Chapter 10: The Mission of the Disciples
Before his Resurrection, Jesus sends his disciples on a mission confined to the house of Israel. This mission is a “training exercise” before opening up, after the Resurrection, a universal mission to all the peoples of the earth. From the Cross of Christ and his Resurrection comes the life of the Church and her Sacraments. The Sacrament of Confirmation which we receive as Eastern Christians (and also in the Western Catholic Church) – usually at the time of baptism – reminds us of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the disciples. It strengthens us during our entire lives along the path of witnessing to the teachings of Christ, to the point of martyrdom, should this become necessary.
Jesus explains his mission plan to the Disciples in the apostolic discourse we are reading today. He explains the obstacles they will encounter and the persecutions they will suffer, sometimes from their own families. Perhaps, you too are persecuted today for participating in the meetings of the catechumenate; or maybe you have encountered major obstacles in the course of your life. Just remember what Jesus said: Fear not! “The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master.” Persevere to the end and you shall be saved. Thus, the Word of God, the Lord, encourages us to live our Christian witness in daily life.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: The Disciples’ Mission (Mt 10:16-33)
16Remember, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; so be cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.
17 “Beware of men: they will hand you over to Sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. 18You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. 19But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; 20because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.
2l “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. 22You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23If they persecute you in one town, take refuge in the next; and if they persecute you in that, take refuge in another. I tell you solemnly, you will not have gone the round of the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “The disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master. 25It is enough for the disciple that he should grow to be like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, what will they not say of his household?
26 “Do not be afraid of them therefore. For everything that is now covered will be uncovered, and everything now hidden will be made clear. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the daylight; what you hear in whispers, proclaim from the housetops.
28 “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear him rather who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29Can you not buy two sparrows for a penny? And yet not one falls to the ground without your Father knowing. 30Why, every hair on your head has been counted. 31So there is no need to be afraid; you are worth more than hundreds of sparrows.
32 “So if anyone declares himself for me in the presence of men, I will declare my-self for him in the presence of my Father in heaven. 33But the one who disowns me in the presence of men, I will disown in the presence of my Father in heaven.
2. 1- Explanation
These words of Jesus speak about the persecutions that the disciples will endure:
- Introduction (Mt 9:35 – 10:5a): Matthew reviews the three mission activities of Christ: Teaching; Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven; Healing (Mt 4:23). Jesus is revealed as the Shepherd filled with the mercy of God and His love for His people, as opposed to the pastors of Israel. He invites people back to the way of God – He calls Peter the ‘first’ among the 12 Apostles, announcing in this way the primacy of Peter over the other disciples.
- Tasks of missionaries (Mt 10:5b-15): This paragraph is aptly divided as follows:
– Territory of work (10:5b-6)
– Schedule of work (10:7-8)
– Baggage and equipment (10:8b-10)
– Missionary style (10:11-15)
The early stage of the evangelization mission begins prior to the Ascension of Christ (akin to a training stage) in seeking the lost sheep of Israel: The Messiah seeks to gather his dispersed people (Is 11:12). Note how serving the Kingdom (Mt 10:7) is akin to serving humanity (Mt 10:8). On the other hand, advice on baggage and equipment – opposite to Mark, who only advises a stick and sandals – highlights trust in the Providence of God which doesn’t worry about lack of hospitality (see Mt 6:25-34). As for what concerns peace, this lies in the more important Messianic blessing which is granted in the mission (Is 9:1-6; Is 11:6-9).
- Mission to the world and persecutions (Mt 10:16-33): The tone changes here from duties and tasks to speaking of the destiny of pain and persecutions that disciples will meet. The Christian mission is characterised by pain. The introductory part is general in nature (Mt 10:16) and is followed by three literary units. The introduction speaks of being sent amid danger and calls for shrewdness and innocence combined. The first literary unit (Mt 10:17-23) speaks of persecution by the Jews and other nations and of the situations disciples will meet. The second literary unit (Mt 10:24-25) is the central part and speaks of the association between disciple and teacher on the one hand, and the servant and master on the other hand. The third unit (Mt 10:26-33) focuses on the three imperatives: Do not be afraid (Mt 10:26, 28, 31), which reassure the disciples that God is the Lord of history and shall judge, in utter fairness, everyone according to his deeds.
- Discipleship and reward of hosts (Mt 10: 4-42) The first three verses (Mt 10:34-36) deal with the paradoxical message of Jesus and the state of division in the family because of Christ: Some will want to believe and practise their faith on which they have embarked, while others will refuse, though in the same household. Part 2 (Mt 10:37-39) deals with the outcome for those who accept the message of Christ. Part 3 (10:40-42) deals with the relationship between a missionary and his peers and with God. The last unit (10:40-42) deals with the relationship that binds the One who sends with the envoys and with God.
5. Conclusion (Mt 11:1): This verse marks the conclusion of all the discourses in the Gospel of Matthew. In contrast with Mark 6:12, 13, 30 and Luke 9:6, 10, Matthew is less concerned with the missionaries and speaks more about the message of Christ and his mission among his people. The actual mission of the disciples is tackled again in the last part of the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 28:16-20).
