11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 18, 2023- Happy Father’s Day

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – June 18, 2023- Happy Father’s Day

Exodus 19: 2-6a; Romains 5: 6-11; Matthew 9: 36 – 10: 8


Theme: We are Sent to Teach People to Keep God’s New Covenant

From this Eleventh Sunday to the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A, three Sundays in a row, we will be reading chapter Ten of Matthew’s Gospel. Note that because the evangelist Matthew intends to present Jesus as a New Moses, he recorded five large sermons of Jesus in his Gospel in reference to the first “five books” of the Bible called the “books of Moses”.  These five sermons are - The Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7), - The Mission Sermon (chapter 10), - The Mystery Sermon (chapter 13), - The Mercy Sermon (chapter 18), and – The Mount of Olives Sermon (chapter 24-25).

The second sermon, The Mission Sermon, can be divided into three subsections. The first subsection (The Gospel passage of today is taken from here) begins with the narrator mentioning the names of the twelve disciples (Matthew 10: 1-4) and describing how Jesus sends them out on a mission (vv. 5-15). The second subsection (we will read part of this next Sunday) recounts how Jesus prepares them for what they might face along the way in their mission journeys. They might be persecuted because of the Gospel that they will preach. But Jesus exhorts them to fear not because God who protects even the sparrows and who knows the number of hairs in their heads will protect them (vv. 16-36). The third subsection (which will be the reading on Sunday, July 2nd), is a call to radical discipleship. Jesus demands his twelve who are ready to go out on a mission to be able to do two things: First, they must love him, Jesus, more than their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters; second, they must be willing to take up their crosses and follow Jesus even to death. Here Jesus also promises rewards to all those who show hospitality to his sent ones (vv. 37-42).  

Let us come back to the scriptures of today. The first reading talks about the covenant between God and the people of Israel. God fulfilled his part of this “sacred agreement” by making the Israelites his “chosen people” and his “holy nation”. He then reminds them to do their part. The people of Israel are called to keep God’s covenant and observe his commandments completely in order to benefit from this privilege of being the “chosen people” and “holy nation”. Today we are in a new covenant with God through Jesus. In this “Sacred Agreement”, God did his part by “justifying” or “reconciling” us to himself through the blood of his only Son Jesus on the cross. To benefit from this justification and be saved, we are called to do our part of responsibility which is to always obey God’s commandments and keep his new covenant. (Second reading). To be able to do so, the people of God need ordained and lay ministers to take care of them spiritually. So, from our baptism, we all are sent out on a mission, starting in our own families, Church communities, and societies to minister to our fellow brothers and sisters. (Gospel).

Indeed, our first reading account is the beginning of the third part of the book of Exodus. The newly released Exiles arrived at Mount Sinai three months after leaving Egypt. They set up camp at the holy Mountain of God. God revealed his covenant to them. He called Moses apart from them and instructed him on what to tell his fellow Israelites in order to foster his relationship with them. Like the Israelites, we too are on our spiritual journey from this world to heaven. Every Sunday we set up camp at the foot of our “Mount Sinai” which is our Church where we encounter God in the celebration of the Eucharist. Here God speaks to us through the “Moses” of our time, the priest.

While speaking to his chosen people, God, first, reminded them of the marvelous thing he did for them such as the liberation from the slavery of Egypt. “You have seen how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19: 4, NABRE). At Mass, we are reminded of how God blesses us every day, especially, of how he freed us from the slavery of sin. This reminder intends to create in us an attitude of gratitude. Therefore, every Sunday Mass should be for us an opportunity to praise God and thank him for all his blessings during the week, especially for liberating us from the slavery of sins.

Second, God made a promise to the people of Israel: “Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples, though all the earth is mine. You will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation”. (Exodus 19: 5-6, NABRE). Here God promises to make you and me his special possession and his holy nation. For us to benefit from this privilege, God gives us a condition that calls us to do two things: to obey him completely and keep his covenant. The question here is to know what “to obey God completely” and “to keep God’s covenant’ mean to us.  First, to “obey God completely” means to observe all his commandments, to trust him, and to surrender to him totally.  Sometimes what our Mother Church teaches us, we select what we like and ignore the teachings that challenge us. Here, we learn that the obedience that God calls us to must not be partial but total. The second condition is to “keep God’s covenant”. Note that a covenant is a sacred agreement between God and the people of Israel. In that agreement, God promised to bless them and lead them to the promised land; in their turn, they promised God that they will observe all his commandments. So, here in this reading, God calls them to do their part of the agreement as he already fulfilled his. To benefit from the privilege of being the holy nation and chosen people of God, we too, like the people of Israel, need to obey God completely and keep God’s covenant. Saint Paul, in our second reading, teaches us more about our New Covenant with God through Jesus.

