If you’ve been following my Sunday messages for the last few weeks, you’d know I’ve been talking a lot about the Disciples and the Great Commission, a blessing Jesus gives to his disciples to continue his ministry.
Before he does that, he sends them out to do some field work - applying their learning and gathering some first hand experience.
Read: Matthew 9:35-10:15.
In a wonderful piece entitled, Dozen, Ken Kesselus describes the Disciples as “The Dirty Dozen,” comparing them to the soldiers from the movie of the same name.
Based on a story from WWII, The Dirty Dozen was a special military unit headed by an unorthodox officer who selected an unlikely squad of thieves, murderers, and scoundrels. Together they set out on a daring mission with a very high probability of failure.
Yet, despite the unlikelihood of success or survival, this rag-tag band of brothers combine their special skills and got the job done.
I love his analogy. After all, Jesus was an unconventional leader who gathered his own unremarkable dozen to take on the most momentous mission of all time – to usher in the Kingdom of God.Like the dirty dozen, Jesus’ twelve were taken apart and rebuilt for their mission. They had to learn a new way of living, thinking, speaking, and doing. That is to say, they had to learn God’s way. And who better to teach them than the Incarnate God of the Trinity that we spoke of last week. Real life was their classroom.
As they followed their teacher from town to town. They observed him as he taught religion to the religious. And stood by him as he tended to the sick. Together, they learned what it meant to live out the good news of God’s kingdom.
This story is not just about a dozen men learning to evangelize the gospel. It is a story about us who have chosen to follow Jesus. It’s about how we take his teachings out into the world as the living embodiment of God’s love and grace.
So what does this story tell us about Jesus, the one in whom we follow?
We know that He traveled, he taught, he tended to the sick. No distance was too great. No group too skeptical. No ailment too impossible to cure. Jesus goes here, there and everywhere to get the job done.
We are his disciples, his students called to follow his lead – seeing the world through his eyes, and loving the world with his heart. As the church we are to be like the one who saw the crowds and “he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
In the Greek “compassion” means to be moved by your whole being towards mercy and pity. It’s like seeing the effects of systemic racism and knowing it isn’t right because you feel hurt deep in your soul. It moves you to get involved and to make a difference.
Jesus didn’t just see the oppressed, but felt their pain in his heart, lungs, and guts. When he saw how they were treated unjustly his entire being was moved to help. The crowds flocked to him, because no one had ever loved them or cared for them like he did.
This is the first lesson for us who wish to follow in Jesus’ footsteps: The Kingdom of God is compassionate.
There is deep hurt in the world. People are suffering greatly from inequality. No longer can we - who chose to follow Christ - stand on the sidelines pretending it’s not happening in our own communities. Just as Jesus had compassion, so must we. And we, like him must act on it.
For some that’s protesting. Marching side by side, demanding justice, and not giving up until change happens. For others, it’s about looking inward to see what they need to change within themselves, in order to have the kind of Christ like heart that moves them to stand up for justice and peace.
Jesus saw the crowds and had compassion. But he also recognized that there is way too much work to be done for just one person. He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” And so he calls us all to look deep within ourselves, to put aside our own prejudices, and show mercy and have compassion to those who are suffering in the world.
This might make you feel a bit uncomfortable. It might make you feel a bit scared. Kesselus reminds us that, “When Jesus picked out his twelve, he obviously didn’t seek the best and brightest but the ordinary. He selected a group of mostly lackluster and untested commoners, some of whom seemed failures by modern worldly standards” (Kesselus, 2020).
And this is the second lesson: The Kingdom of God is participatory.
I like to think that when Jesus first saw his dirty dozen, he saw you and me among the ranks – ordinary, everyday people who do not possess any great qualifications or credentials. What we do have, whether we know it or not, is God’s compassionate heart. A Divine imprint of love that was placed in us long before we took our first breath.
We all have what it takes to continue Jesus’ mission of compassion but do we have his willingness to act upon it? To show mercy to those crying out for help? You see, we are his twelve. Our mission, our purpose, our call is to go out and redeem the world with all its political realities, social divisions, and systemic disorders.
It’s our job to reveal God’s compassionate heart from town to town, and person to person. We are the church, the body of Christ, the visible presence of God in the world. But are we willing to love has he loved? To care as he cared? Will we cast out the demons that have harmed our communities? And take the time to heal the brokenness that is causing others so much pain and suffering? Are we willing “to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near”?
If we follow in the footsteps of Christ, with all his compassion and conviction, then our mission will rub people the wrong way. We’ll upset the status quo and probably lose a few Facebook friends. For Jesus is sending us out there like sheep among wolves.But here’s the thing to remember. In spite of our limitations and the obstacles placed in front of us, Jesus calls us – not because of any special power we have but because of the boundless power of God that he gives to us.
Which takes us to the third lesson: The Kingdom of God is powerful.
Despite the challenges, despite the questionable likelihood of success, and the inevitable difficulties we will face, Jesus sends us out – giving us the power and authority to do what he does. Although we might seem inept or unable to cure diseases or cast our demons, let us not forget “the seemingly impossible things that God has done through others beyond the original dozen.”
Many diseases that were once thought incurable have been eradicated, the demons of unjust laws that have possessed people to do horrific atrocities to other human beings are being overturned, and people who believed some doors would always be closed have seen them blown wide open.
“Throughout Christian history, the dozen apostles have been replaced by a never-ending series of other dozens who continued to carry out the never-ending instructions of Jesus to go out among the people as his agents of love.”
Many of us are not sure that we have what it takes, that we’re not good enough, or smart enough, or righteous enough to agents of love. But that’s not the case. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. So, Jesus calls us to take nothing more than faith as we go out into the fields - proclaiming the good news through works of charity and mercy.
And this leads me to the last lesson for today. In the Kingdom of God, Jesus isn’t banking on our faith, but God’s faith in us.
This is why Jesus can send his followers out on seemingly impossible missions...because it’s not us. It’s about God working through us to bring love and mercy into the brokenness of the world. This is what salvation looks like to me. This is the purpose of Discipleship. This is the call for all who call themselves Christians.
Love is our purpose. Love is our mission. Love is the faith God has placed in us. Faith is an active verb that calls us to bear the good fruit of God’s kingdom. It’s not about sitting idly by as the world continues to cry out in pain. It’s about being willing to move with compassion and conviction to complete the mission of Christ.
Jesus didn’t choose us because we possess any particular qualifications for transforming the world. We were chosen because God needs us to usher in a new way of thinking, and speaking, and doing, and caring.
It’s time for us to go out and show compassion from the depths of our innermost being to those who are crying out for mercy and justice. Through Christ, God has chosen us and put faith in us to spread the love of God to every corner of the world.
The time is now. The world is ready for harvest. There’s work to be done. But are you willing to go?
Let us pray:
Lord God, you have made us and called us your beloved children. You have blessed us with your love, and given us your name. As we leave here today, we pray that you will continue to fill us with your Spirit so that we can proclaim the good news of your love as we walk in the footsteps of Christ in a manor worthy of your glory. Amen.
Bartlett, David. L and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011) pp. 140-45.
Kesselus, Ken. Twelve. epsicopalchurch.org. June 8, 2020. (accessed June 11, 2020).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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