11th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle A)

Readings:
Exodus 19:2-6
Psalm 100:1-3, 5
Romans 5:6-11
Matthew 9:36-10:8

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).  Ordinary Time is the time between the Church's Liturgical Seasons: Advent and Christmas are followed by first part of Ordinary Time, and Lent, the Pascal Triduum, and Easter are followed by the second part of Ordinary Time.

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: We are a Priestly People and the Sheep of God's Flock
As members of Christ's holy covenant family, we belong to God.  We are His personal possession and the sheep of His flock.  The words of God to Israel in the First Reading are also meant for us.  Jesus' Kingdom of the Church is the new Israel (Gal 6:16) and the fulfillment of God's promises to the Old Covenant people.  We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation called into covenant unity through Jesus Christ, the divine Shepherd (Ex 19:5-6; Dt 26:19; Is 62:2).  Our Psalms reading reminds us what it means to belong to the divine Shepherd.  The shepherd imagery is the same imagery that is found in our Gospel Reading in Jesus' pity for God's people who are "troubled and abandoned like a sheep without a shepherd" because the shepherds who are the chief priests and Pharisees have abandoned and misled God's people through their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness (Jer 50:6; Mt 23:1-36).  But in Jesus, God fulfills the promise He made to the Old Covenant people through the prophet Ezekiel that one day He Himself would come and save His scattered sheep (Ez 34:1-24).  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the Church is the priestly people who are the sheep of His flock (Jn 10:11; 21:15-17).  We have been saved and reconciled to God (Second Reading), and just as God delivered and commissioned Israel, He has also delivered and commissioned the New Covenant people of God to make us a royal priesthood to serve His Church and to minister to a world full of lost souls seeking the mercy of God (Rev 1:6).

The First Reading Exodus 19:2-6 ~ God Calls Israel to be a Kingdom of Priests
2 In those days, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai and pitched camp.  While Israel was encamped there in front of the mountain, 3 Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; 4 tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings, and brought you here to myself.  5 Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.  6 You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation."

The Israelites left Egypt in the middle of what became the first month of their liturgical calendar, the month of Abib (Ex 13:4), and arrived at Mt. Sinai in the third new moon in the month of Sivan; it was the 48th day after the Exodus out of Egypt as the ancients counted without the concept of zero place value and on the 50th day they kept a rendezvous with the mighty God of their liberation (JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 103; also see Num 29:6; 1 Sam 20:18; 2 Kng 4:23; Is 1:13).

Verses 3-6 express the essence of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel that was formed at Mt. Sinai.  In the Bible covenants create family bonds, and in the case of the Sinai Covenant, Yahweh is not only the great King to Israel's vassal/servant state but He is also the divine Father who loves and protects His "first-born" son, gently bearing Israel to freedom and holy nationhood. 

3 Moses went up the mountain to God. Then the LORD called to him and said, "Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob; 4 tell the Israelites: You have seen for yourselves how I treated the Egyptians and how I bore you up on eagle wings, and brought you here to myself.
In the eagle imagery Yahweh is comparing Himself to a mother eagle caring for her young, and Israel is the young eaglet who is learning to "fly."  A mother eagle will throw her young out of the nest to teach them to fly, but she catches them on her back between her wings until they are able to fly on their own.  In the same way Yahweh has thrown Israel out of her "nest" in Egypt, but He has carefully carried her on His wings, guiding her by the Glory Cloud, to bring the Israelites to His holy mountain.  This same imagery will be repeated in Deuteronomy 32:10-11 and Psalm 17:8.

5 Therefore, if you hearken to my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine. 
This is the first time the word "covenant"/berit has been used in the Book of Exodus.  The use of this word signals a turning point in God's relationship with the children of Israel.  Our English word "covenant" is from the Latin convenire, meaning "to agree, to come together" (Hardon, Catholic Dictionary, page 96).  Covenants are not concerned with property rights like contracts; covenants bind relationships and are concerned with intangibles like honor, loyalty, and truth.  Biblical covenants create special family bonds of loyalty and fidelity between Yahweh and individuals or peoples similar to a marriage covenant between a bridegroom and his bride.

you shall be my special possession, dearer to me than all other people, though all the earth is mine.  The Hebrew word for "treasured possession" is segullah, a word which literally means "valued property to which one has an exclusive right of possession" as in a slave or servant; the word has this same meaning in other Old Testament texts (see Ecc 2:8 and 1 Chr 29:3; JPS Commentary: Exodus, page 104).  The description of Israel as Yahweh's 'am segullah, "treasured people," expresses God's special covenantal relationship with the children of Israel and His love for those who belong to Him in the covenant family bond (also see Dt 7:6; 14:2; 26:18-19).  In addition to being defined as God's "treasured people," there are other implications for Israel in this unique relationship with Yahweh as the great King and Israel's status as "first-born son" as God defined His relationship with Israel in Exodus 4:22.  Belonging to God in this way implies a national sovereignty and a call to holiness as God's kingdom.  Israel's service to God as a holy people helps to define her mission both as being set apart from the other nations of the earth in holiness and at the same time being called to witness to the "younger brother" nations of the One True God.

