The Gospel of Matthew contains five major speeches of Jesus, designed by the evangelist, so it seems, to reflect and to outshine the five books of Moses. Jesus is the new Moses, who comes to bring the Law and the Prophets to fulfilment.
We hear today the beginning of the second speech, which is known as the Missionary Discourse. The opening words of our gospel passage tell us that the motivation of Jesus in his preaching is compassion for those who are lost. This must be our motivation too in offering the good news to others.
Jesus selects his twelve apostles. They are chosen from among those who have left everything to follow him. It may come as a surprise that with his first words to them Jesus apparently limits the mission of the apostles. The first priority of the mission must be the people of Israel, who are described as ‘the lost sheep’. Later the mission will be extended to all the nations. The message is the one that Jesus has preached from the outset: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ The message and the healings, which the disciples are to work in imitation of Jesus, are to be given freely.