The pattern and practice of ministry in Matthew 9 to 10

At last! After the detours in Luke-Acts and John for the series of feasts around Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity, the lectionary finally brings us back to the Gospel according to Matthew for the First Sunday after Trinity in Year A! Whew! The reading set, Matt 9.35–10.8, is slightly odd, in that it bridges from one section of Matthew, chapters 8 and 9, where he collects together a series of actions and sayings of Jesus, and into his second collection of Jesus’ teaching (the second of five) in Matt 10, this time on mission.

(Matthew’s five collections of Jesus’ teaching are in chapters 5 to 7, on discipleship, chapter 10 on mission, chapter 13 on the kingdom, chapter 18 on life in the ekklesia, and chapters 24 to 25 on The End.)

The first half of our reading appears to act as a bridge from what has gone before—the description of Jesus’ ministry of healing and teaching—into what follows, the commissioning by Jesus of the Twelve to ‘mission’. Chapters 8 and 9 include very compressed accounts of Jesus’ ministry in characteristic Matthean style; he tries to include many more episodes than Mark, and as a result gives very summary accounts, which are often loaded with theological ideas (such as ‘According to your faith let it be done to you’ (Matt 9.29) without any real explanation or expansion. So, on the one hand, the statement ‘And Jesus went through all the towns and villages…’ appears to summarise the previous two chapters, and the list of activities matches the previous stories; but on the other, the description of what he does there matches closely what he commissions the disciples to do, especially ‘healing every disease and sickness’ (Matt 9.35, 10.1). In other words, Matthew is telling us that the mission of the disciples is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus. Luke does this in a slightly different way—by linking the 72 with ‘every place he himself was about to go’ in Luke 10.1, and depicting the Acts of the Apostles as the continuation of Jesus ministry in Acts 1.1—but the message is the same.

(At the same time, there is clearly a unique dimension to Jesus’ ministry; it is only he who fulfils the anticipation of Is 53.4 as quoted earlier in this section at Matt 8.17.)

The links between Jesus’ ministry and the disciples’ mission continues with the mention of ‘sheep’ in Matt 9.36 and 10.6, and ‘workers’ in Matt 9.37 and 10.10. This is all part of what R T France describes as Matthew’s ‘body of Christ’ theology, coming close to Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ followers as representing his own presence in the world. It can be seen most clearly in the sequences of comment beginning ‘Whoever receives you receives me…’ in Matt 10.40–42, and the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, where Jesus’ poor followers (‘the least of these brothers of mine’) are proxy for his own presence, so that response to them is response to him.

The ‘crowds’ are mentioned repeatedly in Matthew; large crowds follow him from the beginning of his ministry (Matt 4.25, 8.1); they are astounded at his teaching which they overhear (Matt 7.28); and they wonder at his acts of deliverance (Matt 9.33). Having been spectators to Jesus’ ministry, they now become the object of his concern.

The language of ‘sheep’ and ‘shepherds’ picks up a prominent theme in the Old Testament, and especially the key passage in Ezek 34.1–16. Here, the sheep of Israel have been failed by the shepherds who are their leaders and so God himself will become their shepherd. Jesus’ positioning of himself as their shepherd doesn’t necessarily have any Christological overtones, as it more likely does in John 10, since the ‘shepherding’ role is immediately delegated to the Twelve, and Paul follows this kind of pattern by describing leaders of the Jesus communities as ‘shepherds’ (Acts 20.28, 1 Cor 9.7, Eph 4.11 though contrast 1 Peter 5.2). Note that, contrary to popular preaching at Christmas, the image of the shepherd is not a negative one, and there is no evidence that shepherds were seen as social outcasts.

In immediately changing to a quite different metaphor, that of harvest, Matthew appears to be drawing together teaching of Jesus that is found in different contexts in Luke 9 and 10: in Luke 9.1, Jesus sends out the Twelve, with similar instructions to those listed here; whilst in Luke 10.2 he uses the metaphor of ‘harvest and workers’.

The image of ‘sending workers into the harvest’ suggests that this is a field of grain, which is significant given the OT origins of this metaphor. ‘Harvest’ is generally a sign of final judgement at the end, when there will be a reckoning for all, both Israel and the nations—but there are both positive and negative aspects to this. The positive aspect is the harvest of grain; Jesus talks about the fields being ‘white for harvest’ in John 4.35, as an indication of the possibility of those who will follow him, and in Matt 13.30, the wheat will be gathered into God’s barn at the end of time. So the ministry of Jesus, with his proclamation of the coming of the kingdom, brings this positive aspect of future judgement into the present.

