In Matthew 9:35-36 we are told that Jesus, as he went from place to place, cured “every disease and sickness,” and that he had “compassion” for the crowds. Jesus then tells his disciples of the magnitude of this work, and the need for many more workers. He sends the twelve into the communities of Israel to, “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons” (10:8). Jesus’ ministry of healing and compassion is intended to continue and to spread through the work of his followers. Our ministry – that which we have been sent to do – is healing and compassion. Just as Jesus worked to restore health, relationships, and even life to those whom he encountered, his followers are commissioned to be bearers of this healing and compassionate presence.
But even as he sends them out, Jesus warns the twelve that this mission of health, restoration, and life will not be welcomed by all. In fact, he tells them, there will be community, religious, and family resistance to this mission. I serve with an HIV and AIDS Housing and Health organization in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and at a recent gathering a leader of a local hospital recalled the time, decades ago, when his predecessor, a Roman Catholic Sister, had been cautioned against housing and serving those living with HIV. “You don’t want to be known as an AIDS hospital,” detractors told her. She told them that Jesus had called her to love and heal everyone. She clearly remembered this story in Matthew. She knew that her call was to heal and share compassion. She knew that this mission would be controversial to many. She also knew she had been sent by Jesus to restore health, relationships, and life. She and her colleagues desired to be just what Jesus had sent them to be: agents of healing and compassion for all people and “every disease and every sickness” (9:35). Thirty years later thousands of PLHIV and their families have participated in networks of healing and compassion because she and others heard and believed Jesus’ instructions.
Jesus also empowered his followers to cast out “unclean spirits” (“demons”) (10:1; 10:8). Time and time again in the gospels unclean spirits and demons are presented as forces that act to thwart healing, compassion, and restoration. These spirits oppose and even fear Jesus’ ministry. When we encounter one another, open our hearts and hands, share, heal, and love freely, we are “casting out” these unclean spirits and participating in the mission to which Jesus has called us.
To think About: How have you been called to share a healing and compassionate presence in your community? What structures and forces seem to prevent this work? How might you work with others to overcome this opposition and work together to restore health, relationships, and life?
Written By: Jeff Moore, Webster Groves Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)