15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.”
We’ve all been “outsiders” somewhere, finding ourselves in a place where we felt like everyone knew that we didn’t belong. Ever felt grossly underdressed? Outclassed? Small? Insignificant? Poor? Like an impostor about to be discovered at any moment?
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus’s mission is limited to Israel, the sons of Abraham. When Jesus sends out his disciples he begins by restricting their activity to insiders: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:5–6). When a woman begs for her daughter to be healed, Jesus protested, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 15:24). In Matthew’s church the quintessential outsider was a goy, a “non-Jew,” a Gentile! They pray with empty phrases (Matt 6:7), are consumed by ungodly worry (Matt 6:32) and are the kind of people that have no place among the family of true believers (Matt 18:17). Jesus’s mission in Matthew from birth is “to save his people,” to save Israel (Matt 1:21). Did someone in Matthew’s church begin to think that Jesus’s mission to Israel meant that he didn’t have time for those dirty, worrying, empty-praying Gentiles? Surely you can think of some outsider, some sinner beyond even the reach of Jesus.
Yet here we see Jesus announcing that his identity, his mission, his divinely appointed task announced by a prophet a thousand years ago was to “proclaim justice to the nations” and that in his name “the nations” would put their hope. The word for “nations” in this passage (Matt 12:18, 21) is the same word used elsewhere in Matthew for “Gentile.” As God’s chosen servant, Jesus came for Gentiles, for outsiders, for the underdressed, outclassed, insignificant impostors. He came for sinners. He came for you and me.