Pentecost 2: Sheep into the Midst of Wolves

Gospel for Proper 6 (Pentecost 2) Series A

Matthew 9:35–10:8 (10:9–23)


This is the year of Matthew in the Revised Common Lectionary. But this is the Sunday we get our first real introduction to what it means to be Christ-followers—what it means to be a genuine part of the church.


And it isn’t pretty! And it is not easy to appreciate in normal times. But these times of pandemic, coupled with mass demonstrations in the streets, we have what some would call a “teachable moment.”


As a white baby boomer I have seen moments like these on TV and thought, “Tut tut. All that ruckus. All that loud and exaggerated rhetoric. Police brutality can’t be all that bad. And certainly all that fire and fury can get us nowhere.” And when I got tired of the burning on the TV, and shouting about civil rights and the war in Vietnam, my irritation grew. And, of course, many others were more than bothered by demonstrations. They were filled with hatred.  So, I thought, “Those people in the streets meant well, but went too far.”


Jesus, here in Matthew’s Gospel, sends us out into the streets—out to where the action is–to where power and justice meet. He sends us to be “sheep in the midst of wolves,” without the trappings of privilege, to be beaten, dragged before the authorities, to be betrayed to death, to be alienated from our families; in short, to be hated.


But there is a purpose to this hate-worthy behavior on the Christian’s part. Into this world, the evil one has planted weeds that choke the good seed. Those weeds are the powerful who use their power to stomp on others. The elite of this world routinely use the tools of power, such as the police, to do their dirty work, and to keep down the “lost sheep,” and the “little ones.” Yes, and power corrupts those who are supposed to police the police as well. They “tut tut,” but they then excuse, and immunize them, and fund them lavishly in order to stay in power.


But Jesus, as we read on in Matthew, says many may be called, but few are chosen. Only those who “endure to the end will be saved.” That is, we who claim the name of Christ, are not above our teacher. We too must be willing to be faithful out loud. We too must be willing to be loud, and rash, and angry, and have people hate us for it. In this way, when we push things so far that we are dragged before the authorities, we will be able to give testimony.

It’s the way of the world to abuse power. We must be where the action is to challenge all that.

Of course, not all who scream and shout and burn have the right message to get angry about. At the core of the Christian’s mission is curing, cleansing, and casting out demons (a dirty job, if there ever was one). In other words, we bring good news and peace, and the banquet of God’s love, to the forgotten folk of the world who live with the knees of the powerful on their necks. Demonstrations in the street may be the kick-start we all need to snap out of our complacency. But we will have to build police forces that will not put down the weak, but genuinely protect and serve. We will have to vote, even when we feel turned off—vote for people who are less likely to abuse their power. We will have to organize and run for office ourselves. Since politics is the way power is distributed, we will have to be political. We will have to not only testify to the Great Party, but lay the table and invite the folk who have never had a place there.


Lord, I myself, am bothered by this Gospel reading. I’ve stood off too much. I’ve been irritated by protests. I don’t feel like a sheep into the streets with wolves. I don’t feel hated. I’m sure I need to try harder. When I do, and when people get really pissed at me, walk with me and help me endure to the end.



About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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