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Dear baptism seeker, you are listening today to catechesis and teaching. In fact, you have not yet received the Holy Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation, nor have you yet been sent as a missionary to evangelize in the name of Jesus. However, you are invited to practise being a witness to Christ in your actions, before your words. The ambassador of Christ knows that he must first be a sheep who follows the shepherd towards the sheepfold of life. On the way, he must help others, treating the wounds of suffering humanity.
Christ promises a reward for those who follow him to the end. However, in the course of this life, we will face numerous problems and we have to accept them in the hope of the believer who looks at the glorious Cross and draws power and help from it. Wolves are plenty and persecutions are uncountable. This is why we know that every believer has a cross to carry. The first three centuries of Christianity passed without freedom to practise religious customs; and the blood of martyrs became the seed of saints. Today, Christians endure different persecutions; we find it hard to resist the temptations of daily life and are faced with persecutions of another type. We know that the Sacrament of Confirmation, which accompanies Baptism, is the power of the Holy Spirit which helps us all through our lives to witness to Christ’s teachings, all the way to spilling our blood, if it is necessary. The Apostolic Discourse of Jesus (Mt 10) is the map for our life in this world.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Holy Spirit and the Sacrament of Confirmation
The Gospel of Luke speaks of the Holy Spirit coming upon Mary at the Annunciation and incarnating the Son of God in her womb. We see that the same Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus on the day of his baptism at the beginning of his public life. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit accompanies the Lord Jesus all through his life on our earth, right up to his Passion, death and Resurrection. Similarly, Jesus risen from the dead sends the Holy Spirit to his Church. Says St John in the Gospel: “I shall ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you for ever, the Spirit of Truth who … will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you” (John 14:16 -17:26). The relation between the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit is very close, so much so that we call him the Spirit of Jesus.
The Church received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection of Christ. When we read the Acts of the Apostles, we notice that the early Church performs the same works as Jesus. She lives by his Spirit, and goes forward, inspired by him. He is present with power in her, he strengthens and encourages her. He has made her enter deeply into the understanding of the mystery of Christ. He guides her on her way to the Kingdom of God. He helps her to transmit the Good News in words and actions, so that she will know how to discern the right way to follow.
The Spirit of God continues to act in the lives of believers, instilling them with the inner attitudes of Christ: great love and the possibility of forgiveness; he also sows in their hearts peace and the desire for prayer; and he teaches them how and in what attitude of heart they should pray. It’s in that sense St Paul said, “When we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words” (Rom 8:26). The fruits of the Spirit are many, and St Paul mentions them: “Charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22). His gifts are also varied: “Wisdom, insight, counsel, power, knowledge, piety, fear of God” (Is 11:2). All this demonstrates to us the wealth that God pours into the hearts of those who love him thanks to the Holy Spirit.
The action of the Holy Spirit exceeds the limits and imagination of humanity. He works – according to Jesus – like the wind that knows no frontiers, travelling across the world, stopping at no borders set by people. Even non-believers are touched by the Spirit of God guiding them towards true love and knowledge of God in Christ. Thus, we see that many people seek Jesus, or at least adhere to his teachings and principles. God, indeed, acts so that hearts may be prepared to welcome the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As for believers, they welcome the Holy Spirit through the Sacraments, particularly during the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The believer enters the Church through his Baptism, since he becomes a new person resurrected with Christ. But even if the gift of the Spirit is accessible at any time, the Sacrament of Confirmation strengthens it. When the priest lays his hand on the forehead of the baptized, and anoints it with the Myron/Chrism, as a sign of the celestial anointing, the Spirit of God remains in the baptized, so that he may bear witness to him in his life, and spread throughout the world the good news of Christ. The Eastern Church wanted to confer the sacrament of Confirmation in conjunction with that of Baptism, to emphasize the unity of the two sacraments and the important role of the Spirit in the life of the believer. On the other hand, the Latin Church confers Confirmation separately, later in life, thus reserving for each sacrament (Baptism, Confirmation) its specific place. This is only in the case of children. When an adult is baptized, he is also confirmed immediately afterwards and receives first Holy Communion, preferably at the Paschal Vigil.
4- Reading and Meditation: Reading from Theodore of Mopsuestia (c.350-428)
The Sacrament of Confirmation
“When you have received grace by means of baptism, then, and put on this shining white garment, the bishop comes to you and puts a seal on your forehead, saying: “N. be sealed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” When Jesus came out of the water, he received the grace of the Holy Spirit, who came and remained on him in the form of a dove. This is why he too is said to have been anointed by the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon on me,” he said, “and therefore the Lord anointed me.” “Jesus of Nazareth, whom God anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power.” This shows that the Holy Spirit never leaves him, just as the anointing attaches to those who are anointed by men with oil and never leaves them. You too, then, must be sealed on the forehead. While the bishop is putting the seal on you, he says: “N., be sealed in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ This sign shows you that, when the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were named, the Holy Spirit came upon you. You were anointed by him and received him by God’s grace. He is yours and remains within you. You enjoy the first fruits of him in this life, for you receive now in symbol the possession of the blessings to come. Then you will receive the grace in its fullness, and it will free you from death, corruption, pain and change; your body too will last for ever and will be free from decay, and your soul will not be liable to any further movement towards evil.12