1st Week of Advent
1) Opening prayer
God of mercy and compassion,
in your Son Jesus Christ
you have revealed yourself
as a God of people.
Turn our empty hearts to you,
give us eyes to see the depth of our poverty
and our inability to build a better world
with our own resources,
and then come and build it with us
through your Son and our Saviour
Jesus Christ, our Lord.
2) Gospel reading - Matthew 9,35 - 10,1.5-8
Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness. And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest.'
He summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out and to cure all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness.
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them as follows: 'Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town; go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go, proclaim that the kingdom of Heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those suffering from virulent skin-diseases, drive out devils. You received without charge, give without charge.
• The Gospel today has two parts: (a) A brief summary of the apostolic activity of Jesus (Mt 9, 35-38) and (b) The beginning of the “Sermon of the Mission” (Mt 10, 1.5-8). The Gospel of today’s Liturgy omits the names of the Apostles which are found in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt 10, 2-4).
• Matthew 9, 35: Summary of the apostolic activity of Jesus. “Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and all kinds of illness”. Matthew describes in a few words the central pints of the missionary activity of Jesus: (a) to travel through all the towns and villages. Jesus does not wait for people to come to him, but he goes out to look for the people travelling himself through the towns and villages. (b) To teach in the Synagogues, that is in the communities. Jesus goes to the place where the people are gathered together around the faith in God. And it is there that He proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom, that is, the Good News of God. Jesus does not teach doctrine as if the Good News were a new catechism, but in everything he says and does, there emerges something of the great Good News which dwells within Him, that is, God, the Kingdom of God. (c) He cures all kinds of diseases and illness. That which poor people experienced most was illness, all kinds of diseases, and what distinguishes the activity of Jesus is the consolation given to the people, whom he relieves from pain.
• Matthew 9, 36: The compassion of Jesus before the situation of the people”. “And when he saw the crowds he felt sorry for them because they were harassed and dejected, like sheep without a shepherd”. Jesus accepts persons as they are before him: sick, exhausted, tired. He behaves like the Servant of Isaiah, whose central message consists in “consoling the people” (cf. Is 40, 1). The attitude of Jesus toward the people was like the attitude of the Servant whose mission was very definite: “He does not cry out or raise his voice, his voice is not heard in the street; he does not break the crushed reed or snuff the faltering wick”. (Is 42, 2-3). Like the Servant Jesus also feels sorry seeing the situation of the people who were “tired, exhausted, and dejected like sheep without a shepherd”. He begins to be a shepherd, identifying himself with the Servant who said: “The Lord has given me a tongue of a beginner, that I may know how to raise those who are discouraged” (Is 49, 4a). Like the Servant, Jesus becomes the disciple of the Father and of the people and says: “Every morning my ear is attentive so as to listen to the beginners” (Is 49, 4b). And from the contact with the Father, Jesus receives the consolation to communicate it to the poor.
• Matthew 9, 37-38: Jesus involves the disciples in the mission. Before the immensity of the missionary activity, the first thing that Jesus asks to the disciples is to pray: “The harvest is rich but the labourers are few! So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers to his harvest”. Prayer is the first form of commitment of the disciples for the mission. Because if one believes in the importance of the mission that one has to carry out, everything possible is done so that it will not die with us, but rather that it continues in others through us and after us.
• Matthew 10, 1: Jesus gave the disciples the power to cure and to cast out devils. “He summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to drive them out and to cure all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness”. The second thing that Jesus asks the disciples is not that they do not begin to teach doctrine and laws, but rather that they help the people to overcome fear of the unclean spirits and to help them in the struggle against illness. Today, what frighten people most are certain missionaries who threaten them with the punishment of God and with the danger of devils. Jesus does the contrary. “If it is through the finger of God that I drive devils out, then the Kingdom of God has indeed caught you unawares”. (Lk 11, 20). It is sad to say it, but today there are some persons who need the devils in order to be able to drive them out and gain some money. It would be worthwhile for them to read what Jesus says against the Pharisees and the doctors of the Law (Mt 23).
• Matthew 10, 5-6: Go first to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Jesus sends out the Twelve with these recommendations: “Do not make your way to gentile territory, and do not enter any Samaritan town. Go instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”. At the beginning, the mission of Jesus was directed to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel”. Who where these lost sheep of the House of Israel? Were they, perhaps, the persons who were excluded, for example, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the unclean, who were considered lost and condemned by the religious authority of the time? Were they those of the directing class, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the elders and the priests who considered themselves the faithful people of Israel? Or were they the crowds, tired and exhausted, as sheep without a shepherd? Probably, here in the context of the Gospel of Matthew, it is a question of these poor and abandoned people who are accepted by Jesus (Mt 9, 36-37). Jesus wanted the disciples to participate together with him in this mission with these persons. But in the measure in which he takes care of these persons, Jesus himself extends the horizon. In the contact with the Canaanite woman, a lost sheep of another race and another religion, who wishes to be heard, Jesus repeats to his disciples: “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 15, 24). It is before the insistence of the mother who does not cease to intercede for her daughter that Jesus defends himself saying: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs” (Mt 15, 26). But the reaction of the mother does away with the defence of Jesus: “Ah, yes, Lord, but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table” (Mt 15, 27). And in fact, there were many scraps! Twelve baskets full of pieces of bread which were left over after the multiplication of the loaves for the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Mt 14, 20). The answer of the woman does away with the argument of Jesus. He takes care of the woman: Jesus listens to the woman: “Woman, you have great faith: Let your desire be granted". “And from that moment her daughter was well again” (Mt 15, 28). Through the continuous attention given to the lost sheep of Israel, Jesus discovers that in the whole world there are lost sheep who want to eat the scraps or crumbs.
• Matthew 10, 7-8: Summary of the activity of Jesus. “Go, instead to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. And as you go proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven is close at hand.
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those suffering from virulent skin-diseases, drive out devils. You received without charge, give without charge”. How can the closeness of the Kingdom be revealed? The response is simple and concrete: curing the sick, raising the dead, cleaning the lepers, driving out devils and serving gratuitously, without enriching oneself from the service given to the people. Where this takes place, the Kingdom is revealed.
4) Personal questions
• We all receive the same mission given by Jesus to the disciples. Are you conscious, aware of this mission? How do you live your mission?
• In your life, have you had any contact with the lost sheep, with people who are tired and exhausted? What lesson did you draw out of this?
5) Concluding prayer
The Lord heals the broken-hearted
and binds up their wounds;
he counts out the number of the stars,
and gives each one of them a name. (Sal 147,3-4)