|“The Sending of the Twelve,”
Duccio DiBuoninsegnaca, 14th c.
After spending about a year with Jesus, the disciples are given a new challenge by their teacher. Jesus gathers his twelve disciples together and tells them to do the type of preaching, teaching and healing that they have seen him do. Now it is their turn. The most detailed record of this new phase in Jesus’ ministry is found in the Gospel of Matthew (10:1-11:1), with shorter versions in Mark (6:7-13) and Luke (9:1-6).
The context for this “internship training” for Jesus’ disciples is his sense that he’ll soon be going to Jerusalem for his final visit and he wants to prepare his followers for what is to come. This is the third tour of Galilee by Jesus. On his first foray into Galilee, Jesus traveled with the four fishermen who he called to follow him; on his second journey through Galilee, he was accompanied by all twelve disciples. This time Jesus will travel to Galilee by himself after he sends out his disciples two-by-two.
Jesus’ charge to them is simple and straight-forward: preach the Kingdom of God and heal the sick. Sending them out two-by-two is striking to me, since he leaves them and goes out on his own. Why two-by-two? We don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Jesus knew they would encounter stiff resistance or possibly hostile opposition, so having a partner would provide mutual support during this time of training. It may also have been to bolster their credibility by having the testimony of more than one witness, a key factor in the Jewish legal context.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, most of the missionary activity that resulted in the expansion of Christianity worldwide in the Roman Empire took place with teams of apostles and disciples, rarely with one person on his own. This is an important insight for us to remember in our own lives as disciples of Jesus.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find the only detailed record of what Jesus said to his disciples before he sent them out and there are some hard teachings that are difficult for us to understand. For example, Jesus tells them, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (10:22). And similarly, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but the sword” (10:34).
How do we square these statements with the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus is the promised Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) and the New Testament birth announcement that he brings “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). As we have argued since we started this Shalom blog, God’s gift of shalom to his people includes peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with others and peace with the natural world. Jesus indeed came to bring peace between his followers and God and peace between all people, regardless of race, gender or social status, but he knew that Satan would resist his efforts and cause animosity to arise. It is a struggle between light and darkness and this struggle sometimes occurs even within a family. Jesus wants them to know what to expect. Satan will put up a battle, but God’s plan will not be defeated. Temporary setbacks, yes, but defeat, never!
- As you read through Jesus’ instructions to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, did you notice that Jesus warns them that they will meet resistance from those who prefer to keep living as if there is no God. I think it is so interesting that Jesus does not tell his disciples to argue with those who disagree with them. Their job is to be a witness – just tell their story of how God has come into their lives and made a difference. If people didn’t want to hear about this, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.
- Jesus’ instructions to his disciples are helpful for us as well. While we may not have the same special healing powers that the disciples were given in Galilee, we are charged with the task of being his witnesses. What is important for us to understand is that God has chosen to use us as his witnesses, but he is not willing to use force to get people to follow him. He doesn’t come to impose peace on earth by force. God gives men and women the freedom to chose to follow him or not. No one is forcibly brought into the Kingdom of God – it is a voluntary decision to receive God’s gifts of grace and salvation.
- The two-by-two partnerships are also helpful reminders that no one is a “lone ranger” in God’s Kingdom. Working with partners is God’s choice for us, a choice that offers needed accountability and encouragement, when we stumble.