John Michael Gutierrez, PhD
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it. 40 “Anyone who welcomes you, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
The Gospel of the Lord
One of the proven benefits of the prayer book tradition is its generous incorporation of Bible texts into all liturgical services. Especially beneficial is the prominent place given to readings from the Gospels. This is the third Sunday we have read from Matthew 10. I know what you’re thinking after reading this morning’s rather alarming lesson though “it’s only the fourth Sunday after Pentecost so I hope he preaches from the Psalm!” And your right. As recently as this week I’ve said that to myself too “Don’t be a fool. Preach the psalm.” There is another reason for not being a fool, a personal one. This was the Lectionary reading for our wedding. But here’s two thoughts that I’ve come to understand over the years. First, the lectionary stops me from approaching the Bible, our wedding and you all as if we were all eating in a cafeteria buffett. We don’t get to pick and choose lessons according to taste. The lectionary’s historical rooted-ness guides us in christian formation. This is specifically the issue when we have a lesson such as this morning’s. We don’t want to pass-by, that is, blunt Jesus’ carefully expressed statements. But we do want to put them into Matthew’s teaching context about discipleship. Second, faith, biblical faith, is a transformative gift. And that faith has its path in the biblical text. When the Bible is studied and voiced, faith is repeatedly given in a person’s life. Never separated from its loving Source, faith sets about busily transforming lives.
When you step back and look at the literary- theological architecture of Matthew’s Gospel, you note there are 5 teaching sections tethered by repeated transitional statements (7.28-29; 11.1; 13.53; 19.1; 26.1). Our Lesson sits in the second grouping, ch.8.1-10.42, where Jesus’ teaching about mission unfolds what life is going to be like for disciples once they commit to “gospeling” on his behalf. I have identified 4 points in ch. 10 that lead up to and help us to hear the “teaching” intention in this morning’s lesson. One: Chapter 10 begins with naming 12 – 1st round draft picks (vs. 1-4). They’ll soon be suited up for their most important role – modeling what a discipleship vocation looks like. As the Gospel expands so does the circle of disciples; so their discipleship opens up to all who would be disciples. Vs. 7-42, pinpoint Jesus’ insistence that discipleship as a vocation and its mission tasks challenge one’s self-identity, integrity, faithfulness. Discipleship is a “sending” vocation. Discipleship as a vocation is not private but necessarily involves others. But Two: Vs. 5-10 are ground zero for Jesus’ teaching. Initially the 12 are sent to “the lost sheep of Israel” under the authority of Jesus (vs.5-6). Eventually, 18 chapters later, the disciples will be given the go-ahead to “make disciples of all nations” (28.16-20). This is the thematic back and forth in Matthew’s Gospel we as readers need to maintain. For example, vs. 40 gives us a thumbnail of their/our commission “Anyone who welcomes you, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the One (YHWH, the Father) who sent me”. Discipleship vocation is to faithfully represent YHWH the Father and the Son. In this commission Matthew’s Jesus is not simply another avenue but the only authorized way to the Father – then and now. So Three: Disciples are to announce a hope-filled message “YHWH’s new management is coming soon” “Get on board. Get in on the ground floor” (vs.7). YHWH’s lordship is where Israel’s identity, its vocation is defined. Their message is a gracious “peace” invitation, a call to live in a way that will honor YHWH as Father (vs. 12). That’s why we hear in vs. 8ff. it matters, how they dress, how they carry themselves, how they speak. Jesus sends the disciples out travelling light -under-packed, under funded, reliant on the hospitality of random households (vs. 8b-10). They are stepping into a new pair of sandals, to carry themselves in a very distinctive way. They leave any advantages they might have to get alongside folk in the community. And Four: Discipleship is a “speaking” vocation.They’re entrusted with a peace message. It’s not in their job description to be argumentative when the going gets tough. If people don’t like what they say, then they are to move on, simple as that (vs. 13b-14). But what Jesus achieved with “whatever village….if anyone will not welcome you or hear your words ….leave that household (vs. 11-14) was to call attention to a need for a decision for or against the message. Opposition arising in verse 14 comes then from resistance to the message not the messenger, although it can play out as “roughing up the messenger” (vs. 16ff). Make no mistake, then and especially now, the Gospel message provokes opposition, sometimes violence. Do not be deceived. In our culture, the goalposts keep moving. If you do not conform completely to the latest social demands, you will be reviled, cancelled. May I say to you, faithful biblical proclamation doesn’t buy into secular driven diversity or tolerance. Faith formed around Jesus is neither inclusive nor exclusive. To the contrary, it’s particular, specific. Christian faith could only be inclusive/exclusive if other religious programs say “you can come to the Father by us”. Fact is not one religious or secular program invites you anywhere near a father. It seems to me they don’t want to talk about fathers/fatherhood, family and certainly not Jesus the son as the only way to the Father. But a faithful gospel message says you have a problem with the heart and disobedience. Jesus says he is the only way to the cure, the solution: YHWH the Father, the creator of all things visible and invisible. He’s a father who pays the price, who forgives and who transforms. As far as I know, at the start of our service this morning, Jesus was still the forgiving, savior of the world. You want another solution, then you must go find it.