Our second reading passage comes immediately after Paul’s declaration of the justification by faith that we Christians have through God’s grace. For Paul, “Justification” is the “reconciliation” of us sinners to God through the death of Jesus on the cross. Salvation comes after we are reconciled and when we fulfill our part of the new covenant. God fulfilled his part of the “New Sacred Agreement” with us by reconciling us to himself through the cross of his only Son Jesus. “For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly… But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romains 5: 6, 8). It is now our turn to fulfill our part of the “New Covenant”. Remember, in baptism, we promised to reject Satan and all his works; we promised to keep our baptismal candle lit and white garment unstained until the return of our Lord. In one word, we promised to obey God all our lives. So, to gain this salvation that the justification brought us, we are called to continue to reject the works of Satan, do our best to keep the light of our baptismal lamp bright so that all people may see Jesus through us, and avoid that sins stain our souls. In case we fail to do so, which means we sin, we should right away clean our souls in the sacraments of confession and Eucharist. So, God fulfilled his part of his New Covenant with us. We too need to fulfill our part if we want to be saved. Hence, to be able to keep God’s new covenant and obey him completely, we need ordained and lay ministers who can take care of us spiritually as it is the concern of Jesus in our Gospel.  

We need God’s people to take care of us spiritually by teaching us the Word of God so that we might stay in the Covenant of God and continue to keep his commandments. The v. 35 that comes immediately before our Gospel tells us that Jesus himself went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Word of God. Now our Gospel’s passage starts from here. Matthew says that at the sight of the crowds, while he was teaching, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them. Pay attention to the reason why Jesus felt like that: “Because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9: 36). Jesus has discovered that the people of his time and of today are in desperate need of spiritual leadership. This should be our concern too. There are few ordained and lay ministers in our diocese, country, and the world today compared to the population or the sheep of God that need to be taken care of. Jesus summons his disciples including you and me to pray to God who is the master of the harvest to send out ordained and lay ministers to work in our parishes. Our kids need engaged catechists to teach them catechesis. Our young adults need very good leadership in their ministry. All adults in our parish need ongoing formation to stay updated on the teaching of the Church and on their calling. All believers need to receive the Body and blood of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. So, Jesus asks us to pray to God so that we have good people who can take care of our spiritual needs in this world, especially in our parish Saint Bartholomew/Saint Augustine, and our own families.

After assessing that there is a serious need for pastoral leadership, Jesus sends out his disciples whom he calls here “apostles” and gives them the authority over unclean spirits and to cure every illness and disease. (See Matthew 10: 1). The name “disciples” means “followers”, and “apostle” means “sent out”. In our baptism, we became the “followers” of Jesus and his “sent out’ to continue his ministry wherever we live. “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few” says Jesus in chapter 9: 37. So, you and I are called to become “laborers” and “sent out” in the “harvest” of God which is our families, Church, neighborhoods, and societies.

Pay attention to the instructions that Jesus provides his disciples and all of us. This instruction begins with a caution to avoid the territory of the Gentiles and Samaritans and focuses exclusively on the “lost sheep of the house of Israel”. (See 10: 5-6). Note that this caution does not mean that Jesus is against bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles and Samaritans. The context is that the audience of Matthew is primarily a community of Jewish Christians who at that time were not accepted by the Jewish community to pray in their synagogues because they chose to become Christians. Also, note that this is the first mission. Later, Jesus commissioned them to go all over the world and make disciples of all nations. (See Matthew 28: 19-20). Thus, as it is the first mission, and considering how the Jewish Christians were abandoned by the Jewish community, it is understandable that Jesus asks them to minister exclusively to their own people. This applies to us also. The “harvest” of God where to minister to in our context is first our own families, Church, and societies.

Let us take care of the spiritual need of our members wherever we are reminding them and ourselves to continue to keep God’s covenant and obey him completely. By doing so, we will inherit the eternal salvation that Jesus brought us through his blood on the cross that “justifies’ (reconciles) us to God. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD  

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