Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at

Matthew 9.35-10.8 (9-23)
Proper 6 - Year A

Other texts:


9:35 is a summary statement which is nearly verbatim to 4:23. These two summaries are bookends to lengthy sections of Jesus' teaching (5-7) and miracles (8-9). Jesus "teaches," "proclaims," and "cures." This serves as a conclusion to what has gone on before and as an introduction to what will happen -- although what Jesus had done, now the disciples (or, as in 10:2, "apostles" = "sent ones") are to do

Note that Matthew tells us that Jesus teaches in their synagogues -- suggesting a division between "us" and "them".

Most of the deeds that Jesus does in 9:35, the disciples are now to do: they are given authority to "cure (therapeuo) every disease and every sickness" (10:1, see also 10:8).

The disciples also are to "proclaim, (kerysso) saying: 'The kingdom of heaven is near'" (10:7). This is the same proclamation of Jesus (4:17) and of John the Baptist (3:1), but it lacks the "repent" of the earlier two proclamations! The disciples are never commanded to proclaim repentance. Is that significant?

The disciples are not commanded to teach (didasko) until after the resurrection (28:20). Is that significant?


9:36-38 contain two images: sheep without a shepherd and an abundant harvest in need of workers.


I find some irony in the second image. Jesus commands his disciples to "pray to the lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest" (10:38). The next thing we know, Jesus is sending out the disciples! Sometimes the answer to your prayer is, "You". A prayer can also be a prod.

I don't know how many times members of congregations have expressed the desire to grow -- to increase their membership. They may even pray that God would give them more members. I wonder how often God's answer to their prayers is, "I've already prepared the harvest, but you have to go and bring it in"? I think that every resource I've read on evangelism state that the best and proven way to increase church membership is for the present members to go out and invite others to come.

To use another illustration, it seems that many want God to have the fish jump right into the boat without the fishermen having to do the work of hauling in the nets full of fish.

The list of twelve disciples (10:1) or apostles (10:2) has similarities and differences from other lists of twelve (Mk 3:13-19; Lu 6:12-16; Acts 1:13). In a similar way there are variant lists in the OT of the names of the 12 tribes. The significance is the number 12, which symbolizes the new Israel; not necessarily the 12 names.

While we often think that all followers of Jesus are "disciples" = learners, students; there is a sense that we are also "apostles" = people sent with a message. While, at times, the word is used specifically for "The Twelve," it is also used for others outside that select group: Paul and Barnabas (Ac 14:14); James, the Lord's brother (Gal 1:19); Andronicus & Junia (Rom 16:7). Three times in the NRSV, apostolos is translated "messenger": John 13:16 in a general sense (all believers?); 2 Cor 8:23 in reference to "Titus ... and our brothers"; Philippians 2:25 in reference to Epaphroditus.

In an online meeting, there has been a discussion about this when someone noticed that in Renewing Worship 8: The Church's Year, Mary Magdalene is listed as an Apostle. Someone pointed out that she has been called "the apostle to the Apostles," since she saw the risen Lord and was sent with the message of the resurrection to the others.

Should all believers be considered disciples and apostles? People who sit in classrooms, naves, houses, etc. to learn about Jesus and people who have been sent into the world with a message?

Another irony in this image is that "the harvest" is often an image of the eschatological judgment. That's the way it is used in the parable (13:30) and its explanation (13:39) about the weeds and the wheat. In the parable the "reapers" are angels. In our text, the time of the harvest is now and the workers are disciples.


The first image is significant for the mission of the disciples/apostles who are sent only to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:6). They are the sheep without a shepherd. There may also be a connection with Numbers 27:17. Moses uses the same phrase in connection with his authority being transferred to Joshua. In our text, the authority (exousia) of Jesus is given to the disciples (10:1).

Why are they sent only to "the lost sheep of Israel"? (Jesus says the same thing about his ministry in 15:24 -- but then the Canaanite woman's daughter is healed.)

One answer is that there was a priority of the Jewish mission. Paul indicates this in Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."

