Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.
Focus. That’s what we need to be effective. Jesus empowered the Twelve with authority to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed from evil spirits, then sent them out to get to work.
He told them where they should focus their ministry – to go amongst the Jews and not the Gentiles. (This was not a lasting ordinance – our ministry is to make disciples amongst all nations and people groups – Matthew 28:19). As they travelled around, to proclaim the Good News of God’s reign and rule, they were to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons – to give people life before death as Christian Aid’s former slogan so beautifully put it. And yes, in giving people a taste of happy, healthy, dignified life now, there is the underlying expectation that they will turn to God in gratitude and seek eternal life as well. That’s why they were to tell people about God’s love, so that the people knew why they were doing what they were doing. Let’s not be slow to remember that part too.
The disciples’ task was focussed, and set around with boundaries.
Whilst our areas of focus will vary across our churches, there is much to be commended in this pattern. We so easily lose focus, always thinking of new things to drag our attention away from our core purposes – to glorify God and enjoy God forever, and to make disciples. Many, many good things are possible for us to do, none of them must distract our focus from what we must be about, in Jesus’ Name.
Lord, there are so many claims on my time, and so many things I might do: good, godly things to benefit others. Help me to choose wisely, always guided by you, as to what I should do today, and resist the temptation to own responsibility for fixing everything. Help us, by Your Spirit, to keep focussed on what matters most – loving and serving You, and drawing others to Jesus. Amen.
The Rev’d Steve Faber, Synod Moderator, West Midlands Synod