When Jesus sent out his disciples on their first missional adventure, he gave them precise directions. “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10: 5-6). Why did Jesus purposely tell his disciples not to go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans? As a Gentile myself, it seems at first glance as though Jesus had planned an important trip, and then crossed off some of the best stops along the way!
In fact, what we learn from Jesus here is that mission begins at home. Jesus begins his first mission in his own backyard – with “the house of Israel.” Many students of the Bible have observed that – in calling together twelve disciples – Jesus was showing his intention to bring healing and restoration to the scattered and disassembled family of Israel (see Dale Bruner, The Christbook, Matthew 1-12. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2004, p. 454). From the Book of Genesis, we know that Isaac’s son Jacob had twelve sons, and that those twelve sons became the forefathers of the twelve Israelite tribes; but that following the Assyrian invasion of 721 BC -- ten of those tribes were lost. At the time of Jesus’ ministry only two tribes remained – two brothers out of twelve. It is not surprising then, that Jesus would send his disciples to the Jews first – to his own scattered and broken family to whom God has promised the Messiah and Deliverer. Later, the apostle Paul would describe the gospel as the power of God for salvation “to the Jew first and then the Gentile” (Romans 1: 16).
Anyone familiar with Matthew’s Gospel, knows that Jesus’ exclusion of the Gentiles was a only temporary one. For the gospel ends with Jesus’ Great Commission in which the Risen Christ says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28: 18-20); and again in Acts 1: 8 where Jesus reminds his disciples that “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Mission begins at home…but it doesn’t end there. God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was not only that he would bless them and bring forth from them a great nation, but that through them all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12: 1). The prophet Isaiah states repeatedly– that God’s future kingdom would encompass both Jew and Gentile. For “in the days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall stream to it” (Isaiah 1: 2); and “on that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, ‘Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage’” (Isaiah 10: 24-25); and again, “Thus says the LORD God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56: 8), to which I say as a Gentile who has been saved by grace and grafted in to the vine through faith in God’s Messiah -- “Whew!”
In short, there is no one – Jew or Gentile -- whom Yeshua (Jesus) a Jew did not invite into the circle of his devoted followers. There is no nation that was not on his map of missional destinations. Jesus knew that his mission to the “the house of Israel” was not the last stop on his missional map, it was the first – and a very important one. Yet, the same cannot always be said of his followers. At times, we have knowingly crossed off some important stops on our missional map. We have excluded people in our own backyard from the good news of God’s grace, truth and love, revealed in Jesus Christ.
Perhaps there is a neighbor on your street, someone at school or work, who you would rather not associate with; a difficult person that you would just as soon ignore or exclude from your circle of relationships. "Life would be so much easier if I didn't have to deal with that guy," we say to ourselves. I recall someone in a circle of aquaintances years ago who decided to tell us one day about his double life; revealing that he was cruising the city at night looking to "hook up," endangering his health and his relationships. At one point he asked us for help when he needed to undo some of the damage he had done. I honestly didn't want to get involved -- it would have been easier not to -- but God gave me compassion for him. The one I could have easily excluded, Jesus was telling me to include because the Lord loved him and wanted him to be whole.
Jesus began by calling the sick and broken from among his own family…but he didn’t end there and neither should we. When Jesus spent time with “tax gatherers and sinners” the religious professionals criticized him (Matthew 9:11) – but Jesus responded, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick….for I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13). If Jesus were to exclude from his company the “sinners and tax gatherers” who would be left? When we consider our missional destinations, we’re reminded that there is no one who is too smelly, too soiled, or too sick for Jesus – not even me.
With that in mind, who are we tempted to cross off our missional map, to exclude or ignore in our backyard from the grace, truth, and love of Jesus? As you consider your response to that question, here is another: What would your prayer be for them today?