Because They Are Harassed and Helpless
Proper 6, Year A RCL Track 2 Romans 5:1-8, Matthew 9:35-10:23
Jesus visits many villages and cities; curing the diseased and the sick. Matthew says Jesus had compassion for these people. We know that Jesus is a compassionate guy but the compassion he shows to them isn’t because they are ill. It says his compassion for them is because they are harassed and helpless. So who was harassing these people? In the context of the reading, it is clear that it is their local authorities, their civic leaders, who are the ones doing the harassing. Interestingly Jesus heals the people’s ills but he doesn’t stop the harassment. Instead, Jesus commissions twelve Apostles to go out to the lost sheep, to “proclaim the Good News, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near;’” the same words John the Baptist proclaimed at the beginning of this Gospel.
These Palestinian Jews were not part of a representational, democratic government. Speaking your mind to those in authority could easily be a death sentence. Simply challenging the authority by pointing out hypocrisy and corruption was a death sentence. After all, this is why the authorities arrested and crucified Jesus. But I digress.
Jesus sends the twelve to form relationships with these harassed and helpless lost sheep. These twelve are the laborers going into God’s field to do His work. He sends his most trusted disciples into danger. He even tells them “they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.” Jesus’ message is of peace, it is a message of hope, but not everyone hears it that way. Some people find Jesus’ word threatening. They seem similar to the words of the Zealots, a sect of Judaism that was seen as anarchists.
Jesus says, “brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.” Those who stand for Jesus will be hated. Those who stand for the Gospel truth will cause strife. They may even die. The fundamentals of Christianity go against personal comfort and our all too human ways of the world. He tells the disciples that they are to stand for the truth no matter what the cost.
For me, these words from 2,000 years ago have never sounded more relevant. We have seen people stand up for justice toward our neighbors; to speak the truth about the gospel message; to proclaim peace and in return, they are hated, or violence is brought upon them. Some are even killed.
Many of us are rather … well … reserved when it comes to speaking up against just about anything. I’m not sure if some of us are more like the lost sheep then we would like to admit. But what I do know is what I hear in Romans five. To paraphrase verses one and two, it says, we are made righteous by faith … through our Lord Jesus Christ …we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
This sharing of God’s glory isn’t only between us and God but between us and each other. We boast in our hope not to God but to our neighbors. We obtain this grace not by sitting but by standing. And we are made righteous by following our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians, we stand for the same causes as the Lord stands. And the Lord never looks away from the poor or the oppressed. He stands for them. He stands for the poor. He stands for the oppressed. He stands for the injustices in this world and died because he stood and didn’t look away.
Only you can answer whether you sit or stand in grace? And if you stand, then what is it that you stand for?