11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflection: Follow the instructions of Jesus to his disciples


In “The Diary of Jesus Christ,” a book as profound as it is delightful, the Rev. Bill Cain has Jesus admit that he sent the disciples out on mission because he desperately needed a break from them. But even more than that, he knew they needed the experience of doing the mission rather than simply witnessing what Jesus did. 

For some reason, today’s selection from Matthew’s Gospel stops before we hear Jesus tell the disciples to take nothing with them for the journey. Perhaps the last instruction, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give,” summarizes the idea that what they are to do does not come from their own expertise, but from the transforming grace of who they have become with Jesus.

Although it is not emphasized, today’s Gospel reveals a great deal about Jesus. While we are not surprised by his compassion for troubled and abandoned people, we gain a great insight as we hear him tell the disciples to pray for workers to respond to the needs that he saw. 

As if inspired by his prayer, Jesus turned and gave his disciples the power to take up his mission. This suggests that when Jesus prayed, he was seeking to discern how God desired to act through him rather than for him. 

What must those disciples have thought when Jesus told them they too could take command over evil spirits and heal the sick? What were they picturing when he suggested that they would cleanse lepers? Raise the dead? Did they have any clue about what he meant in telling them to give in the same way they had received? 

When we read the rest of Matthew’s story, we hear Jesus warn them about all the dangers they would face — dangers that became all too real for them after the Resurrection. 

Whatever they felt, whether excitement for the adventure, fear of the road, or a sense of woeful inadequacy facing what seemed to be expected of them, they went out. At some level, they must have felt a bit like their desert ancestors about whom we hear today, people loved beyond measure — and charged with a vocation precisely because they were so loved. 

Our reading from Exodus invites us to observe God telling Moses just how precious this people was. God commanded Moses to remind the Israelites of how they had been cared for — borne away from the Egyptians as if by eagles! All this just so that they could be God’s own, a special treasure, the dearest on earth.

Then God explains that none of this is just for themselves. They are God’s chosen because of what they are to become for others — a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. As the beloved of God, they were responsible to make God present to the rest of the world. 

There’s a very practical spiritual dynamic at play in both of these stories. Whether we think of Israel or the disciples (as 12, they were symbolic of a renewed Israel), they were being invited to experience God’s love in the most realistic way. 

It was not enough to sit back and bask in warm feelings. That would be self-indulgent, and by the very fact of focusing on themselves, it would erode their awareness of God’s love as a free gift. 

What Jesus knew from his own life was that the love of God must be shared lest we lose touch with the source and become like Narcissus, lost in our own mirrors. 

Jesus sent the disciples out for their own good as much as for the good of the world. In the dynamics of the reign of God, good is not separable — what is truly good for one, is good for all of creation and vice versa. We will only comprehend how much God has given us by giving it to others. Grace does not exist as a private possession. 

What does this say to us here and now?

As a church, we are in a process of synodality that calls us to prayer, contemplation, listening, discernment and mission. Our experience of synodality is much like the disciples’ mission — it is a new and powerful invitation to be Christ’s presence in our world.

In Pope Francis’ words, “It is not enough to have a synod, you must be a synod.”

Taking the invitation and challenge of today’s Gospel to heart, we will do all we can to be and become a church of disciples who continue the mission of Jesus. As we continue to be synodal, let us pray the synod prayer with hearts and minds ready for the Spirit to “teach us the way we must go and how we are to pursue it.”

Reading 1

(Exodus 19: 2-6a)

In those days, the Israelites came to the desert of Sinai and pitched camp.
While Israel was encamped here in front of the mountain,
Moses went up the mountain to God.
Then the LORD called to him and said,
“Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob;
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. 
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.
You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.”

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 100 1-3, 5)

R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
serve the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful song.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Know that the LORD is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

The LORD is good:
his kindness endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
R. We are his people: the sheep of his flock.

Reading 2

(Romans 5: 6-11)

Brothers and sisters:
Christ, while we were still helpless, 
yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person
one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood,
will we be saved through him from the wrath.
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.
Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received reconciliation.


(Matthew 9: 36- 10:8)

At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them 
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.
Then he said to his disciples,
“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

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.
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;
Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew the tax collector;
James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus;
Simon from Cana, and Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus,
“Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.
Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.
Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”