Cast Out Into the Kingdom

Rusty Foerger

 

Welcome Calvary, welcome to Calvary, and welcome to our teaching series, “Matthew: An Invitation to the Kingdom”.

 

Twenty years ago, Tom Hanks starred in a movie titled Cast Away. If you saw it, you may have noticed the play on words.

In one sense Tom Hanks was a “cast away”; his plane crashed in the ocean, and he somehow was cast up on the shore of some remote Pacific island.

But in another sense, Hanks was cast away relationally; even though he somehow got off the island many years later, he returned home to find people had given up on him, even the woman to whom he was engaged had given up on him as dead, and she married someone else. Hanks was cast away.

 

In a way, there is a play on words in today’s passage in Matthew 9 and 10. It is a play on the word translated “cast out”, also translated “send out” and “drive out”.

It is the Greek word “ek-ballo”.  “Ballo” means to cast or throw and “ek” is simply the word for “out”.

Jesus told Peter to cast his nets on the other side of his boat in John 21 (ballo).

Ek-Ballo is the word used earlier in Matthew 9 when it says, “Jesus cast out” or, “drove out demons”.

Jesus uses this same word in a very curious way at the end of Matthew 9/beginning of Matthew 10, the passage we will look at today (9:35 – 10:7).

 

This moment marks a dramatic shift in the Ministry of Jesus. Until now, we have been able to watch a slow movement of who this Jesus is and what the Invitation to the Kingdom is all about.

I love how Ingrid focused last week on God’s Kingdom as the Kingdom of Mercy, because everything we know about God’s mercy is seen in the person of Jesus. Jesus’ response to the paralytic, the sick woman, the ruler’s daughter’s death, and even the calling of Matthew: all are expressions of His mercy.

So Matthew sets the stage for us to see that it is precisely the mercy of Jesus that motivates what He is about to do now.

 

At the end of Matthew 9, we find that Jesus has just gone through all the towns and villages, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every kind of disease. Then it says this:

When Jesus saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

I suspect Jesus would be moved with compassion for us now: as we live through a pandemic, an economic depression, and in racially charged times (the murder of George Floyd). All these realities invite His compassion.

Compassion. It is the first time this word is used in the book of Matthew, and you will hear it a few more times as we go through the Gospel.

I like how Ingrid pointed out that the word “compassion” is actually a verb, more like “compassionate”, but we use words like “moved with compassion”. It is more the idea of giving birth to compassion.

 

As we reflect on this passage, I’d like us to be thinking in the back of our minds: how might I gain the heart of Jesus’ compassion in order to be willing to be “cast out” into the field of people ready to know the Kingdom of God is near?

 

If it was His mercy that motivated Jesus to heal people and to invite Matthew to follow Him, it is His compassion that motivates Jesus to say this:

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to […]

To do what?

Jesus, you see crowds, you’ve seen their misery, you see the injustice, you see the ripeness of a people to receive compassion, and the first thing you tell us to do is to pray?

 

Prayer doesn’t get a lot of credit these days; if you find yourself not praying it might mean, among other things, just how you’re giving up on prayer as a means of change, beginning, most profoundly, with the person who prays.

Prayer is belittled these days, most of all by our own prayerlessness. But even here is the place of Jesus’ compassion, and it is where Jesus starts.

Jesus says, “Pray. Pray to the Lord of the Harvest.”

This is where we begin.

It is also the way we live. As we grow spiritually mature, we grow in prayerful communion with the One who made us for Himself.  To do otherwise means we take our will into our own hands, and hope God catches up.

But Jesus continually points us to God.

 

Okay, let’s say we do that; let’s say we take Jesus at His word and actually pray to the Lord of the Harvest. What are we to pray?

Should we pray for justice? (Of course, a good thing, especially in our day when it seems like the dam of pent up racial tension is breaking.)

Should we pray for a political solution, or a successful rebellion over the power structures that keep things unjust?

For more churches, schools, and hospitals?

All good, but Jesus continually points us to God, first.

 

The starting point of Jesus’ mission is to recognize the field of His compassion is ripe and it is large; too large for a few people. He calls us all to “pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.”

“Send out” sounds so civil, doesn’t it? It sounds like your boss sending you out to run an errand.

But there’s that word again, “ek-ballo”. The word used to cast out nets and cast out demons is now the word Jesus uses to have us pray the Lord to cast out workers into His harvest field!

 

“Cast out” sounds rather harsher than “send out”, doesn’t it? It’s not a polite request to run an errand, it’s a demand to get out, into the place most on the heart of God.

Well, it’s not even the place; the focus of God’s heart is where the people are—the large, ripe field—not geography.

 

So let me get this straight: Jesus, this is your solution to encountering the harassed and helpless, shepherd-less masses of Israel? Is this your solution to the pandemic, the economy, the racially charged times we are in?

Pray – to the Lord of the Harvest (and of all creation) – to cast out workers into the fields of Your compassion.

 

The scary thing about you praying a dangerous prayer like this is the Lord likely will cast you out into the field of His compassion. But be encouraged, you won’t be alone; you are cast out with many others who want to do what’s on God’s heart.

