Matthew 9:35 – 10:8
“A Good View of the Field”
June 15, 2008 - Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Can we see? Are we under the cover? Are there enough places in that row? There were no assigned seats as we assembled for my daughter's graduation last week at Qwest Field in Seattle. We managed to find places that were pretty far down and facing the center of the stage. We could see everything very well. For a football game, I imagine they would have been ideal and expensive seats, nearly right on the 50 yard line.
Looking out over the “fields” of people He saw as He traveled around Galilee, Jesus had an ideal view. Telling them the good news of God’s kingdom and healing their sicknesses, He had a perfect perspective on the crowds who gathered around Him. He saw them as they really were. Verse 36 says, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Over the past couple months, we studied together what Scripture teaches us about some of the marks of a healthy, missional church. For our last Sunday of that study, we aim particularly at that peculiar adjective, “missional,” as we consider the mark of a “global perspective.” A missional church is a church that sees the world, and sees it well, just as Jesus saw those crowds with compassion.
To be truly healthy and missional, we want to view the whole world with compassion—and that is no easy thing. We live in a time when it is easier than it has ever been to see and know what is going on almost anywhere on earth, and the result is that our minds and hearts are overloaded. It was not long after the tsunami in Asia and the hurricane in Louisiana that somewhere, someone coined the phrase, “donor fatigue.” We’re worn out with messages of disaster and appeals for help. As much as we might want to care for the needs of the world and “strive for justice and peace in all the earth,” as our new members pledge, the sheer volume of need just makes us numb.
Global perspective is hard. It feels like the stadium is already filled and all the seats near the action are taken. There is so much happening on the field that we will never catch up, even if we do find a seat. One week it’s an earthquake in Indonesia or China, then it’s hunger in Africa, then it’s another bomb in the Mideast, tornadoes in the Midwest, and a crisis in the European Union. You can’t keep track of it all, much less care about it all. We don’t even know how to pray about it, much less what to do about it.
Jesus saw the problem with our vision. As God He sat high in the stands, with the whole field laid out before Him. In divine omniscience He could watch and know every player as if He had a thousand TV monitors and a million years to go over each play in slow motion. Heaven was the perfect seat for a global perspective. Yet the Son of God gave up that view in order to place Himself in a tiny, backward province on the fringes of western civilization. Because from there, from a small corner of the field, He had an even better perspective on the world.
In verse 36, the word “compassion” for what Jesus felt is formed out of the Greek word for “intestines.” Christ felt what He felt in His gut. It grabbed a hold of His insides and wrenched them. He saw the world clearly not from heaven looking down, nor even the heights of the mount of Transfiguration, but when He close to one small piece of it. Verse 35 says when Jesus was preaching good news and healing the sicknesses in towns and villages. The vision of a gigantic field where the harvest was plentiful came to Christ when He was working in one little corner of that field.
The way to Jesus-like compassion, to His kind of global perspective, is not to become global experts, trying to know and address every cause there is in the world. We can’t do it. Christ Himself didn’t do it. He just found a place in one small bit of the action. From there, He found a perspective on it all. From little Galilee He could see just how big the game really is, how many helpless and hopeless lost sheep there are in this world. From a small corner of ministry, He called us to pray with vision for the whole, pray as verse 38 says, for “the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers into his harvest field.”
It was also from that little corner, Matthew tells in the next chapter, that Jesus sent out workers. In chapter 10 verse 1, they are called His “disciples,” but in verse 2 we are told “the names of the twelve apostles.” “Apostle” means “one who is sent.” Part of their very title meant they were to go. And when they went, they could see better.
Graduation wasn’t the only place we worried about our seats last weekend. On Sunday morning, we went to Susan’s church and came in a little late. The place was mostly full, but someone slid over and made room for the four of us in the next to last row. I could see the communion table and pulpit fine when I sat down, but when I stood up I found myself staring at the back of a slanting column that cut down across my field of view. When communion began, Susan slid closer to the people next to us, encouraging me to slide down so I could watch. I did. I shifted just a little to the left, and suddenly had a good view of the celebration of the Body and Blood of our Lord.
In sending out the apostles, Jesus was asking them to shift their seats just enough catch a better view of the world. By going out, they saw the kind of things which moved His own heart, which sparked His own compassion for the “sheep without a shepherd.”
It was a limited mission. He didn’t ask them to take on the whole world. In fact, in verses 5 and 6, He deliberately restricted their mission in a way that feels troubling. He told them not to take roads to Gentile territory and not to enter any Samaritan town. “Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” It’s hard to believe this is the same Jesus who will say at the end of this Gospel, “go and make disciples of all nations,” or who in Acts 1:8 will tell the apostles they are to be His witnesses, “to the ends of the earth.” Yet Jesus at first kept His apostles close to home.
