Sermon Thoughts from Matthew 9:35-10:8

When I put together these resource pages, I look through my blog and my computer files to find pieces I’ve previously written on the assigned lectionary texts. I was surprised to find that in sixteen years of preaching, I have apparently not touched Matthew 9:35-10:8. Then I read the passage. And I was less surprised by its absence.

These are some hard teachings of Jesus. I’m not sure how much of the difficulty I feel has to do with the text itself and how much has to do with the way many Christians have used parts of this text—particularly this metaphor of “harvest”—in harmful ways.

I expect there are some biblical scholars who have written helpful commentaries and online essays on this passage. So you should definitely read those. All I’ve got right now are some questions the text raises for me—some of which I might want to address if I were preaching on this text.

• In what ways are the people “harassed and helpless”? What kind of shepherd do they need? How can the sheep know the difference between a shepherd that comes to help and one that comes to exploit?

• What in the world do we do with this harvest metaphor? Surely we aren’t supposed to cut down people and bundle them up and haul them to God. So what is a faithful way to labor in the harvest?

• How do we understand this power Jesus gives to cast out unclean spirits? This concept of spirits is something we have to wrestle with in many Gospel texts because most of us in mainstream North American culture have a very different understanding of spirits than people did in Jesus’ day. I think this is a place where people from other cultures can help us read scripture more faithfully.

• And how do we understand the power Jesus gives his disciples to heal disease and sickness? I don’t want to completely throw out the idea of miraculous healing, yet I also don’t want to enable harmful theologies that direct people away from the very medical care that could lead to their healing.

• Jesus says not to “enter a Samaritan town,” but then he purposefully goes through Samaria (John 4). He says not to go to gentiles, yet his ministry was radically inclusive So why does Jesus give these instructions?

And if you continue on with the reading, the questions just keep piling up. So blessings to all who are called to bring a good word from this text.