He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.
Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 10
Jesus accepts the differences which exist between Jew, Gentile, and Samaritan. Moreover, he knows these differences will be obvious to the twelve. Further explanation is not needed.
Based only on this passage, a reader might guess – especially if of Gentile heritage – that Jesus deployed a sequential strategy, beginning with the “lost sheep of Israel,” then moving on to the two other traditions.
In Matthew 15, though, Jesus is shown actively resisting the entreaties of a Gentile woman saying, “I was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He then compares Jews and Gentiles as analogous to one’s own children and dogs, and the Gentiles are the dogs.
The mission of Jesus evidently excludes all but his own faith tradition.
But wait, the encounter with this Gentile woman is also reported in the Gospel of Mark (7:24-30). Here the response of Jesus is, “Let the children be fed first…” A tantalizing suggestion of sequence.
Whatever the original intention of Jesus, in both Mark and Matthew the Gentile woman persuades Jesus to extend his purpose to her. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The gospel of Luke also includes an account – roughly contemporaneous with the story of the Gentile woman – of Jesus healing the servant of a Roman Centurion. (Luke 7)
These encounters with Gentiles – and with Samaritans – are nonetheless infrequent. Jesus continues to focus mostly on the lost sheep. The differences between the three identities are not denied. But neither are the differences insuperable.
Tomorrow: The Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well
This is the second in a series. A preface on the purpose of the series is available at: Tis the season… for dealing directly with religious difference