I’m so glad we have just a light summer Gospel lesson for this last weekend of June J:
“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Let’s see if we can unpack it—first, by looking at some of the characteristics that are specific to the Gospel of Matthew, and then by considering what comes just before our lesson this morning:
First, the author of Matthew’s Gospel is Jewish, the intended audience of the Gospel of Matthew is Jewish, and the Jewish identity of Jesus is emphasized in Matthew’s Gospel.
The Gospel of Matthew is written for the Jewish community at a time when it is uprooted, disoriented, and bickering with one another over power, authority, and the practice of true religion.
Because of this, the Gospel of Matthew is the most contentious of all the Gospels.
Next, let’s consider what comes just before today’s Gospel lesson, in chapters 8 and 9, to help us frame this morning’s lesson from Chapter 10.
In chapter 8 we read a sequence of healings performed by Jesus:
First, Jesus heals a leper. And then, the paralyzed and distressed servant of a centurion. Immediately after, Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. That evening, Jesus heals “many who were possessed by demons and cured all who were sick.” 8:1-17
The importance of compassionate healing of the body is paramount in the Gospel of Matthew.
In chapter nine, another healing sequence follows:
First, a paralyzed man lying on a bed is healed--
Jesus calls Matthew, the tax collector, to be his disciple
Then, Jesus and Matthew go to a house for dinner with tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners. It’s basically a party.
The Pharisees are horrified by Jesus’ dinner companions, to which Jesus says,
“Those who are well have no need of a physician—go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
After the dinner party, Jesus heals: a woman suffering from a hemmorage,
two blind men, and a demonic mute.
Then Jesus went to all the towns and cities “Proclaiming Good News of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.
When he saw the crowds “he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless.”
So, we see in chapters eight and nine Jesus positions himself as a healer, a physician, and as one who puts mercy above religious sacrifice.
By the end of chapter 9, things are really heating up—and a storm is brewing.
Alright, we’ve arrived in Chapter 10 of Matthew’s Gospel:
First, Jesus summons his disciples and gives them authority to cure every disease and sickness.
And, this is what he tells them do as his disciples: “Cure the sick. Raise the dead. Cleanse the lepers. Cast out demons. You received without payment. Give without Payment.”
Give. Without. Payment. In my notes when I read these words, I literally wrote, OMG. Jesus is instructing His disciples not to make a profit from the healing they do. We’ll come back to this in a bit.
So, Jesus sends out his disciples with the authority to heal: As physicians. As mercy-bearers. And tells them not to receive any payment for their healing services. And, he tells them, “you will be dragged before Governors and Kings because of me.”
The work of procuring care for the sick is so unwelcomed and so contentious that Jesus warns his disciples, “I’m sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves.”
Enter Jesus the Swashbuckler from our Gospel lesson this morning: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Jesus knows that His mission, and the commissioning and sending of His disciples is not going to bring peace. Quite the opposite. It’s going to agitate and enrage a whole lot of powerful religious and political authorities.
Healing people is swordplay, and Jesus knows it.
On Thursday, I watched CNN coverage of protesters outside of Senator Mitch McConnell’s office. The protestors were part of ADAPT, a national disability rights organization. They were protesting the senate health care bill, particularly the proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.
I watched in disbelief as four Capitol Police removed a protesting woman from her wheelchair and carried her down the hall—she was later placed back in her wheelchair with her hands cuffed behind her chair.
I thought about how this woman was truly being dragged before Governors and Kings, down the senate corridor, past senate offices.
A sheep among wolves.
“And Jesus had compassion for them because they were harassed.”
Jesus is no fool. He Knows that the work of healing, of mercy, and of providing care—without payment—is divisive. It is contentious. It divides families. And communities.
Jesus tells us this morning, that he didn’t come to bring peace—it’s as if He’s saying, “I’m not going to make the contention just go away. You--my disciples—have to find a way to fulfill my mission even if it’s hard.”
We can almost hear Jesus say to us, “I didn’t come to make it easy. I came to bring good news to the poor, and to heal the sick in mind and body and spirit. And I send you out as my disciples, with the authority to do the same.”
And, I wonder, in contemporary society, how do we live out our authority as disciples to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons?
Antibiotics, well-baby visits, pre-natal care, immunizations, cancer treatment, occupational therapy, knee replacements, cataract surgery, palliative care for the dying, prescription drugs for chronic disease and mental health—these are our tools of healing, comfort, and mercy.
This is what, in this country, we call health care.
In our country, access to Health care is access to healing.
Access to healthcare is certainly not the only kind of healing—but it is an important part of healing.
In a way, it would be a little too convenient to say that Jesus only cares about our spiritual health.
Jesus cares about our physical and mental health, too. Jesus desires for us to be well in mind, and body, and spirit.
Today, many of us, myself included, cannot be well in mind and body—and spirit—without access to healthcare.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what I hear in this Gospel lesson, and what I believe to be true, is that we are called as disciples to actively work for a society that provides access to healthcare for all—especially the most vulnerable: children, women who are pregnant, the very sick, those with pre-existing conditions, those who need mental health care, the working poor, the elderly and the differently-abled.
Remember, Jesus says, “You received without payment, give without payment.”
We who are baptized have received freely the gift of God’s grace, salvation, freedom, and hope through Jesus Christ.
We who have been baptized into Christ have received so very much without payment.
Ours is to turn around and bring others along with us, caring as Christ did for the physical and mental well-being of our brothers and sisters.
St. Irenaeus is writes, “The Glory of God is the Human Person Fully Alive.”
“The Glory of God is the Human Person Fully Alive.”
We have much work to do together to bring about the Glory of God here, and now.
Proper 7, Year A
 New Oxford Annotated Bible
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other reflections