St. Augustine calls Matthew the Teaching Gospel. Jesus is our teacher, the Incarnate Word, the Logos. So what are we to learn from today’s Gospel reading? At first glance, it appears more like a poorly constructed transition in a middle school writing assignment. We get demons and Pharisees and sheep and shepherds, a harvest and workers. It feels like St. Matthew was a bit all over the place.
If we look to the prophet Hosea for some help, he seems to have his hands full with Ephraim and the Israelites with their idols. Hosea was sent by God to help bring the Israelites back into covenant, into relationship with God. Israel’s prayers are no longer being answered; because prayer presupposes a docility to the will of God. Their altars were no longer places of sacrifice to God because they have become places of self-serving worship.
“Their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of men…they have hands but feel not; they have feet but walk not. Their makers shall be like them”.
Hosea’s primary message is of God’s love and fidelity, despite people’s sins. Hosea had been sent to gather God’s people back together and to lead them back to God. However, the Israelites were so intent on their self-serving worship, their idols they can control, that they ignored Hosea. Hosea was a type for Christ; he was sent by God to the Israelites but was rejected and abused by God’s own people.
If we then turn to the Gospel, as Jesus was going out, a demoniac who could not speak was brought to Jesus and the demon is driven out. Jesus drives out the demon and the man’s speech returns. We can see God’s fidelity in bringing healing even though this man was brought to Jesus “as he was going out” presumably for a different purpose. We see the two different reactions to God’s love; awe and amazement by the people and dismissal and slander by those who seemingly should have known better.
“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved with pity because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.”
This passage was especially used in Vatican II to demonstrate the universality of our call to evangelize; to spread the Christian charity that is at the heart of our mission as the living body of Christ, the Church. Jesus went around, he went out. He didn’t sit and wait for people to come to him on Sunday mornings. He went from town to village and proclaimed the kingdom. Like Hosea, he calls people to relationship this time by both proclamation and by healing them where they are hurting the most.
“Christian charity is extended to all without distinction of race, social condition or religion, and seeks neither gain nor gratitude. Just as God loves us with a gratuitous love, so too the faithful, in their charity, should be concerned for mankind, loving it with the same love with which God sought man. As Christ went about all the towns and villages healing every sickness and infirmity, as a sign that the Kingdom of God had come, so the Church through her children, joins itself with men of every condition, but especially with the poor and afflicted, and willingly spends herself for them.” (Ad gentes, 12)
As Jesus is so deeply moved in seeing the crowds, he uses the metaphor of the harvest to express his urgency. Just as farmers must harvest when the crop is ready, not a week early and not a week later because it is more convenient for the farmer’s schedule. Jesus sees the people as ready to receive the effects of Redemption. They are poised and ready to receive the Word. How can He get to them all?
We hear this today and we lament the shortage of priests and religious, but Pope Paul VI reminds us, “the responsibility for spreading the Gospel belongs to everyone-to all those who have received it! The missionary duty concerns the whole body of the Church; in different ways and in different degrees, it is true, but we must all of us be united in carrying out this duty.” (Angelus Address, 23 October 1977)
Each of us, by virtue of our baptism is called to work alongside Christ in proclaiming the kingdom. It isn’t that there is a shortage of baptized, the question we need to ask ourselves is what message are we proclaiming? Do our words and lives proclaim God’s kingdom? Is it possible, like the people of Hosea’s time, we have not disposed our wills to God’s so that our prayers may not be heard? Has our worship become self-seeking and self-gratifying? Have other idols replaced our Creator as our god?
What on the surface appears to be a jumble of mixed metaphors turns out to be a strong call to reexamine our lives, our idols, and most of all, our call to proclaim the kingdom. There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, over 70 million in the U.S. We are the workers. Let us unite in gratuitous love and spread the kingdom.
While wearing many hats, Sheryl O’Connor is the wife and study buddy of Thomas O’Connor. Not having received the gift of having their own children, their home is filled with 2 large dogs and their hearts with the teens and youth with whom they work in their parish collaborative. Sheryl is the Director of Strong Families Programs for Holy Family Healthcare which means her job is doing whatever needs to be done to help parents build strong Catholic families. Inspired by the works of mercy, Holy Family Healthcare is a primary healthcare practice in West Michigan which seeks to honor the dignity of every individual as we would Christ. Find out more at https://www.holyfamilyhealthcare.org/