Even though the disciples are not to go among the Gentiles; they will have the opportunity to make their witness to them when the Jews have them arrested (10:18). Jesus' comment doesn't limit their witness only to the lost sheep of Israel.

A second answer which I think is very preachable is that the plentiful harvest is right in our own backyard. We don't need to send missionaries to foreigners in far away lands to proclaim the gospel in words and deeds -- the harvest is right here in our backyards.

Related to this is the idea of a "target audience." Rick Warren in Purpose Driven Church, uses this text (among others) to back his statement: "The practice of targeting specific kinds of people for evangelism is a biblical principle for ministry" [p. 158]. This comes after the following paragraphs:

Too many congregations are naive in their thinking about evangelism. If you ask the members, "Who is your church trying to reach for Christ?" the response will likely be, "Everybody! We're trying to reach the entire world for Jesus Christ." Of course this is the goal of the Great Commission, and it should be the prayer of every church, but in practice there is not a local church anywhere that can reach everybody. [p. 155-6]

For your church to be most effective in evangelism you must decide on a target. Discover what types of people live in your area, decide which of those groups your church is best equipped to reach, and then discover which styles of evangelism best match your target. While your church may never be able to reach everyone, it is especially suited to reaching certain types of people. Knowing who you're trying to reach makes evangelism much easier. [p. 157]

Another relationship to "our own backyard" is suggested by Warren:

I believe that the most effective evangelistic strategy is to first try to reach those with whom you already have something in common. After you've discovered all the possible target groups in your community, which group should you focus on first? The answer is to go after those you are most likely to reach. [p. 173]

It seems likely to me that these Jewish men would have (1) been more accepted among their own people than with the Gentiles; and (2) would have been more familiar with the habits and customs and language of people like themselves. At the same time, there were some great differences among these twelve. Perhaps the most diverse: Matthew, the tax collector, who had worked for the Romans occupation forces and Simon "the Cananaean" (a "zealot" in Luke/Acts) who had probably wanted all the Romans out of Canaan. Long (Matthew) writes about these two:

To find the former Roman hireling Matthew and the revolutionary Simon together among the disciples is quite striking. As John Meier states, "The startling juxtaposition of this former Rome-hater with Matthew, a former lackey of Rome, shows that the new community of Jesus has embraced and transcended the tensions in the old community of Israel" (Meier, Matthew, 105). [p. 115]

My hunch is that Matthew would have an easier time witnessing to other tax collectors than he would with other Zealots, and the reverse for Simon -- even though both had been converted from their former ways of thinking and living.

Mark Allen Powell (Loving Jesus, p. 134) quotes C.S. Lewis (The Four Loves, p. 48): "Dogs and cats should always be brought up together -- it broadens their minds so." Maybe, besides broadening our minds, it helps the church witness to a larger segment of society.

In a course on witnessing that I have used (Witnesses for Christ), one of the premises is that if we can't talk about our faith among fellow church members, it is unlikely that we will be comfortable talking about it to unchurched friends or strangers. The disciples' witness and work begins with their own people. Church members need to share their faith stories with each other -- and then with the world.

A third answer which is suggested by Daniel Patte in The Gospel According to Matthew: A Structural Commentary on Matthew's Faith, is that the proclamation to the needs of the lost sheep without a shepherd is different than the proclamation to the Gentiles.

Shepherdless sheep are people without a sense of direction, a goal, a specific vocation. The lost sheep of Israel have abandoned their call to "seek first the kingdom of God" and/or to live with God as their shepherd. NOTE: their proclamation has nothing to do with Jesus as Messiah or the resurrection which hasn't happened yet in the narrative.

The proclamation of the nearness of the kingdom also involves concrete actions of God's care -- the same actions that Jesus has performed earlier. We have the phrase, "Actions speak louder than words." Certainly the miraculous actions listed in 10:8 are part of the proclamation; but also the actions in 10:9-10. If the disciples are to proclaim a life centered solely on God as the shepherd, who provides for the sheep; they have to live that proclamation. As Patte states: "... this behavior is an integral part of their mission. It demonstrates and manifests the kingdom that they preach. It shows that their lives are totally oriented toward the kingdom as the ultimate blessing and that, as such, they are worthy of their sustenance. It shows that they have a shepherd, a Father, who provides what they need. In brief, their way of life demonstrates the trustworthiness of the proclamation of the kingdom" [p. 147].