But the negative aspect is represented by the biblical tradition of the grape harvest, where the grapes are trampled to make its ‘blood’ (juice) run out (see Joel 3.13 and Isaiah 63.3). Both these harvests are described in turn in Rev 14.14–20, but within the ministry of Jesus, the opportunity to respond to the future kingdom is presented now, whilst judgement is deferred—just one aspect of the ‘partially realised eschatology’ of Jesus’ teaching and the New Testament more generally.

It is rather striking that Jesus enjoins his disciples to ‘pray’ that God will send his workers into the harvest—and immediately, those disciples become the answer to their prayer! But we should also note that Jesus is emphatic: this is his harvest, so the mission and the work belongs to God in the first instance, and not to his people. It is not that the church of God has a mission, but that the mission of God has a church.

Although the Twelve are only named at this point in Matthew’s gospel, it is clear from the reference to ‘his twelve disciples’ that they are a group who have already been defined. Both Luke and Mark described their calling and list their names earlier in their narratives, separately from the description of this commissioning (Mark 6.6ff, Luke 9.1ff).

This is the only place where Matthew uses the word ‘apostle’, but it is highly appropriate here, since the term refers to an ambassador who is commissioned to take the message of the one commissioning to another party. To be ‘apostolic’ is both to bear the message of Jesus and to take it to those to whom Jesus sends us—it concerns both what is believed and is done with that belief. By contrast, Matthew uses the term ‘disciple’ quite flexibly, like Luke but in contrast to Mark for whom it is reserved for the Twelve; in Matt 8.21, the term appears to be used of both the person who is equivocating about Jesus’ call, and the previously mentioned ‘teacher of the law’ who also raises objections. This implies that what the Twelve do here is not a unique ministry confined to them, but has application to all who are disciples of Jesus.

The fact that the Twelve are all male can hardly bear the weight of claims that discipleship or leadership is only male; it is striking that little is made of the ministry of these individuals, and for a good number we never hear them mentioned again! The symbolism seems more clearly pointing to the renewal of Israel, not least because Matthew includes this list immediately before Jesus’ mention of the ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ in Matt 10.6. It is an image of both continuity and discontinuity; this is change and renewal, but this comes from within Israel not without, and is led by 12 Jewish men after the pattern of the 12 patriarchs (who were, of course, male)—and Matthew’s ‘These are the names…’ (Matt 10.2) might even echo Moses’ choice of tribal leaders (‘These are the names…) in Num 1.4. Jesus makes it very clear in Matt 12.50 that disciples who ‘do the will of my Father’ includes both male and female, as his new ‘brother, sister, mother’ (note, two female terms and one male term).

Matthew’s listing of the Twelve differs slightly from the presentation of the lists in Mark and Luke. Simon, later called ‘Peter’ by Jesus, is specifically identified as ‘first’, indicating his later prominence and leadership; Judas Iscariot is, of course, named last. There is no grouping of Peter, James and John as the leading three, as indicated elsewhere in the narrative; instead, all the Twelve are grouped in pairs, hinting at Jesus’ pattern of sending them out in pairs that is made explicit in Mark 6.6 and Luke 10.1.

In Matthew 10.5–6 the ministry of Jesus and his followers appear to be defined in exclusive terms only to the true Israel. But Matthew has already made it clear that this is but the first stage of Jesus’ mission. This seems rather surprising, in the light of both what has already happened in the narrative, and what is to come later; the late Michael Goulder described it as ‘a famous conundrum, a citadel of contradiction’ (cited in France, NICNT, p 381). But France points out:

[T]he wider unfolding of Matthew’s story…has seen Jesus already welcomed by non-israelite magi (Matt 2.1–12), located in fulfilment of scripture in ‘Galilee of the nations’ (Matt 4.15), celebrated not only in Jewish areas but in ‘all Syria’ and Decapolis (Matt 4.24–25), responding to the plea of a Roman soldier (8.5–13) and delivering a Gentile demoniac on the other (non-Jewish) side of the lake (8.28–34), whilst Jesus’ own comments in response to the faith of the centurion (Matt 8.10–12) have pointed decisively away from any idea of an exclusively Jewish presence in the kingdom of heaven (p 381).

So what is going on here? This appears to indicate the primacy of Israel as the first place for proclamation of Jesus as messiah who brings the kingdom—but set within the wider narrative of Matthew, it is clear that this good news cannot be contained within Israel alone. In that sense, Matthew is preserving historical reality; Jesus was recognised amongst Jewish followers first, and only later did he become saviour for Gentiles as well, as Luke carefully delineates.

The last section of our lectionary reading for this week covers just the beginning of Jesus’ teaching about mission (a later part is picked up in next week’s reading). Matthew blends Jesus’ teaching on this specific occasion, to the Twelve, with wider and more general teaching to all his followers as the chapter continues, making connections with later teaching in chapter 24. But even this short section is as challenging as it is radical: in contrast to almost every practice of Christian mission in the last couple of centuries, the disciples are to go with no resources other than the news and power of the kingdom. In fact, Jesus depicts this as a kind of mutual exchange: the disciples offer the news and deliverance of the kingdom, and in return, those they go to offer them food and lodging.

