XI Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
Mt 9, 36 – 10, 8
The Gospel passage we hear today is taken from what in Matthew, is Jesus' second major address to his disciples, namely the missionary address.
A discourse addressed not so much to hypothetical missionaries but to his disciples and, we might say, to the whole Church: the Church is called to share the gift received. If the gift is not shared, if it is jealously guarded, the gift is lost and the fruit of salvation does not ripen.
And the gift that the Church is called to share is made clear in the first verse: Jesus sees the crowds and has compassion on them (Mt 9:36), where compassion does not mean the emotion of a moment that we feel in the face of another's suffering, but the deep bond - which the Easter Gospels reminded us of - that makes our brother's life my own life, his pain becomes my pain, his wound becomes my own wound. Dwelling in one another, being one body: this is the fruit of Easter, the new humanity inaugurated by Jesus' resurrection.
But today's passage reminds us that in order to have compassion, we must first know how to look: Jesus has a crowd before him, and he looks at it, he sees it, he lets it in, he makes room for it. Salvation always begins with a gaze, God's gaze on us. Faith, before perhaps anything else, also consists in noticing this gaze, in feeling God's gaze on oneself.
It is what Mary sings in the Magnificat: God has looked upon the humility of his servant (Lk 1:48).
But it is also the one that grounds all our hope: where Jesus' death interrupted his relationship with his people, He comforts them with a promise that speaks precisely of a gaze: "I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice" (Jn. 16:22): the resurrection is a gaze that does not turn away.
The first step of the mission, indispensable for every disciple, is to learn to look at others in the same way. It is not initially about doing something for others, nor is it about teaching something or convincing them to believe. It is about learning to stand in the face of a pain, of a lack, it is about knowing how to stop and look, without passing by (cf. Lk 10:31). The Kingdom is fulfilled where someone has compassion for his brother.
The disciples do not have to invent anything; it is not up to them to save the people they meet. They only have to proclaim with their lives this unheard-of fact, namely, that God has compassion, that he suffers for the evil that dwells in us, that he does not remain indifferent, that he becomes close.
Who can do this, who can look at us like this?
Only the one who first feels himself looked upon in this way, who penetrated the depths of his own life, can look upon others in the way that saved him from nothingness and death.
This is why the evangelist Matthew lists the twelve apostles here, to say that the proclamation of the Kingdom comes through concrete faces and people, through stories very similar to those of each of us.
The Twelve are people who, like everyone else, were lost, and were found, were far away, and God became close to them.
Jesus sends his people initially not to the "Gentiles," but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. These words tell of a progressive enlargement of the mission, which will take place outside Israel only after the Passover.
But perhaps it also means that the first people to whom we are sent are precisely the people closest to us, those we see every day: it is toward them that we are called to have a new gaze, the people we already know, those from whom we no longer expect anything new: Jesus' gaze is filled with compassion because it is a new gaze, capable of giving a new life, of putting us back on the road, of giving everyone a new chance.
The passage opened with the word compassion, and concludes with another key New Testament term: gratuity (Mt 10:8).
Indeed, the two terms, the two experiences, are very closely linked, because only those who know how to love gratuitously can also feel compassion: those who have discovered that this is how God loves, making his sun rise on good and bad alike, then they desire to love in this way, and they do not accept that anything is lost, that nothing and no one is left out of this gaze.