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Second Sunday After Pentecost
I am not a TV person, but since the Covid-19 outbreak, I have seriously watched the news on TV. The news on TV these days seems more tense and exciting than any movie. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that all those recent events are good or fun to watch. Just like you, I am concerned about how those events affect our lives in the future. Watching the news, I often say to myself, “What can I do as God’s servant in this turbulent world?”
On the other hand, I also think this time may be a turning point in our history. Whenever humanity advances with new history, there are always signs of the end of an era, which usually brings us not only confusion but also hope about something new. Think about the process of childbirth. A mother gives birth to a child in unbearable physical pain. As soon as she gives birth, she forgets all the pain, rejoices with her baby, and begins to live a new life. Perhaps, this Covid-19, or these human justice protests which have brought us a lot of confusion and pain, will lead us to a new age. In fact, we are told that our earth has been getting healthier since the outbreak of this pandemic. We could also hope that these human justice protests will reform our country. That is why thousands of people came out on the streets every day to shout for justice. If we can pass on a healthy planet and a more peaceful and just world to our children, we can endure this temporary pain, right? (read. Roman 5:3-4).
Yet I can’t be completely optimistic and romanticize all those events, although I hope and believe they will lead us to a new age with a new civilization. How can I just say “Well, Mr. Floyd’s death provides a good opportunity to reform and rebuild our country?” Rather, I feel sadness and anger about the terrible crime that destroyed his life.
What’s even more painful to look at is that the pain-sharing is not being shared fairly. The Covid- 19 is a global disaster and no one can escape its threat, but the weight of the pain varies from person to person depending on their social class. For example, I saw on TV that rich people can simply sail to an island by boat to avoid this pandemic. They just take this disaster as a vacation, while countless lives fall helplessly into this catastrophe in a single day. Shouldn’t the wealthy or the powerful or the privileged be more responsible for the outbreak of this pandemic? But why do they suffer less and the poor, the needy, the weak, the alienated, the minority always have to suffer more?
“What can we do as God’s servants or Jesus’ disciples in this trying and painful time?” Watching all those unfair events that have wounded our world and destroyed many innocent lives, you and I have been deeply concerned about this question. Seriously, what can we do? When I meditated on today’s scripture from Matthew’s Gospel, I found inspiration for what to do in terms of our Christian ministry during this trying and painful time.
In our passage this morning, Jesus traveled along with his disciples around all the cities and villages in Israel, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God (v. 35). (In terms of our experiences of today, Jesus was leading his people to a new age; in fact, his kingdom movement transferred the Old Testament to the New Testament). How did he lead his kingdom movement? The passage says that while proclaiming the good news, he cured every disease and every sickness (v. 35); he took care of people who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (v. 36). This is one of the good passages to show how merciful and compassionate Jesus was especially for the people in need and in trouble.
The New Testament calls Jesus the Savior of the world, and indeed, we believe whoever believes in him will receive God’s salvation. Yet the Gospels also give him another title, that is, he is a “friend of sinners.” As this title implies, Jesus freely associated himself with the outcast of society: the poor, the demon-possessed, the lepers, prostitutes, tax-collectors, Samaritans (Jews who intermarried), and Gentiles (non-Jews). He was welcomed by people who were so-called sinners but rejected by the powerful and eventually killed by them because he took sides with the sinners of his day.
Jesus’ salvation ministry is not just an abstract story that God so loves the world. But his ministry has a specific purpose. According to the disciple Paul in Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (vv. 6-8). If I add a comment on Paul’s words, Jesus Christ came to join in human suffering and pain; he reached out to the lost and brought them to God’s love; he fought to liberate the oppressed from all the social, political, and religious evil powers. Jesus came in a period of chaos (like today) where Israel was oppressed by Rome and pursued a new world called the Kingdom of God as he looked after the people who were abandoned from society.
In this time of transition in our history, what can we do as a church? We shouldn’t just sit back and endure all these confusions and troubles in our world. We have to do something to prepare for the coming of the new age. As servants of Christ, we know we are called to shine on the world, save souls, fight the good fight, and preach the Gospel to all the nations. Yes, indeed, we are called to bring God’s kingdom, in other words, a new age, a new history, a new civilization, here on earth. So, what can we do? How can we respond to all that is happening and lead our world to the right way?
Here in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has given his disciples and followers specific instructions for his kingdom ministry, that is, “Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Cure the sick, raise the dead, clean the lepers, cast out demons” (vv. 7-9).
Who are the lost sheep among us? You can see them on TV today. Actually, you can see them everywhere in our communities. They usually look hopeless, deserted, and lonely. They don’t have many friends. They don’t belong anywhere. In terms of Jesus’ day, they are sinners. In terms of our language today, they are the minorities of our society. But we should know that they are the people Jesus loved. We as the body of Jesus Christ must stand for them and reach out to them in God’s love. Amen.