These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them …
“Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:5a,21-42 ESV)
How would you feel if your child went off to camp or a week away with a youth group and came back with the idea that his/her fellow campers or the youth group was more important than your family? That this group was to be followed first and foremost – that the youth leader or camp director – was having a more important place in your child’s life than you, the parents? Hands up those of you who would be happy about this?
We don’t educate our children or give them experiences with the expectation that they will forsake family or do something crazy in our lives. Those things might happen – but to other people. And worse or fearful of all, I think, is the thought of our children falling into the clutches of some cult. We prize freedom of thought, choice, conscience but I suspect not when what is decided or done is diametrically opposed to what we believe. I remember talking with a Muslim young person when I first arrived here who was increasingly aware that Jesus is Lord but struggling with having to give up his family because of what he expected to be the consequence when he decided. We might hope he became a Christian but his family wouldn’t. I have spoken to Christian parents whose adult children have not just become inactive but have, after some experience or other – a trip or significant event, left Christianity and follow another religion. Now we hope those adult children ‘return’ to the faith. We teach our children to think for themselves to avoid cults or philosophies or world views – not to become subsumed in one! – while generally forgetting that often one person’s religion is another person’s sect, cult, or delusion!
So when we hear our Gospel – sometimes called the ‘hard sayings’ of Jesus – we can be a little uneasy at what seems to be extremism or even fanaticism. Jesus is instructing the twelve to go to the ‘lost sheep of Israel’ and bring them the message that the ‘kingdom of heaven is at hand’. I can’t prove this but since we’re not talking about a big country here that it is not inconceivable that the disciples might call in at home – maybe Peter checks in on the wife – and so on – and they go out with Jesus’ words in their ears – brother will deliver brother to death ; father his child
– you’ll be hated because of me
– when persecution comes, don’t fight it as such, flee
– if they call me Beelzebul, guess what they’ll call you
– don’t be afraid – they can kill your body but not your soul
– you are precious to God
– I haven’t come to bring peace – this is what to expect that your enemies will be in your own household
– if you put your family before me, you’re not worthy of me
– lost your life for my sake and you’ll find it
– there is a reward – it might be as little as a cup of water – just think what circumstances might exist that make a cup of water a reward – but you won’t lose your reward
– this is what discipleship is all about.
Should we put these words of Jesus up as a banner next to the font?
Should we make parents read and sign this before a baptism?
This is what following Jesus means. If this is discipleship, it is certainly controversial.
And the reason it is controversial is simply because we have a long history of knowing how this ends when you set yourself up against the world – against family – when you fix a life course and nothing will deter you from it. It so often ends badly. We can imagine families torn apart; there can be violence happening; it doesn’t take too long for people to think of Waco, Texas or Jonestown or backgrounds to wars and terror incidents today. How often have you heard the old ‘chestnut’ that religion is the cause of all the violence and wars that happen? The reason it stays around is because there seems to be evidence for it! Discipleship can be deadly if not divisive.
I can’t take back Jesus’ words today. I don’t want to. That fact alone makes me fanatical in many of the world’s eyes. In fact I agree with the world that there is a long history of bad discipleship, of cults and sects, and groups wanting to separate from others in the world. It is true. When we do religion, when human cult leaders call for followers, when political leaders create dictatorships, when fathers rule their families with an iron hand or fist – my way is the right way – yes, it ends badly.
But the reason we are here as Christians – why Christianity is still around – despite all the bad track records of human religions – is because the man who spoke to the disciples, yes, he was human – is unique for discipleship with him is based on the truth that things ended badly for him – on purpose. I’m not talking a masochist. I’m not talking a loony. I am saying that the controversial discipleship of our text exists because we have a controversial God – who has loved us so much to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil – and he had the gall, the nerve, the guts not to ask our permission first. You see the mystery of sin is that people are dead in it. Now we don’t like the sufferings that can happen but we prefer the illusion of control we have in this world and paradoxically we’ll even fight any rescuer who comes to set us free. Now that’s perverse but that’s our world.
So the question always boils down to this – for planet Earth and for each living person on it – who is your God?
We are here in the shadow of the cross because we have learnt and we believe and we say:
I believe that Jesus – true man and true God – son of the Father from eternity and true man born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord. At great cost he has saved and redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, not with silver or gold but with his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. All this he has done that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true!
Jesus is not the moral policeman of the world. He did not come to control us, to make us bow down and serve him but he came to serve us. The same is true of his followers – we live to serve the world – to serve those around us. But just as Jesus didn’t seek the world’s permission so his disciples don’t either. Just as Jesus didn’t rescue us according to the world’s schedule or way of doing things or terms, so his followers act similarly – to love according to what is God’s will in the here and now of each moment and each relationship.
Thus Jesus’ cross becomes a type of flag where people either rally – here is where I stand – or attack to try and pull down. The kingdom of heaven is still at hand because the grave is empty and the world will never be able to defeat Jesus, silence him, or eradicate his body, the Church, for it will be present on Earth when he returns in glory.
And in the meantime this controversial discipleship continues as his followers do exactly that – follow Jesus – engage critically with God’s Word and with this world because we need to work out how we are to serve those around us. Our task is not to police or bully the world but to love it and serve it – and by it, I mean the people we meet all the time – starting with our families. Not easy. But that’s what a controversial discipleship is all about as we follow a controversial God.
- Matthew 10:5 - 5a
- Matthew 10:21 - 42