6 You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.

Adam, God's first-born human "son" and the first priest of God's earthly Sanctuary in Eden, was God's representative to the other creatures of creation, and later after the Fall and the expulsion from Eden, Adam continued to be God's priestly representative to his human family.  Israel, in Yahweh's invitation to covenant formation, is called to carry on Adam's priestly role but in much broader terms.   Just as Adam was created as God's human "first-born" son to be a liturgical being who fellowshipped with God in the ritual of worship, so too has Israel been re-created through the Exodus experience to be God's people, His firstborn son chosen from among the nations of the earth to worship Yahweh.  And, as God's "first-born son," Israel's destiny is to become a priestly nation, serving as God's priestly representative to the other nations of the human family (see Gen 2:15; Ex 3:7, 10, 12; 4:22-23; 5:1; 6:5, 7).

In order for Israel to live up to her station as God's personal possession as a holy nation, she had the obligation to imitate God in her holiness to fulfill her destiny as keeper of God's Sanctuary on earth (the first since the Sanctuary in Eden) and to be His holy domain.  Striving for holiness in every aspect of the lives of the covenant people was to be the hallmark of Israel's existence (see Lev 19:1-2; Ps 114:1-2).  Unfortunately, Israel failed to meet this obligation as priestly "firstborn sons" in the sin of the Golden Calf when the Israelites broke the covenant by worshipping an idol and the firstborn sons failed to rally to Moses.  They became dispossessed firstborn sons as the Levites assumed their position as Yahweh's lesser ministers (Ex 32:25-29; Num 3:11-13).  The responsibility of a priestly nation now belongs to the new Israel of the universal Church of Jesus Christ.  In taking on these obligations, the Church has become the fulfillment of God's promises to the old Israel to carry forth a world-wide blessing to humanity.  The Church of Jesus Christ is a Kingdom of priests (CCC 1547) whose common priesthood of the baptized carries on the work of Jesus' earthly ministry to call our brothers and sisters in the human family to healing and salvation (CCC 1141, 1143, 1268, 1273, 1546-47).

Responsorial Psalm 100:1-3, 5 ~ The Sheep of God's Flock
The response is: "We are his people, the sheep of his flock."
1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands; serve the LORD with gladness; 2 come before him with joyful song.
Response:
3 Know that the LORD is God; he made us, his we are; his people, the flock he tends.
Response:
5 The LORD is good: his kindness endures forever, and his faithfulness, to all generations.
Response:

In its title this psalms is designated for the Todah ("thanksgiving") communion liturgical worship service.  It is a song of praise summarizing the faith and hope of the covenant people of Israel (verses 1-3).  Verses 1-2 are an invitation to all people to serve God with joy.  The invitation is followed by two reasons to serve God in verses 3 and 5: Israel is Yahweh's people, the "flock" He cares for, and because Yahweh is good.  His goodness is demonstrated by His kindness and faithfulness that extends to all generations.

The Second Reading Romans 5:6-11 ~ God's Love for Us
6 Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.  8 But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.  9 How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.  10 Indeed, if  while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life.  11 Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

In Romans 5:6-8 Paul speaks of the proof of God's love.  That proof is "that while we were still sinners Christ died for us."  Paul identifies the condition of the unjustified person as one incapable of doing anything on his own to achieve righteousness in the site of God apart from Jesus Christ.  But God in His infinite love does for us what we could not do for ourselves.  The Son's death is the mode in which God's love has been manifested:

9 How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath.
We shall be saved through Christ from the retribution of God that we deserve as sinners.  St. Paul returns to the theme of retribution that he first raised in Romans 1:18 ~ The retribution of God from heaven is being revealed against the ungodliness and injustice of human beings who in their injustice hold back the truth.   In Romans 4:25 our justification was ascribed to Christ's Resurrection, but it is now attributed to the shedding of His precious blood and to His death.  Paul does not separate the saving work of Jesus into categories: His Passion, death, and Resurrection are all one saving act applied to the salvation of mankind.  It is Jesus' saving act that will save us from God's wrath/retribution.