In Mark's version, the missionaries are allowed to wear sandals and take a staff (Mk 6:8-9). Perhaps Matthew's community emphasized more the defenseless position (no staff) to indicate trust in the Shepherd as protector and the self-denial of going without sandals, which also distinguished the travelers as Christian missionaries. If so, we can ask by what signs are we distinguished as Christian missionaries in our communities? (I've heard that a men's store in Salt Lake City sells more white shirts than any other store in the chain!) Should we always wear a cross or fish or angel pin? Do we need something besides our "Christian conduct" to distinguish us from the rest of society?

After I graduated from an LCMS Jr. College (Concordia, Portland, OR), I went to a state school in Washington State. It was significant to see another student wearing some kind of Christian symbol. Even if we didn't talk as we passed each other on campus, there was a sense of Christian camaraderie at the secular institution in one of the most unchurched states of our nation. There was a greater sense of Christians vs. the world; rather than Lutherans vs. Catholics, or Presbyterians vs. Baptists, etc.


10:11-14 indicate that their proclamation (and ours) will have mixed results. Some will welcome the messengers and their message others will not. It also suggests that not only are the "apostles" to be dependent upon God, but also on the people to whom they are ministering. I wonder if our trust in God is connected to our trust in people?

What does it mean to let one's peace come on a house or let it return to the sender (10:13)? It can be a wish for "shalom" -- health and welfare for the household; but it may go far beyond a simple greeting/wish. DBAG's Greek-English Lexicon also give this definition for eirene:

Since, according to the prophets, peace will be an essential characteristic of the messianic kingdom, Christian thought also frequently regards eirene as nearly synonymous with messianic salvation; euaggelizesthai eirene = "proclaim peace," i.e. messianic salvation (Is 52:7) Ac 10:36; Ro 10:15 v.l.; Eph 2:17. [p. 288]

Given our context, those who hear, are those who reorient their lives to the only true goal -- Kingdom of God. They are the "sheep" who now have a shepherd. They are the saved. Those who don't hear, are still lost sheep without a shepherd.

The only other time "peace" (eirene) is used in Mt, Jesus says: "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" (10:34 -- part of our text for next week). Generally, it seems that when a congregation is motivated by keeping peace and harmony among its people, they may be failures at seeking first the kingdom. They may be unwilling to make difficult decisions for the good of the growth of the kingdom, because "some people might get upset." The coming kingdom brings divisions. Life as a disciple and apostle may not always be peaceful.

If the judgmental and separating harvest is being done now by the disciples; this separation takes place not directly by God's hands, nor even directly by the hands of the apostles, but by those who reject the message and the messengers. By doing so, they also reject God's peace and the kingdom. They put themselves out of the kingdom's benefits. A way that I've heard this phrased: "We are saved in spite of ourselves. We are condemned in spite of God."

In a similar way, church councils don't make members "inactives". The "inactives" do it to themselves by being inactive. Councils may send letters as visible and clear declaration of what the people have done, but the letter doesn't make them inactive. Similarly, as a visible sign of the separation, the apostles shake the dust off their feet.

Malina and Rohrbaugh (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels) write about this act: "The very public act of shaking the dust off one's feet is a great insult, indicating, among other things, total rejection, enmity, and unwillingness to be touched by what others (the town, household) touch" [p. 87]

The shepherd-like mission (providing what the lost sheep need) also becomes a harvesting/judging/separating mission. When people respond negatively to the merciful mission and its proclamation of God's peace and the coming of heaven's kingdom, they condemn themselves, just as Sodom and Gomorrah did.

The persecution of the disciples leads to a Gentile mission. (The disciples never suffered such persecution during Jesus' lifetime, but it occurred later in the church's life.)


