Jesus has been traveling from one Galilean village to another. He’s been telling people about the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven, teaching them what this means, and showing them some of its meaning by healing people (Matthew 9:35).
For Jesus, though, this has not been enough. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (v. 36, English Standard Version, here and following). He has seen too many people needing help and not getting it from leaders who would rather exploit than serve them. To broaden his ministry, he sends out his disciples to proclaim the presence of God’s kingdom just as he has been. But he limits their range to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (10:6).
After his resurrection, Jesus broadens that range: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (28:19). We would be mistaken, however, to think that Jesus would automatically speak to us only through the words of that “Great Commission” today. Indeed, I think Jesus is speaking to you and me today through his earlier command to limit ourselves to his lost sheep.
Why? No point going all over the world right now. We’re out teaching others about fire prevention while our own Western house is on fire. The conventional Christianity we’re preaching has little to do with Jesus Christ and much more to do with false Olympian gods. In terms of opening the minds and hearts of others to words and signs of the Kingdom of Light, conventional preaching and teaching do far more harm than good. Rather than having us imagine we’re fulfilling the Great Commission, Jesus might be trying to tell us, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you yourselves” (23:15).
What Jesus more likely is inviting us to do now is to find his lost sheep; that is, those Christians who have been marginalized by the church but have not yet given up on him. When we find them, he’s inviting us to share with them his unconventional point of view. Then they can join us in response to Christ’s call to gather together with him into a community celebrating his daily presence in our midst.
Discerning and affirming the daily words and signs of Christ’s presence is the meaning of life. As Paul assures us, with it comes all the love, joy, peace, patience, and other fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). But, of course, it’s not all fun. We are, after all, still in the world. Jesus warns us he is sending us out “as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Not only will our own government persecute us. Members of our own families, even conventional brothers and sisters in Christ, will hand us over for punishment. He tells us plainly, “you will hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:22).
So why bother? Why not relax and enjoy the comforting darkness extolled by both Olympianity and conventional Christianity? Jesus assures us, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32). What blind comfort could ever compare with that? What hard discomfort could ever diminish it?
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