In Romans 5:9 Paul speaks of another salvation beyond justification by Jesus' death.  In addition to our initial justification through Jesus' Passion, death, and Resurrection that is applied to our baptism into the family of God, a great favor or grace of justification will be manifested to the believer in the eschatological salvation that is to come in the Final Judgment.  Once again we have evidence in St. Paul's writings that justification is not only a state but an on-going process, just as salvation is an on-going process to be consummated at the end of time as we know it when we will face "the wrath/retribution of God" in the Final Judgment.  It is an event the faithful Christian need not fear, as Paul assures us in the next verse.

10 Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 
As sinners men and women are not just "weak" or "godless" but have made themselves  a "seed of the serpent." Yahweh said to the serpent in Genesis 3:15 ~ "I shall put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel."  Those living in sin become an enemy of God (also see Rom 5:8; 8:7). 

The death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only means by which sinners are reconciled with God (Acts 4:12).  This is another way of repeating what St. Paul stated in Romans 5:1 when he wrote that Christians were "at peace" with God because reconciliation restores fellowship and intimacy with God and ends the alienation of sin and rebellion.  Another effect of justification is a share in the risen life of God the Son.  Although justification and reconciliation through the forgiveness of original sin happened when we came into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism and will continue as we are in communion with Him through the other sacraments, salvation in its fullest sense is still to be achieved in its future dimension.  But we can anticipate that future gift of salvation by knowing it is rooted in sharing the life of the glorified Christ as His life is continually communicated to us in the Sacraments of our faith while we continue on our journey to reach the goal of eternal life.

11 Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
St. Paul uses the word "boast/boasting" as an expression of exuberance [kauchaomai in the Greek].  In Romans 5:2-3 and in this verse he uses the word positively; however, in other passages Paul has used the word in the negative where "boasting" concerned our own initiative.  But in this verse the context is different because it is of God that we "boast."  The effect of the Christian's justification in faith that is a gift from God is that the Christian can boast of God Himself in whom, through His love, salvation is now guaranteed in contrast to the covenant believer's condition before the atoning work of Christ where one stood in bondage to sin and in fear of God's retribution.  Now, having experienced God's infinite love in what Jesus the Messiah accomplished for humanity through His sacrificial death and Resurrection, one can boast of God's great love for us!  As St. John writes, Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgment fearlessly, because even in this world we have become as he is.  In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives our fear, because fear implies punishment and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.  Let us love, then, because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:17-19; also see 1 Cor 1:31).

The Gospel of Matthew 9:36-10:8 ~ Jesus' Pity for the Lost Sheep of Israel and the Call of the Twelve Apostles
36 At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.  37 Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few, 38 so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. 10:1 Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.  2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; 4 Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.   5 Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, "Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.  6 Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  7 As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.  Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. 

Jesus could see that the hierarchy of the Old Covenant Church had failed the people; they were "sheep without a shepherd."  Jesus' compassion for the people and their condition recalls similar metaphors in Numbers 27:17; 1 Kings 22:17; Judith 11:19, and especially the passages from Ezekiel chapter 34. 

The "harvest" and "laborers" in verse 37 refers to the harvest of souls into heaven and the laborers who are the disciples of Jesus Christ.  Heaven has been closed to mankind since the fall of Adam, but with Jesus baptism, the heavens are opened and waiting to receive the souls of the just after the Resurrection of the Christ (see Mt 3:16 and CCC 536, 1026).  The "laborers" will carry the Gospel message of salvation out into the world.  All those who accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal salvation will be gathered into heaven by God, the Master of the harvest, who calls forth the laborers.  The problem is there are many souls but few who accept the call as "laborers."  Jesus asks us to pray that God will call many to discipleship to carry the Gospel out into the world.

Matthew 9:35-10:4 establishes the setting for the Missionary Discourse that is to follow, serving as a bridge between Jesus' acts of power in chapters 8 and 9 and His instructions to His disciples who begin to share His mission in chapter 10.  In chapter 10 Jesus, the Good Shepherd, provides Israel with His shepherds to gather the people with the good news of His Gospel of salvation.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 34:1-2, 7-12 and 23-24 in which God promises that He Himself will come to shepherd His sheep that are the covenant people of Israel.

Matthew 10:1-4 ~ The Commissioning of the Twelve Apostles
10:1 Then he summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.  2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon called Peter, and his brother Andrew; James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus; 4 Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.
Notice that St. Matthew lists the Apostles in six groups of two each.  In the three other lists, the Apostles are grouped in three groups of four names (Mk 3:13-14; Lk 6:12-16; Acts 1:13).  Also notice that the Apostles St. Matthew lists first are those who met Jesus along the Jordan River when St. John pointed Jesus out to the crowd (Jn 1:35-51).  After Jesus left the region of St. John's ministry along the Jordan, He traveled to the Galilee where He met Philip (Jn 1:43), who appears fifth in the list.  They are not named in the same order in which they met Him, however.  Nor are the names repeated in other lists in the same order, but Peter is always named first in every list of the Apostles in the Gospels and in Acts, and Judas Iscariot's name is always last in the lists (Mt 10:2-4; Mk 3:13-14; Lk 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). 