Our Lord wants us to have a global perspective. “The harvest is plentiful,” He says here. “Go to all nations,” He says after He is risen. There are over four billion people in the world who are not Christians. Yet Jesus doesn’t expect us to find that perspective all at once. He only asks us to move to a place where we can see a little more of the big field, feel the pain of few more lost sheep. That’s what Jesus Himself did.
Jesus saw a few lost, hungry, sick people gather around Him. In those few, He caught sight of “amber waves of grain,” stretching out to the horizon in need of harvesting, of great flocks of sheep waiting to be gathered in. His small ministry in a tiny province sparked a vision that included the whole world. By shifting His seat closer to a few people, He opened His heart to many of them.
To shift our seats for a better spiritual perspective means to respond like the twelve apostles did, going out to see what Jesus sees, people in need of good news and good help. It means going somewhere just a little strange, to meet a few people who are a little different. Some of you have done that. Carl has been to Kenya. Ted and Kathy went to Alaska. Jeroen and Sara went to Ethiopia. David went to China. Jill went to Czech Republic. Larissa went to Kenya. Kendra went to Chile. You go and you don’t visit the whole world, just a little corner of it, but you come back with your eyes more open. That’s how we gain global perspective.
That perspective begins even when we shift our seats just a little. You go out to serve lunch under the bridge or to pack cereal at the food bank or to volunteer for hospice or the hospital. When you hear the call of Jesus to go and go even just a little way, you come back with your eyes wider, your heart bigger. That’s a global perspective, a Christian perspective.
Yet we need to remember that our perspective is focused in two directions at once. We aim our eyes out at the world, but we also keep them focused on Jesus. Chapter 10 verse 1 says that “He called his disciples together and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.” We can’t go out in the name of Jesus without first coming together in the name of Jesus. It’s in gathering together in worship and love for Christ that we receive the grace and power needed to go out to the world.
As I stood behind the column in that Seattle church this past Sunday, I noticed a man seated all alone just in front of me. He had chosen to sit completely behind that column. He could have easily slid to the left in his pew and gotten a much better view. But for most of the service he remained carefully behind it, facing the blank wood. Often he didn’t stand when the rest of us stood, but only peeked out now and then for a glimpse of what was happening up front or around him.
I don’t mean to criticize that man. Simply being at worship may have been a huge struggle or step of faith for him. But he represented visibly where you and I can be spiritually. We come to worship, but we’re wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own worries. Our focus is on ourselves, the troubles of our own minds and hearts. But Jesus calls us first to look at Him and then to look at others. That’s why our communion table takes center place now, to remind us of what Christ has done in giving us His Body and Blood. It’s here in His presence that we receive the gifts which we in turn can take out to the world.
We look at Jesus Christ first and then out to the people around us. Global perspective on human need begins with a very local perspective on how Jesus Christ provides for our own needs. “Freely you have received, freely give,” says verse 8. Like a Carl’s Jr. burger, our faith is a two-handed affair. We stretch out one hand to Jesus and receive and stretch out the other hand to those around us and give.
Another way to say it is that, as a church, we want more of an outward focus. As we turn our eyes more and more toward Christ our Lord, we find Him turning our hearts more and more out toward the people and the world around us. We come to Christ with our problems and needs, and He refocuses us on the problems and needs of others. That is the perspective we are after.
We cherish and sometimes pay dearly for good seats. Down front, in the center places at the Hult Center or at the stadium are a precious thing. May we cherish that kind of seating in our Lord’s world.
In chapter 9 verse 38, Jesus told His disciples first to pray for workers for the harvest. Then they discovered that they were the answers to their own prayers. I pray that it might happen that way for you and me. As I said, some of you have already gone out to get that bigger perspective. I pray more of us will. I pray that a few of us will go to China for a week or two soon to work with our friends there. I pray that one of us might go to a little village in Alaska for ten days this summer. I pray that in at least one or two of us Jesus is placing a vision for some other corner of the world where you can go and give. And I thank God that so many of us already go out into this community where the needs are big.
Even a walk around our neighborhood might give you or I more of this Christ-like perspective. Yesterday during our garage sale, a little woman from the retirement community behind us came to look around. She said, “Oh, I wish we had known about this. Our people would have donated things. Our people would have come to shop.” It’s was so obvious when she said it, but in all the years of our sale, I never thought to specifically invite our neighbors to be part of it. It could have been a ministry to them, an opportunity to give, a break from their routine. But I never saw it before. I know I need more of Jesus’ vision, more of His perspective. So I pray for the sight to see and for the chance to meet more people like that sweet woman.
May Jesus help us all to gather around Him with clear, hopeful, believing eyes. May He help us to see first just how much we have been given in His dying and rising. And then may He raise us up and send us out with clear eyes to see what we can give to the world.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj