Jesus commissioned the disciples for their new ministry, but were they ready for the hardships to follow? God calls us to new places, and his presence with us through Christ makes us up for the challenge despite our fears, roadblocks and detours.
The Amazing Race is a reality television competition where 11 two-person teams race around the world completing various challenges along the way. The team that arrives at the destination first wins $1 million.
This race, however, is not just any ordinary world tour. During each leg of the journey, teams follow clues from Route Markers, which are boxes containing clue envelopes that determine their next challenge and destination. Contestant teams must deduce what to do based on the clues given, navigate in foreign areas, interact with locals, perform physical and mental challenges and vie for airplane, boat, taxi and other public transportation options on a limited budget provided by the show.
There is no way to predict what the tasks will be, as they are unique to the culture of the country the contestants are in. They can be as simple as attending a tea-tasting in India, shaving one’s head or launching a watermelon, or as complicated as rolling a 50-pound cheese wheel up a very steep hill, swimming with sharks or playing Sushi Roulette, in which one of the slots contains a “wasabi bomb” sushi filled with extremely hot Japanese horseradish. Despite how difficult these challenges are, the teams must work through them to move on to the next leg of the race. Not all teams get to move on, however. Teams are progressively eliminated at the end of most legs, while the first team to arrive at the end of the final leg wins the grand prize.
Even when you as a viewer think you’ve seen it all, it seems there is another, more difficult or obscure challenge awaiting the teams at the next location. No matter how prepared the contestants feel they are beforehand, they learn very quickly to expect the unexpected, and by the end, they have had myriad unusual experiences.
Jesus had a different kind of journey, but it was no less amazing. By the end, he had seen and experienced it all. Throughout his ministry, he traveled long distances, met and healed people with severe illnesses or who were possessed by demons. He encountered people who were skeptical of who he was and of his mission and ministry. Even when things got difficult for Jesus — and sometimes they were indeed very hard — he rose to the challenge.
Geographically speaking, his life and ministry took place mostly within the confines of Galilee, Samaria and Judea — the essence of what we call “the Holy Land” today — but within that region, he traveled widely to fulfill his work. He taught through parables, proclaimed the Good News, cured diseases and showed compassion to those who were lost and helpless.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the words of the prophets and was the one for whom Israel had long been waiting. Jesus helped people in need, people on the margins and people who were ignored by the rest of society, but he also called the whole society to righteousness.
While doing all of this, Jesus was also implanting in his disciples what they would need to carry on his mission once he was no longer physically with them. Jesus instructed them to cast out demons, to cure diseases, to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel, to proclaim the Good News and to do much of what Jesus himself did.
Imagine how the disciples must have felt. They found themselves plucked from their established lives and commissioned by Jesus to work in his ministry. And their journeys became amazing as well, even when we include the fact that according to tradition, almost all of them died martyrs’ deaths. Do you think they could have ever imagined all the things they would see and experience while following Jesus?
Our scripture reading today tells of Jesus calling and commissioning the original 12 disciples, but it also gives us an opportunity to wonder whether the disciples themselves felt they were “up to the job.” What must the disciples have been feeling at that moment? They surely knew at least some of what Jesus had already accomplished and how the crowds considered him a miracle worker. Do you think they might have wondered whether they would fall short of the task being given them?
If we read the verses immediately after those assigned for today, we find Jesus warning the disciples that the task before them will not be easy. They will be met by unfriendly people and will encounter resistance.
However, Jesus doesn’t leave them hanging. The disciples are given encouragement in the model of Jesus to persevere through the hardships, as this is the task to which God has called them. Very likely, they still went out filled with trepidation and wondering if they were good enough ... but they went.
The disciples must have had many questions, as do the participants on The Amazing Race. The audience wonders as they watch if teams will be able to complete the tasks before them. First-time readers of the gospels may wonder the same about the disciples: will they be able to faithfully live out the call that God has brought to them through Jesus?
We, too, frequently wonder if we are going to be able to live out God’s call to us. How often do we question whether we are up to even the ordinary tasks in our lives, let alone a call to follow Jesus in a secular culture? The countless self-help books and resources available today are evidence that many people don’t feel up to every task of life.
And then we think about Jesus’ commission to us: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”1 The immensity of that task makes us wonder whether we are or will be good enough. After all, we are already afraid to talk about our faith with those who are different. We are often afraid of the still, small voice inside us that tells us we are beloved children of God and urges us to reach out to others. For that matter, we wonder if that inner voice really is God speaking.
For example, “There’s no way I can witness openly about my faith to sophisticated thinkers and doubters; I’m not in their league.” For example, “There’s no way I could go to Haiti on a mission trip; I don’t know the language and don’t have the skills to do that.” For example, “How could I possibly start up a thrift store at my church? I don’t have the time or resources to do that.”
We so often doubt our potential and our capabilities, but what is so important in the text before us is that God doesn’t doubt us. Jesus doesn’t doubt us. We are commissioned, just like the disciples for the work to which God is calling us. For each of us it’s something different. It might be to witness about and explain our faith in Christ. It might be to go on a mission trip. It might be to start a food pantry or a thrift store. It might be to start a children’s ministry. It might be even as simple as God urging us to bring a meal to someone and sit and have a conversation. God uses us where we are needed most and where our gifts and graces will bring God’s kingdom here on earth. God calls us to bring light to the darkness, and good news to a world where the news is overflowing with hatred and violence. Some days it might seem impossible, and the task might seem daunting, but with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit moving in our lives, it is possible.
Glennon Doyle Melton, author of the book Love Warrior, wrote a blog post entitled “Still We Rise” which emphasizes that using our God-given gifts is possible and that we are all warriors. She talks about the tragedies we experience in life where we still manage to carry on and do what must be done during our own pain. The warriors are the ones who show up even when all the odds are seemingly stacked against them. They continue fighting, and use truth, love and redemption to oppose any hopelessness they might feel.2
Through Jesus, we are all called to be warriors. Jesus confidently sends us out, and we take a leap of faith. Sure, there are likely to be times when we wonder whether we are cut out for the tasks set before us, but we have the reassurance that Christ is with us. In fact, that’s what Jesus said to his followers right after he told them to make disciples of all nations: he said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”3
Through Jesus, God is calling us, and we need never stop trying. Like in The Amazing Race, we might meet roadblocks and detours that involve difficult tasks, but God is with us, and with Christ by our side we can move forward.
Jesus has commissioned us, as he commissioned each of his disciples, to go out and heal the sick, proclaim the good news and show compassion to all in need. When we commit ourselves to that purpose and have confidence in Jesus’ call, God’s kingdom is brought here on earth.
1 Matthew 28:19-20.
2 Glennon Doyle Melton, “Still We Rise,” Momastery, November 11, 2016, http://momastery.com/blog/2016/11/09/match-day/.
3 Matthew 28:20.