Matthew 10:5-8 ~ Instructions for the Disciples' Mission to Israel
5 Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus, "Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.  6 Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  7 As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.  Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. 
Jesus tells the disciples not to go into Gentile Territory.  His first obligation is to the children of Israel who are in covenant with Yahweh and to whom the kingdom of the Messiah has been promised through the prophets.

6 Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 
The kingdom is first announced to the children of Israel, but the Messianic kingdom is intended to be extended to all men and women of all nations (Is 66:18-21; Mt 8:11; 10:5-7; 28:19; CCC 543).  Jesus will tell the parable of the "Lost Sheep" (Lk 15:1-7) and will identify Himself as the "Good Shepherd" who knows His sheep (His faithful disciples) in John 10:14.  Referring to the covenant people as the "lost sheep" recalls the words of the prophet Jeremiah: Lost sheep were my people, their shepherds misled them, straggling on the mountains; from mountain to hill they wandered, losing the way to their fold (Jer 50:6).

Jesus has been conducting His ministry in the Galilee by: 

  1. Proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom (Mt 4:17)
  2. Teaching the people (Mt 5:1)
  3. Curing different illnesses and afflictions (Mt 9:2; 9:20-21)
  4. Purifying the unclean (Mt 8:2-3)
  5.  Casting out demons (Mt 8:16; 9:32-33)
  6. Using His authority to command nature (Mt 8:26)
  7. Raising the dead (Mt 9:24-25)
  8. Forgiving sins (Mt 9:2)

These signs demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah promised by the prophets and that He is truly "God who saves," the meaning of His name "Jesus" = Yah'shua in Hebrew (Yehoshua in Aramaic of the 1st century AD).

7 As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  8 Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. 
The authority Jesus gives His disciples in their first mission in Matthew 10:7-8 includes:

  1. To proclaim the coming of the Kingdom
  2. To cure every disease and illness
  3. To raise the dead
  4. To cleanse the ritually impure
  5. To cast out unclean spirits (demons)

Notice that Jesus does not give them the authority to command nature, to teach, or to forgive sins.  The authority to teach and to forgive sins will be given to them only after Jesus' Resurrection when they have been fully instructed by Him to understand how He has fulfilled the Law and the prophets and after they have received the power of the Holy Spirit to guide them (Mt 28:20; Lk 24:25-27, 36-49; Jn 14:26; 20:22-23; and Acts 1:1-5).  They will not receive the power to command nature because only God has that power and authority (see Mt 4:23; 7:28; 9:35, and Acts 27:13-41).  The Church has received the same authority to proclaim the kingdom and to heal the sick in both body and spirit.  The Church believes in the life-giving presence of Christ among His faithful and that this presence is especially active through the Sacraments Jesus gave to His Church (CCC 1509).

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.
Jesus tells the disciples not to accept any payment for their ministry.  One can only give and receive spiritual goods freely since they are a gift from God.  To assign a material value is to appropriate those spiritual goods to one's self by behaving as though that person is the owner or master of what is spiritual.  No one can own what has as its source from the power of God.  One can only receive what is spiritual from Him without payment.  The Church defines this abuse as "simony" and the Church declares it a sacrilege.  A sacrilege is the profaning or treating unworthily the sacraments and other liturgical actions (CCC 2120 and Acts 8:9-24).

God's grace is a free gift, as the prophet Isaiah wrote concerning the Messianic kingdom: All you who are thirsty, come to the water!  You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! ... Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.  I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David (Is 51:1 and 3). 

The Catechism teaches: It was the Son's task to accomplish the Father's plan of salvation in the fullness of time.  Its accomplishment was the reason for his being sent.  "The Lord Jesus inaugurated his Church by preaching the Good News, that is, the coming of the Reign of God, promised over the ages in the scriptures."  To fulfill the Father's will, Christ ushered in the Kingdom of heaven on earth.  The Church "is the Reign of Christ already present in mystery" (CCC 763).

Catechism References:
Exodus 19 (CCC 751, 2060); 19:5-6 (CCC 709, 762, 2810); 19:6 (CCC 63, 1539)
Romans 5:8 (CCC 604); 5:10 (CCC 603, 1825)
Matthew 9:38 (CCC 2611); 10:5-7 (CCC 543); 10:8 (CCC 1509, 2121, 2443)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014