11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Without Cost, We Have Received

 
God's kingdom is often compared to a "harvest" in the Scriptures.  It is an image that perhaps meant more to other cultures, in other ages than our own.  However, there is still an important message for all of us in today's Gospel passage.  We can substitute the word "church" for "harvest" and we can hear the Lord reminding us that it is by God's favor that we belong to this chosen community. 
 
The Gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus is moved to speak because of his compassion for the fractured humanity that encircles him.  But it wasn’t just the crowds’ tattered clothes, or their sufferings and diseases or the physical poverty that Jesus saw -  though he was often deeply moved by people’s physical needs. But He also saw the outsiders, beggars lining the paths, prostitutes and public sinners. Jesus saw these people with a vision that others did not have and if his disciples were to be his true followers, they would have to have their eyes opened by him. The people are confused and dejected, like "sheep without a shepherd" and they are expectant, like a field of grain ready for the harvest. 
 
Jesus wants the powers of God’s reign to be brought to these people’s needs. He doesn’t require that they first conform to some pre-requisites imposed by “the kingdom of heaven.” They don’t have to belong to some special group or nation in order to be helped. They don’t have to pre-qualify in any way beforehand by pledging allegiance or obedience. He simply tells his disciples to go out and “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and drive out the demons.” 

He simply tells them to go to people who need them and tend to them.

But the mission of the Gospel is not just a response to a need; it is a gift from God and therefore the Father must be asked to send those who will do the harvesting.  And so we see Jesus formalizing the call of the twelve who will be sent on this mission.  But the folks that He chooses, themselves deserve the label "lost sheep"; the awkward and fearful Peter; Matthew the tax collector; Simon,  a member of the hot-blooded Zealot revolutionaries; James and John, who would argue over who was the greater; and the tragic Judas.  Those originally sent by Jesus were Galileans. They weren’t from the center of the institutionalized religion in Jerusalem. Rather, they themselves were from the fringe of the religion and society – just ordinary people who were called to do extraordinary things.

So the Gospel will be proclaimed by the very ones who desperately need it themselves. And they in turn will give this gift free of charge. They will make neither personal profit nor gain in personal prestige and rank over those to whom they are sent. They will always remember that the teaching and healing they themselves received from Jesus came free of charge— the “good news” is a gift. It always was and it always will be.
 
A harvest just doesn't happen - it requires work.  "Church" doesn't just happen...  it doesn't just spring up out of ground.  All of the different components which make up our Church require work, support, planning, tender care and collaboration. 
 
Blessed John XXIII and the bishops of the Second Vatican Council believed that the Church could read the reality of the social and cultural phenomena of this world by reading the "signs of the times."  The Church of the New Millennium must be a Church of responsible leadership and commitment - shared servant leadership between clergy and laity, and shared commitment to the work of the harvest.  If we must rely on "the Church" to witness to Christ, we must do so because together we are the Church. This is our fundamental belief of sacramental theology - that as baptized and sacramental people we are empowered to be alive in the Holy Spirit and to transform the world.
 
Jesus didn’t choose a perfect band of apostles, but they trusted in his word and did their best—we, too, have been chosen - and neither are we perfect. It will take the rest of our lives and beyond to realize what a gift the gospel has been to us. True leadership and service - called, gifted and appointed by Christ - will carry the marks of the Good Shepherd in the way we become shepherds to his sheep. 

How we act and speak in our lives will give proof that we have sat at Jesus’ feet and have heard his message, sending us to those who are troubled, abandoned, the sick and the outcast.