A mission that includes all peoples

Our call to be “missionary disciples of Jesus” is based on the Exodus experience of the Jewish people. Yes, God enables the Jews to be liberated from slavery, but much more is at stake. God addresses Moses like an earthly king pledging to confer on Israel the dignity of a “priestly kingdom” and a “consecrated nation”. The Israelites, on their part, are called to pledge themselves to God’s law which is about to be given to them in the Ten Commandments.


Guess what? The Jews were not always faithful to this new covenant that God made with them. Yet, despite this, we learn from this week’s Psalm that God remains faithful and merciful; moreover, God continues to care and protect his people as a shepherd guides his flock.


The writers of the Jewish Scriptures are at pains to point out that, despite the failure of the people of the Covenant to live by the Law, God does not give up. Indeed, as the Psalmist tells us: “How good is the Lord, eternal his merciful love; God is forever faithful.”


The extent of God’s faithful and forgiving love is made evident in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. St Paul tells us that God sends his own Son to live among us and die for us. A new covenant is formed to promote the offer of life and salvation not just to the Jewish people, but to all who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and strive to live out their faith in loving service of others.


Importantly, this offer of a new covenant for all people does not nullify God’s first covenant made with the Jews. This highlights the importance of Jewish-Christian dialogue as a way of understanding the multiple ways God is present among all people calling them to fulness of life. Such dialogue also points to the importance of the Jewish Scriptures for our proper understanding of the God of Jesus Christ in the New Testament.


This brings us to this week’s gospel by Matthew who is very much writing for a Jewish-Christian audience. Matthew had already introduced us to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and to some of his healing miracles. Today we see Jesus inviting disciples – we are even given names of the prominent Twelve – to assist him in his mission of the Kingdom. Such mission is in full continuity with God’s mission to Israel. Jesus even uses the words of Moses stating that “the people are like sheep without a shepherd.”


But what are we to make of Jesus’ words to the disciples to avoid “pagan territory” and “Samaritan towns” but, rather, “go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”? We need to know that Jesus, as the Baptist before him, saw his own mission focussed on the “twelve tribes of Israel”. It is only after the death and resurrection of Jesus that the disciples are empowered by the Spirit to see their mission is for all people regardless of race, nationality or ethnicity.

 Gerard Hall SM

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