In each of our childhoods there came a moment when we were entrusted by our parents with a task, sent on an errand or instructed to "watch" a younger brother or sister. It came at a moment when our parents sensed that we were ready to accept the assignment. It came without guarantee, without assurances, cloaked with the uncertain reality that we might just get it wrong. But it always came with trust.
Good parents know that such doses of trust foster confidence and such moments of trust build a sense of responsibility. Parents may watch from a safe distance, or worry every moment until our return, but the real point of their trust is to allow us the freedom to fail, to bring home the wrong item, to "accidentally" punch our little brother. And if we do fail, good parents are there to help us learn from such mistakes; so that the next time trust is given we do not fear our failing.
Today's readings are about a similar kind of trust, a sending of the disciples and in turn these readings are about our being sent in Christ. In Matthew's Gospel Jesus is moved by the need he sees in the crowd of people. What is striking is the nature of his pity. Jesus says, " because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." This reality has not changed over all these years. The crowds of people in our 21st century still face the same uncertainty as they did in Jesus's day. But what is it that has us so troubled today? Why do we feel so abandoned?
In part, I think it is our failure to see what is so generously given to us, God's trust. In the first reading from Exodus, the covenant is premised upon Israel's awareness of God's presence. God reminds them, "You have seen for yourselves". But this isn't quite so obvious; they must be reminded. God tells them, "How I treated the Egyptians, how I bore you up on eagle's wings, how I brought you to myself". This awareness, this sensing and knowing a presence in our lives that we cannot see, is so essential to us as human beings. Even so, it is worn thin in our modern world. We can be so fixed on our self that we cannot see anyone else. My needs, my happiness, my lifestyle, my body, my career, my whatever, all keep us from noticing what is beyond me, outside of me, bigger than my little ego.
God's covenant is a simple one; really, it only demands that we be aware. It says, "if you harken to my voice", but there is more. Once we are aware of God's presence we must act on it, live according to it. In a sense we find that our lives have a purpose. We have been given a task, sent on an errand by our God. Just as our parents trusted us and in their love risked trusting us, so too God loves us and takes a risk. God has entrusted so much to us because God's love for us is so great. Paul's letter to the Romans spells out the extent of God's love. It is as though he is saying "even when we failed most miserably God still loved us and sent us his Son". What is remarkable is that it wasn't when we were perfect but "while we were sinners, Christ died for us".
How often we take such love for granted. The sacrifices made by our spouse, or our parents, or our children can be so easily overlooked. When a complete stranger renders us a kindness, or an old enemy says she is sorry, we take no note of the love at work behind their deeds. We remain unaware, until someone calls us to take note.
Today Jesus calls us! Just as he summoned the twelve, so too this day he summons us. And though we may not be the bravest, most confident, most loyal, most persistent, neither were the twelve. Jesus calls us not because we are perfect but because we are ourselves. The message he has entrusted to us is not one that demands us to look beyond the rainbow, but it tells us to look within. "The kingdom of God is within".
Yes we are trusted by one who loves us very much and we have been sent to bring healing, to bring new life into the deadly realities of our world, to make clean what we had thought was dirty, and to drive out what most destroys us. The task has been given to us, not because we are the best, but because we are us. God's love trusts us. Even if we get it wrong God's love calls us back again and again to our mission. Listen to his call for he is sending you, go out to life's harvest. Go out of your self-absorbed childish world and find the fullness of your life's meaning. Go out to the risk that genuine love offers us, but that we had sought in vain. Go out for the harvest is indeed great and the labourers a few. Go out, for the kingdom is at hand, and God has entrusted you.