Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) (18 June 2023)

Gospel for the Eleventh Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) (18 June 2023)

Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM

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 laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as 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 Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment” (Matthew 9:36-10:8 – NRSV).

Introductory notes


We find the choice of the twelve reported also in Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16, and the mission of the twelve reported also in Mark 6:6-13 and Luke 9:1-6. All three Gospel writers refer to the twelve both as “disciples” and “apostles”.

The disciple is one who continues learning from the master. The apostle is one who is commissioned to go out. The apostle must never cease being a disciple.


Compassion: “(F)rom Matthew’s early church perspective the provision of those who will extend and continue the ministry of Jesus is of profound importance. Compassion involves so identifying with the situation of others that one is prepared to act for their benefit. Apart from 18:27, in a parable (where compassion leads to forgiveness of debt), in Matthew compassion always addresses the physical needs of people, and so it will be in the ministry to which the disciples are called” (J Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text, W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005, 407).

harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd: We find a similar sentiment in Mathew 9:36 and 10:6. The metaphor of Israel as “lost sheep” occurs a number of times in the Hebrew scriptures. See for example Numbers 27:17, 1 Kings 22:17, 2 Chronicles 18:16, Ezekiel 34:5 and Zechariah 13:7. Jesus is seen to respond with compassion – Matthew 14:14, 15:32 and 20:34.

harvest: This metaphor carries implications of the end times. So in the parable of the weeds, Matthew says “the harvest is the end of the age” (13:39). The metaphor can evoke the idea of judgment – see for example, Joel 3:13 and Isaiah 18:4; Matthew 3:12 and 13:30. It can also evoke the idea of the gathering of the faithful into the kingdom – see Isaiah 27:12 and Matthew 13:41-43. The use of this traditional metaphor opens the door to the next piece – the choice and the sending forth of the disciples.

Apostles: The Greek word apostolos means “one who is sent”. In the Christian communities it also took on the added connotation of authority – the “apostle” is one who is sent by Jesus and carries the responsibility and authority of continuing his mission: “Twelve disciples are chosen to represent Israel gathering together the twelve tribes to be a light to the nations (Isa 49:6). The authority they are given is to demonstrate the restorative power of the reign of God, just as Jesus has exercised this authority in word (7:29) and deed (9:6 & 8 and 21:23-27). It is the authority to heal and proclaim (verses 7 & 8) the good news of the kingdom. … Jesus and the proclamation of the kingdom are always the focal point” (Adrian Leske, “Matthew” in The International Bible Commentary, editor William R Farmer et al, Collegeville, MINN: The Liturgical Press, 1998, 1288).

It’s about God’s reign, not our’s 

In today’s Gospel – Matthew 9:36-10:8 – Jesus chooses the twelve disciples and sends them out to continue his mission. This moment – roughly in the middle of the Gospel – is to be understood in the context of a similar moment near the beginning of the Gospel and another at the very end of the Gospel.  

The earlier moment is when Jesus returns from the testing in the desert and begins his mission: “From that time Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (4:17). He then calls the first four disciples to join him in this mission (4:18-22). The later moment comes in the last words of the Gospel: “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (28:18-20). 

Central to Matthew’s Gospel is the proclamation of “the kingdom of heaven”. This expression reflects a Jewish desire to avoid saying the name of God. There are actually a few occasions where Matthew does speak of “the kingdom of God” – see for example 6:33, 12:28, 19:24 and 21:43. The point is, Jesus’ mission is to bring about the reign of God! 

Jesus gives the disciples authority to continue his mission in bringing about the reign of God. In a real sense, the disciples – all disciples, including you and me – are called to be Christ in the world. We need the authority – ie power of Christ’s Spirit – to carry through on this and to protect us from its inherent dangers. It hardly needs to be stated, for example, that Christ’s name can be used to enhance one’s personal interests. This is a huge obstacle to the mission. It is God’s reign, not our’s, that we seek. 

Pope Francis sees a clear choice for us today, between going out on mission, on the one hand, and self-referentiality on the other. On 7 March 2013, he addressed the conclave that was later to elect him the bishop of Rome. His biographer, Austen Ivereigh, notes: “In a pithy but powerful address, he managed to freeze-frame the moment the Church was in and offer both diagnosis and cure” (Austen Ivereigh, The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a radical pope (Kindle Locations 6462-6464). Allen & Unwin). Jorge Bergoglio spoke a message that day that has become thematic in all he writes and says: “The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries … those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, of ignorance and lack of religion, those of thought and those of every kind of misery. … The evils that, over time, appear in Church institutions have their root in self-referentiality” (Ibid). 

Fr Michael Whelan SM – Homily for the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time