I want to be careful when I use language like this; for decades the notion of the “mission field” has meant somewhere “over there”, some place other than here. Sometimes that’s true.

But let me affirm to you, the large, ripe field that is the focus of Jesus’ compassion is usually the place where you are right now. Jesus bids us to open our eyes and our hearts to the people God has placed in, around, and with us.

For some, and in the great tradition of Christian missions (Acts 8), it means being scattered to the farthest regions of the earth, but often, the harvest is where you are right now.

 

The very next verse in Matthew 10, we find Jesus acting on this prayer, demonstrating “ora et labora”: pray and take action.

I thought it would be helpful to re-read this passage in the Message translation:

Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages. He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives.

When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke. So confused and aimless they were, like sheep with no shepherd. “What a huge harvest!” he said to his disciples. “How few workers! On your knees and pray for harvest hands!”

The prayer was no sooner prayed than it was answered. Jesus called twelve of his followers and sent them into the ripe fields. He gave them power to kick out the evil spirits and to tenderly care for the bruised and hurt lives.

 

I like how that reads, “He gave them [among other things] the power to tenderly care for bruised and hurt lives.”

Of the hundreds of disciples following Jesus by this time, Jesus selects 12, and He confers on them the same authority He has—that is, to “drive out evil spirits” (ek-ballo) and to heal every kind of sickness.

These 12, apparently, were people ready to work. They were not just students anymore, or observers, they were workers, labourers.

 

You know what a good worker is like. If you are one, you know that you are called upon to do more tasks, and more interesting jobs. If you’re a good worker you find you are tasked with greater responsibility as time goes on.

These 12 followers are workers, they are being “cast-out” into the fields and told to get to work! Jesus calls them a new name: “apostles”, meaning “those who are sent out”.

What is the message of “sent out ones”? Tell them:

The Kingdom of heaven is near. (10:7)

Demonstrate it with the power of my compassion to cast out demons and heal minds, bodies, and hearts.

 

There’s implications to this. It means something’s going to change and it starts with the ones who carry the message.

How does the Kingdom come near?

These apostles, these sent-out ones, were in answer to Jesus’ own prayer and were in response to Jesus’ own compassion.

They were people who were near Jesus, which is to say they were near the King.

This is a good starting point for us. Get near the King, in order to gain His compassion to bring near the merciful and compassionate rule and reign of His Kingdom.

 

Let me review.

Jesus points us to God, first.

We are asked to pray for the Lord to cast out workers into the fields of His compassion.

Compassion: it’s a key word in our spiritual lives. Over the long arc of my short life I have learned to receive Jesus’ compassion; the better I can receive, the better I can offer His compassion.

It’s always like that. We can be gracious when we can receive grace. We can forgive when we are forgiven.

I have learned that Jesus is the source and destination of compassion. In other words, we receive the merciful grace of Jesus; to find that we give it to Him in the person of the people He sends us to.

It is Jesus’ compassion that sends us to care for hurt and bruised lives—we are sent on the power, or in the power of His own compassion.

It is compassion too, that would prompt us to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ, the revelation that “the Kingdom of heaven is near.” Compassion drives His message.

 

The kingdom is near because the King is here. Never forget that. Our lives are lived in the ecosystem of Jesus’ rule and reign. Our lives are lived in relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 

Dear children, I pray that we may live by faith in the One who loves us—and gives His life to us, for us, and with us—to do His will.

This very week, in what I like to call the “open book exam” of life, it is very likely Jesus will lead you to exercise your faith; therefore let me encourage you to share simply the compassion of Jesus.

 

Scripture

Matthew 9:35 – 10:7

 

Reflection

Earlier I asked you to keep a question in the back of your mind and I want to revisit this now:

 

Communion

I am glad we can share this ancient and familiar experience of Communion together—as together as we can be.

Even though we are living in a time of a global pandemic, a depressed economy, and watching racial tensions erupt, even now we are pointed to the source and destination of our spiritual lives: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Everywhere the Gospel of Jesus Christ has gone throughout the world, whether we are together physically, or technologically, the practice of Communion has been front and centre.

It is simple: bread and wine to help us to remember his body and blood given to reconcile us to the Father—to rescue us from our alienation from God.

Yet is it mysterious: “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this to remember me.”

The bread and wine is inexpensive, but we know Communion to mean something of inestimable worth.

Communion reminds us of who the King of Kings is; as Psalm 145 read earlier said:

The Lord is gracious and compassionate. He is trustworthy and faithful.

Communion reminds us that we live in His Kingdom:

His kingdom is everlasting, and His rule and reign endures through all generations.

Communion, community, compassion: all these words share the prefix “com”, the Latin word for “with”.

Union with God, Unity with each other, and sharing the Passion—or I might put it, the Compassion of Christ with others.

We start with “communion with Him”. Jesus is the source and the destination of our faith, and as we commune with Him may we become more like Him, as in this very bread and wine.

Let us Pray.


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