So Matthew has edited details about mission and message into ch. 8-10 to bring us to this morning’s theme: While mission in discipleship provokes opposition in the wider culture, the choice of whole-hearted commitment to Jesus and his message sometimes provokes opposition from the most unexpected, most difficult of settings – one’s family members (vs. 21, 35-39).
If we were to read this morning’s lesson isolating it from chs. 8-10 then we could propose Jesus is weakening family structures while elevating individuals and their choices. That might have legs in some churches. And I suppose we all might agree these sentences are not ones usually quoted when trying to attract people to discipleship or send a couple off happily on their wedding day. But we do well to remember in ch. 10.7-42, what we hear is Jesus teaching those whom he thinks already have the potential to be totally committed to his mission.
Now, what about reading Jesus’ “family values” dictionary from vs. 21 forward? Set in the narrative of ch. 8-10, vs. 21, 35-39 suggest this line of interpretation to me. It seems to me Jesus’ dictionary “betrayal to death, sword, opposition, enemy, disown, “loves more than me….” cutting across family affections dares us, begs us not to look the other way, not to sanitize these words into merely poor behavior or misconduct. They’re chilling. They’re meant to challenge a disciples’ discernment. Remember, disciples are always to be on the lookout, to be peace-bearers (vs. 12-13). Peace-bearing may touch, even soften hearts. But it might not. The one thing peace-bearing does ensure is that you will not – even with a knee on your neck – have made the mistake of closing any personal doors from your side. So I am suggesting here this narrative actually uncovers matters of the heart, some of the escalating struggles, hurt, tragedy that can be experienced in families – on both sides. The intention, then, is to teach disciples from this “family” example that message and mission should never be separated from/distanced from such awareness. Especially when they are pitched into a struggle for those they love who continue to reject Jesus and his message. The words are intended to be shocking, yes, but we should be aware of reading too much or too little into them. The point is to focus on the teaching topic in the chapters – choosing mission responsibility sometimes has a dividing, sometimes a disastrous effect. So Jesus is definitely not dismissing violence, not disaffection either and certainly not disbanding the family. There is no doubt for Jesus – family is fundamental to a disciples’ identity. Jesus’ kingdom message wants to reconcile us to a father, to experience family life. Jesus’ view of family values here is not to diminish but to redirect a disciples’ responsibilities. Family is no longer regulated only by biological/cultural ties but is now redirected by a disciples’ mission vocation. This is the mission challenge that Jesus lays out – not to elevate a family of origin above discipleship mission so that it distorts and disrupts commitments to Jesus and to other disciples. From my own experience sometimes it’s not easily worked out.
Mission integrity is now intensified. In vs. 37ff. Jesus turns to “C” in the dictionary. For the first time in Matthew’s gospel, the cross is mentioned and it’s a disciple’s cross not Jesus’. “Bearing one’s cross” is not about displaying one’s personal problems or life’s difficulties or putting a piece of jewelry around one’s neck- as all too often promoted in our culture. In that Roman political-military setting you don’t speak about a cross in the abstract. I suspect conversations become hushed around the darker reality of its violence. It must have been deeply uncomfortable. But for Jesus it is important to speak plainly, truthfully. Discipleship is not an abstraction. Mission and message will come through the cross. It is a call to faithfulness, responsibility, to self-denial – indeed a “dying to self”. And that certainly crosses across our culture, where individual autonomy and self-recognition are commercialized as moral imperatives. Jesus says “Whoever does not lift up a cross and follow me is not “worthy” of me. (vs. 38). It seems to me a clearer understanding of “worthy” here and vs. 37, would be ” not measuring up.” or “not useful”. Jesus says in vs. 24 “a disciple is not above his master”. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus sets the bar high – suffering for the kingdom. Such a fate comes to a disciple (vs. 32). Responsible disciples will walk the Calvary road. If they do not, then, they are not measuring up to the Lord. If following Jesus meant some of us had to give up eating cheese instead of being perched on a cross or losing one’s family ties, then discipleship would be very easy! The central point of discipleship involves considering the cost of following Jesus. A disciple measures up to Jesus when he is placed ahead of family relationships, even when they become stormy and hostile. It’s a heartache. Jesus doesn’t deny the deep love or obligations between parents, children, relatives, he just requires a clearcut choice for his message and mission. The discipleship road is costly, individually and corporately. So choose wisely. “Get on board. Get in on the ground floor”
May the Lord richly bless you my Beloved