Matthew 10:5-7. For the Lost Sheep
Having called and equipped the Twelve to say the words and do the works of the Master, Jesus gives them further instructions in this passage. It is similar to the passages in Mark 6 and Luke 9, and yet it is quite unique. To begin with, Jesus instructs them not to preach or minister to people who are not Jewish – not even the Samaritans, who were ethnically Jewish, or, more properly, Hebrew. The Samaritans, inhabitants of northern Israel, had been at odds with the kingdom of Judah for centuries. During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Samaritans’ “help” in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem had been rejected (Ezra 4:1-5), and as a result, the Samaritans tried to hinder and undermine the work in Jerusalem in every way that they could. In the fifth century B.C., the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerazim, in opposition to the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritan temple is the place the woman at the well referenced in her conversation with Jesus in John 4:20.
At first glance, this command to withhold the good news from Gentiles and Samaritans seems rather shocking to us. Yet, the truth is that even after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, it would be a number of years before anyone other than Jews were welcome to hear the Gospel. Responding to the Gospel – at that time – involved a conversion to Judaism as well. As late as Acts 16:3, Paul encouraged Timothy to undergo such a conversion and circumcision to facilitate their ministry among Jewish believers.
Shortly after the stoning of Stephen in A.D. 36 or so, Philip was the first to preach the Gospel in Samaria, and he found that the people were very responsive to it (Acts 8:5). In Acts 10, Peter is led into receiving Cornelius, a Roman centurion, into the faith. Luke makes it perfectly clear that in spite of all of this, in general practice, the Gospel wasn’t preached to anyone who wasn’t Jewish. Many of the Jesus followers who had been scattered by persecution had probably never heard of Peter’s encounter with Cornelius. In Acts 11:19-20, Luke tells us that some unnamed believers from Cyprus and Cyrene – both strong Jewish settlements – had preached the Gospel to some Greeks in Antioch. They were so receptive of the Gospel that Barnabas was sent to minister to them, and he eventually brought Paul into that mission as well.
These first Gentile believers were called Christians, a name that was never adopted by Jewish believers. Jewish believers in Jesus were typically called Nazarenes (Acts 24:5). By A.D. 48 – 50, there were so many Gentile believers that a council was held in Jerusalem to decide whether or not to make them accountable to the Law of Moses (Acts 16). In the end, other than holding them to some moral constraints, the decision was made to set them free.
So, for the first twenty years of the Church, the Church was Jewish or consisted of converts to Judaism. Our passage in Matthew reflects that early situation. Since Matthew’s Gospel was directed toward a Jewish audience, such a passage would have been easily understood. The audiences for the other Gospels were Gentiles, and a long-winded explanation – such as we have had in this post – would have been too much. That is likely why the other Gospels don’t include it.
Referring back to the situation He observed in Matthew 9:36, Jesus tells the Twelve to minister specifically to the oikou or family / house of Israel. These people of the Old Covenant, who had been taught all of their lives about the God of Israel, would be the first ones to hear about this new thing that was happening through Jesus of Nazareth.