone to process our commodities.’ We literally have herds of cattle fattened and ready for market but no laborers available to gather them in.
This is what Jesus sees. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus comments to his disciples that the crowds of people he sees around the cities and villages remind him of harassed and helpless sheep. Like sheep without a shepherd. [Matthew 9:35,36] He sees great opportunity to gather in the lost into his kingdom, but not enough shepherds to do the work.
He turns to his disciples and says, ‘I have a job for you.’ These men did not answer an ad in the ‘Help Wanted’ section of their local newspaper. There were no interviews for these positions. At the beginning of Christ’s ministry Jesus did then what he does now; he picks the workers for his kingdom and tells them what they are to do.
And who were these laborers? They certainly were not the cream of Jewish society. Their occupations certainly did not qualify them as the best applicants for the position. Out of the twelve disciples were men of different walks of life: [Matthew 10:2-4]
- One was a tax collector for the Roman government – not very popular socially.
- Four were fishermen – two of whom were brothers and all of them business partners.
- A couple of working-class guys from Galilee.
- One man who repeatedly expresses doubts and uncertainties about what Jesus says and does.
- A political extremist – aka Simon the Zealot.
- And a traitor – there is always one.
Throughout history God takes the least and uses them as His instruments for His will. This time is no different than any other. Jesus hand picks these twelve and makes them shepherds to gather in the lost sheep of God’s chosen people – Israel.
You may ask, ‘Why would anybody listen to a rag-tag bunch of socially marginalized religious nuts?’ Like with any other organization with a hierarchy, it is not the individual workers who hold the power and make the decisions, but it is the top man who is usually the owner as well.
This is why Jesus gives them their marching orders by his authority. Remember, all authority was given to Jesus to carry out his father’s commands. Jesus now gives the disciples the authority to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleans lepers, and cast out demons. [Matthew 10:8] They are to be his under-shepherds who gather the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
We all can relate to what it means to be under someone’s authority. Parents are in authority over children. Adults are under authority of those for whom they work. We are all under the authority of our government whether we recognize it or choose to follow its rules and regulations. In fact, everyone is under the authority of somebody else. The only person who is not under any authority is God himself.
At some point in time maybe you have experienced the power of authority being given to you by someone over you. In my family if one of my siblings said, ‘Dad told me to tell you to mow the lawn’, I did not obey because my brother or sister said to do it but because of the authority my father had over me. In business people are often given the authority to negotiate contracts or purchase supplies. It is not their name or their word that makes things happen but the recognition of who is in power behind that word of authority.
This is why the work of the Apostles did what Jesus said it would do. The sick were not being healed by Matthew, Peter or John, but by the authority of God. The name of Jesus is the name of power that casts out demons and raises the dead, not the name of Philip or Bartholomew.
Brothers and Sisters, I want you to know that you also have been given power in the name of Jesus Christ. The name that has been exalted above all other names is the name you bear and the name given to you in your baptism; Christian. And what authority have you been given through your God given name? You have been given the authority to forgive sins.
Yes, you have been given the power to forgive the sins of your brother, your sister and your neighbor. You have been given the power to forgive the trespasses of your enemies. If you think that you cannot forgive a wrong done against you or your family, remember that it is not your forgiveness but Christ’s forgiveness. If you think that it would hurt too much to forgive your enemy, remember that, ‘You received without paying; give without pay.’ [Matthew 10:8b]
When all the world was cursed and we were under the righteous wrath of God, had nowhere to turn and now one to help. It was a cry for mercy and that cry was heard by our Lord in heaven. He heard the cry of His people and had compassion on them. He saw that His chosen people were like a sheep without a shepherd.
God so loved His creation that He sent His only Son to gather in the lost sheep. He sent His Son to be the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. All those who were given to our Good Shepherd he kept and none were lost. He gathered in his sheep by the authority given by the Father, put his name upon us and made us his own.
Our Lord came when we were weak and scattered, lost in our sin. St. Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome that Christ came at the right time. While we were still weak…Christ died for the ungodly – you and me. [Romans 5:6]
Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield has had an outstanding career. He was the commander of the International Space Station, flown two shuttle missions and was a Colonel in the Canadian Air Force where he was a test pilot. In an interview, he was asked, “If you could make a phone call to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell him?”
I’ll paraphrase the very first part of his answer: “I think it would be worthwhile to let myself know, that every single person you meet is struggling. They are trying to do the best that they can in their own life and they fail regularly, so cut them some slack.”
Remember that righteous wrath of God? We did not suffer His wrath as we ought to have suffered. Instead, God did the opposite. God recognized our struggle and did more than cut us some slack. He showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, his son died for us. [Romans 5:8]
What did the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ do for us? It saved us from the wrath of God. We were his enemies in every way and yet he did not kill but forgive. Through His son we have been justified by the very blood poured out in the ultimate sin-sacrifice of the one sent to reconcile us to God. Through his death our sins were put to death. Through his resurrection we are saved to live with our Father; forgiven.
Remember the grace of God the next time your neighbor sins against you! Remember that Christ came to you at your weakest moment, in your deepest depth of sin. You were his enemy fighting against him when he was giving his life to save yours. You gave him your worst and he gave you God’s best. Our sin cost him his life while he gave us his life without cost.
The most amazing part of this free gift is that we now give to others by baptism and the Word. Jesus Christ tells us that we will suffer for his name. He tells us we will encounter poverty, rejection, persecution and maybe even the loss of our lives; but this does not mean our lives have been lost.
It is our time to have compassion on the lost wayward sheep in the midst of wolves. Do not fear, for the Holy Spirit is with us to guide us, protect us and give us the words to speak to our friends while giving us the authority to forgive our enemies.
This gift we received without paying and this free gift is not like the trespass. Through sin many have died yet through the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ many receive righteousness through the justification of Jesus Christ. [Romans 5:16,17]
Let the laborers enter the harvest with confidence in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.