Although made explicit only in Matthew’s account, the principle of ‘Freely you have received; freely give’ underlies Christian ministry all through the NT. It was once song as a rather twee chorus in the 1970s—but the reality of this as a practice of mission and ministry more generally is anything but ‘twee’!

From all this, we might then observe from Matthew’s account, that the task of mission:

a. is a continuation of the ministry of Jesus;

b. is part of what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus;

c. has eschatological significance, in that it is inviting people into the reality of the future kingdom ahead of future judgement;

d. is challenging, in that it is about powerlessness as much as it is about power, and involves stepping into a place of extreme vulnerability in several ways;

e. is a shared, corporate activity, rather than something undertaken by us as individuals.

There is much here that continues to challenge common assumptions about mission as individual, specialist, and optional!

For a discussion of these issues with James and Ian, watch this video:

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

17 thoughts on “The pattern and practice of ministry in Matthew 9 to 10”

  1. To the task of Mission as delineated by Ian one could add that the common ordinary people engaged in “mission” ie broadcasting ” What great things the Lord had done for them” long before the “Church” did and when the church began to “do” mission” it was founded on them telling the wonderful works of God ACTS 2 V 11 [see also Psalms 66:16
    Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul also Hezekiah. Isaiah 38:9-20, Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 4:1-3 & vs.37 . Jonah, ch.2 vs 1-10
    So the warfare and opposition increased increased and the community was not just supported or helped but was turned
    “upside down”, Just as Jesus said “I came not to bring Peace but a sword, ….to set a man[men] at variance …. which is the second stage of mission Acts 26:18 To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
    Does our theology magnify God enough to enable us to tell of what wonderful works God has done in our lives, not” God doesn’t DO those things today” Piffle!
    The test of any “religion” is “What does it DO for you?”

  2. ALSO When people say they believe their own truth Ask what does your truth do for you. Mine set and sets me free brings me into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

  3. An Excellent article, with some significant points.

    1. ‘Apostle’ in Greek is ‘apostolos’ which means ‘a representative’, ‘ a messenger’, ‘a person who is authorized by another (a ‘sender’) to act as their authorized, agent-representative’.

    Just as Jesus empowered and authorized His disciples to preach a very simple Gospel message (cf. Mark 1:15 = Matt. 9:35), and act as His ‘agent-representatives’, so Jesus calls us to act as His agent-Representatives, and preach a very simple Gospel message (cf. Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32; Acts 10:34-44; 10:16-41; Acts 17:22-32; Acts 26: 2-25). It is this simple Gospel message that brings spiritual life.

    2. As Jesus said to His Apostles (His ‘agent-representatives’) :

    “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the One Who sent Me.” (Matt. 10:40).

    The One Who sent Jesus as His messenger, and ‘Apostle’ (cf. Hebrews 3:1-2), was of course God, our Father.

    As Anglican Canon, Terry Palmer expressed it, in his comments on Hebrews 3:1-2 :

    “Jesus is the Apostle-Envoy or Shaliach of God : He is the Son through Whom in these last days God has spoken His final word”.

    (“Church Times”; 14 August, 2015).

  4. Pellegrino
    June 15, 2023 at 3:07 pm
    DOH,Sorry but what does JOHN 17 VS 21 say [ not what you think it says.] Writing primeraly to Jews they would understand HEB 3 V1
    Which wasn’t the Greek view.

    • Alan;

      1. To be immersed [‘baptized’] into the holy Spirit is to be immersed into the spiritual presence and power of God, and into the spiritual presence of the resurrected Jesus (cf. 1 Cor.12:3).

      2. To be a Christian is also to have the internal dwelling of God’s holy Spirit. As Anglican scholars such as Geoffrey Lampe, Maurice Wiles and James Dunn have noted, the holy Spirit is not a separate, divine hypostasis, but rather is the means of communicating the spiritual presence and power of our Father God, and of the resurrected Jesus, into the lives of believers. The Spirit of our Father God, is our Father God Himself, acting in the world, and in the lives of believers. The Spirit of Jesus, is Jesus in spiritual form. Both Jesus and God dwell within believers through the power of God’s holy Spirit (See Romans 8:9-11).

      You Alan, may not agree with the biblical pneumatological views of Anglican scholars like Lampe, Wiles and Dunn, but I do, because I think they are biblically right.

