They made kings, but not through me;
they set up princes, but without my knowledge. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction. Your calf is rejected, O Samaria. My anger burns against them. How long will they be incapable of innocence?
For it is from Israel, an artisan made it; it is not God. The calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces. For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads, it shall yield no meal;
and if it were to yield, foreigners would devour it. When Ephraim multiplied altars to expiate sin,
they became to him altars for sinning. Though I write for him the multitude of my instructions,
they are regarded as a strange thing. Though they offer choice sacrifices, though they eat flesh,
the Lord does not accept them. Now he will remember their iniquity, and punish their sins;
they shall return to Egypt.
After they had gone away, a demoniac who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the one who had been mute spoke; and the crowds were amazed and said, "Never has anything like this been seen in Israel." But the Pharisees said, "By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons."
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Today's Gospel offers a striking pen-portrait of Jesus' pastoral ministry: what a glorious combination of zeal and mercy. While driven by the Spirit's impulse to reach as many people as possible with his healing touch and inspiring teaching, he always found time to show them compassion. He felt for people in the reality of their lives. He knew the limitations they lived with, in their simple houses and days of poorly-paid, unremitting toil. Not for him the life of a pampered courtier in King Herod's court.
Matthew's great summing up, "He had compassion for them" should resonate in the hearts of all Christians, but especially in those called to priestly ministry, right up to the holders of the highest pastoral offices in our Church. (Too often one wonders whether those in the Vatican, or indeed our bishops, tune in sufficiently to that profound compassion for which Jesus was so noted. If they did, would they be so ready to dismiss so many from the Lord's Table, because of marital irregularities, or being born into a different religious tradition? Would they ignore the sense of injustice and exclusion experienced by so many women, who feel that the Church denies them the full exercise of their ministerial gifts?)
Each must be alert to whatever ways God makes it possible for us to mirror his compassion for others. "The harvest" he said "is plentiful, but the labourers are few." Putting it more positively we can say there is always room for compassionate outreach in our Church. And the forms of that outreach cannot be narrowly confined within the limits imposed by an earlier, patriarchal, monarchical culture. It is in a spirit of hope and of Gospel creativity, therefore, that we should "ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Notice the striking contrast in this morning's gospel story between the way the ordinary people respond to Our Lord's healing ministry and the way the religious leaders respond to it. The people were amazed and said, 'Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.' The religious leaders said, 'It is through the prince of devils that he casts out devils.' Both saw Jesus perform the same deeds, and, yet, both interpreted what they saw in very different ways. One group saw the presence of God and the other group saw the presence of evil. One group was open to the truth of who Jesus really was; the other group were blinded by their prejudice.
Some people's way of seeing Jesus was like his way of seeing people. He saw the goodness in people and they saw the presence of God in him. The gospel calls on us to be alert to the signs of goodness in others, to the signs of God's presence all around us, especially in those who cross our path in life. We need the generous vision of the people, and especially of Jesus, rather than the jaundiced vision of the religious leaders, if we are to see the many ways that the Lord is present and active among us.