The (lost) sheep who do not receive the disciples and their word become wolves. Wolves are dangerous to sheep (see also 7:15 -- wolves in sheep's clothing). Some contemporary writings have discussed "alligators" or "sharks" that are found in congregations. Are they any different that these "wolves"? People who are unwilling to receive the messenger (pastor) or the message and then do all they can to undermine both. When this happens, we need to be careful that we also don't become "wolves" and treat them like they treated us. We are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves -- not avenging wolves. Easier said than done, though.

Vv. 17-22 are taken from Mark's "Little Apocalypse" (Mk 13:9-13) -- a picture of the end times, which Matthew makes part of the present time. A small change from Mark indicates a significantly different situation. Mark says: "You will be beaten in synagogues." Matthew says: "They will flog you in their synagogues" (see also 9:35). The synagogues were no longer a worship center for the Christians. There is a split between Christians and Jews in Matthew's time and community.

The irony of this section is that the lost sheep who became wolves contribute to the fulfillment of what should have been their true vocation -- proclaiming the kingdom to all people. The persecuted disciples become witnesses to the Gentiles.

The Gentile mission needs new words, otherwise the disciples would have known what to say. They wouldn't need to rely on the Spirit to give the proper words when they've been arrested. Using ideas from Patte's book, the Gentiles are not harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. They have "governors" and "kings". Their problem is that they have the wrong purpose in life. They place their security in institutions, not God. They have shepherds, but the wrong ones.

Some thoughts from this observation: While we have one mission -- to make disciples of all nations -- we need to be aware of the specific needs of the people and the gospel message that meets that need. A statement in the course Witnesses for Christ illustrates this situational good news: "You don't throw a drowning person a sandwich, no matter how good the sandwich may be."

A second thought, which I used when I was on Gospel singing teams and some team members wanted to let "the Spirit give them words to speak," before an audience -- which meant that they didn't want to think much about or write down what they might say. However, the only situation in scriptures in which this promise is given is when the believers are arrested and standing before governors and kings. I'm not sure it applies when leading a worship service in church or preaching a sermon. (I heard a story, probably not true, of a preacher who got into the pulpit with nothing prepared. He prayed for a message from God -- that the Spirit would speak to him. The message he heard was, "You're lazy.")

However, (1) it may be that before the Gentiles the Spirit needs to give the words because quoting the Hebrew scriptures has no authority with the hearers. In a similar way, stating: "The Bible says ...." doesn't carry any weight with people who don't believe that the Bible is the Word of God or that it has any authority over their lives. We may need to be open to let the Spirit give us new words in such situations.

There have been times when conversing with another, that I know God gave me the words to say. Thoughts and phrases came out of nowhere into my head and they were what was needed by the other. (There have also been other times when I seemed to only say the wrong things. The "Wind" blows where it will and we can't control it.)

(2) If the message to the Gentiles is their need to put their security in God rather than any other things, we deny that message if we are relying on a prepared speech as our security blanket in presenting our witness to them. We deny that message if we are worried about what we might say. Our actions speak louder than our words. The witness to the Gentiles requires us to trust God for our words. Our security is in God.

Vv. 21-22 convey a similar thought -- the family can no longer be the source of security. Placing our security in God's hands means losing all security from human relationships -- from one's own family or from the state ("governors and kings").

Douglas R. A. Hare (Matthew, Interpretation commentaries) concludes this section with:

It has often been remarked that persecution is good for the church. When not beleaguered by outside pressure, the church tends to slip into a comfortable religiosity that takes all too lightly its commitment to God and God's purposes for this planet. With the continuing increase of secularism in "Christendom," the day may come when Western Christians will experience the hostility that is now the common lot of Christians in many parts of Africa and Asia. As we prepare for such an eventuality we must remind ourselves that it is our risen Lord who sends us into the encounter with hostility. He himself suffered and left us an example that we should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21) -- [p. 115]

Perhaps the erosion of Christendom in our society will enable us to see more clearly that we are surrounded by "lost sheep". The plentiful harvest is in our own backyards. God answers our prayers for more workers with, "You go" (which is not the name of that eastern European car that was sold in America <g>).

Brian Stoffregen
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901