      3. I agree that the Christian Jews addressed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, would have understood the basic ‘Shaliach’ or ‘agent-representative’ concept. Both the ESV and NIV Study Bibles have applied the Shaliach concept to the ‘Angel of Yahweh’ in Gen. 16:7, as an aid to identifying His actual identity. Their conclusion is that ‘The Angel of Yahweh’ could well be just a supernatural angel acting as an ‘agent-representative’ of Yahweh, our Father God. (cf. Isa. 64:8, NJB and JB), and is thus, not necessarily the second person of the Trinity.

      • ‘As Anglican scholars such as Geoffrey Lampe, Maurice Wiles and James Dunn have noted, the holy Spirit is not a separate, divine hypostasis’

        Scholars who have been demonstrated to be in error.

        • Thanks for the info, Ian.

          Bing AI put it this way :

          “His [Jimmy Dunn’s] contribution to the field of pneumatology was significant and influential, even if not universally accepted.”

          Gordon Fee wrote :

          “I am in basic agreement with Dunn that for Paul the Spirit is not so much a hypostasis as ‘the power and presence of God in and among His people’. But I would want to add that this power and presence is also personal; indeed, it is precisely because it is personal that it can be experienced”.

          But I don’t see how this contradicts what Dunn was saying. The presence of our Father God mediated through His Spirit would of course be experienced as personal – because our Father God is a person.

    • John 17:11 –

      “Holy Father protect them [the disciples] by Your authority and power, which You have given me, so that they may be one in mind and purpose as we are.”

      John 17:21 -22 :

      “I am praying that they [the disciples and all future disciples] all may be one in mind and purpose as You, Father, are in me and I am in You. May they also be one in mind and purpose, in us, so that the world may believe that You commissioned me. I have given them the same glory which You have given me. I want them all to be one, just as we are one in mind and purpose.”

  5. Matthew ch 9 showed us the simpest method of mission. “Go and tell what great things God has done for you and in you.
    Ch 10 Was a mini commission, a gentle introduction to what mission was a] proclaiming the Kingdom of God b] continue His healing ministry. c] live by faith d] those who refuse to hear them will be worse off than Sodom [ Cf.Mat 11:23 ] e] they wre going into the killing fields,be rejected [as Jesus] and killed. f] live without fear. G] They were not sent to bring Peace but a Sword H] Members of their own families would turn against them.
    ALL of this was to be the lot of the Church Age,and they were told the truth, made aware of the consequences.
    Is this a reflection of modern day “mission”?
    Are the riches of the Kingdom proclaimed?
    Does the message proclaimed, disturb people or not?
    I am not speaking of protest marching for “He shall not cry aloud niether shall his voice be heard in the street”

  6. REF.June 15, 2023 at 3:07 pm
    A fleeting thought crossed mind. I wonder how you envision Heaven.
    Do you imagine that there will be this god fellow and at his side is Jesus with a dove on his shoulder like a sort of Arch-Bishop
    Ooh Agh Betty It’s full of Anglicans. Frank Frank we’ve always believed that!!

  7. Oh WOW! see Ian’s latest post
    Why is the Christian life a constant mix of joy and woe?
    June 16, 2023 by Ian Paul

  8. A minor point, but it not unreasonable to think the Centurion could be Jewish not Roman. Galilee was a client state under Herod Antipas and would have maintained its own troops, it was not, like Judea under direct Roman rule. The army of His Father Herod the Great, certainly used Roman style (legionaries) and Greek formations of Jewish troops. If this is correct and we can’t know for sure, then Jesus only healed the gentile woman who implored him for help and the demonised gentile man across the Sea of Galilee. It is difficult to think of Jesus favouring a high ranking Roman official when he initially would not heal the poor widow.

  9. Mark –

    It is highly unlikely that any Jew in Palestine, during the time of Christ, would be a Roman Army Centurion.

    Jesus knew what He was doing when He dealt with different individual people, and He knew just how best to deal with each one of them.

    • I agree, even if a citizen, a Jewish soldier would be unlikely to serve in a Roman Legion.
      Your second point has to be right Jesus knew how to minister to each individual. However, ( perhaps now clutching at straws having re read Luke 7) Galilee and Perea were independently governed by Herod Antipas, they were not under direct Roman rule like Judea. Antipas had his own army (he fought a battle with Aretas VI King of Arabia), He was not leading Roman troops but his own. Several ancient documents mention Jewish soldiers working for Gentile rulers in Persian and Greek armies, it would be odd if none served Herod Antipas, as they had for his Father Herod the Great. There seem to be many levels of ethnic and religious purity at the time and I think Herod the Great was not strictly speaking ethnically Jewish but was a convert of Idumean descent. So I doubt he was a Roman but perhaps not fully Jewish either. An individual with faith certainly.

  10. ‘An individual with faith certainly’.

    Amen !

    Thanks for interesting comments, Mark. You’ve done some good research.

    God bless you, Mark. 🙂


Leave a comment