bible blog 1168

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Matthew 9:35-10:4

New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)

The Harvest Is Great, the Labourers Few

35 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. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’

The Twelve Apostles

10 Then Jesus[a] 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;[b] Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

As my readers will have seen in this weeks blogs, Matthew has constructed a section of his gospel which emphasises the priority of healing in Jesus’ ministry. Here he ends the section by showing that Jesus called his disciples to the same priority. “He have them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and sickness.” These are not mere preachers but rather bearers of the compassionate rule of God in the lives of men and women.

barley-albumJesus words about the harvest are often interpreted as pointing the large number of unbelievers who can be converted. In fact his remark comes counter-intuitively in the wake of his recognition that the people were harassed and helpless. The harvest is plentiful because the human need is so great; there is plenty scope for a gathering-in which is also a transformation. To most eyes the sight of misery is simply dismaying; to Jesus’ eyes it demanded a ministry of hope and healing, which however could not be supplied by supernatural intervention but required the support of the community of disciples, to whom Jesus gave his own authority. This authority is nothing other than the power to be a free agent of God’s goodness, using one’s own character and abilities to fight everything that diminishes life. That’s why the twelve are named. They are not anonymous male symbols of a new Israel, but actual men with strengths and weaknesses, whose stories may have been known to Matthew’s readers. 

(Yes, it’s true that the concept of the “twelve” may have been a construct of the patriarchal culture of the early church, rather than of Jesus. There is plenty evidence in the Gospels that women were disciples, who played a vital role in Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. Still, it seems to me

The disciple Mary with Martha and Jesus

The disciple Mary with Martha and Jesus

possible that when Jesus was looking for a model of the new people of God, it pleased his humour to choose as venerable patriarchs a group of Galilean fishermen, ex-tax collectors and possibly an ex-jihadist (Simon the Cananaean), most of whom deserted him n time of need. In their faith and faithlessness they would be true representatives of the Jesus community. If however this story is used to deny the ministry and priesthood of women, and to justify the smelly male club of the Roman Catholic Priesthood,  we must insist that Jesus’ approval of Mary who sat at his feet is specifically approval of her as a disciple; and that the early churches quickly dispensed with the institution of the twelve in favour of the kinds of communal leadership, including that of women, evident in the letters of Paul. There s an issue lurking here which I’d like to dodge. If it could be proven that Jesus did in fact think that only men should hold authority as disciples, what then? I would have to say that the church, guided by the Holy Spirit,  has learned better,  and that the equality of men and women is one the “even greater things”  (John 14:12) that the Spirit has enabled disciples to achieve. I’m aware that this is a dangerous argument.)

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