2 Kings 4:8-11, 14-16b Romans 6:3-4, 8-11 Matthew 10:37-42
June 28, 2020
Today’s gospel passage from the tenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel is directed to us, the disciples of Jesus. In fact, all of chapter ten is a kind of handbook for disciples. I want to outline, very briefly, the entire chapter because everything in it is too good to pass over.
“He summoned his twelve disciples (apostles) and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and illness.” What a job description! They’re to do exactly what Jesus has been doing!
Matthew then names the apostles – a motley crew in many ways: a few fishermen, two sets of brothers, a tax collector who most people hated and considered a traitor to Israel because he collected taxes for Rome. Also named is Simon, a member of the Zealot Party, a militant political organization that often rebelled against the Roman occupation, and even engaged in political assassinations. Matthew, a tax collector for Rome, would easily have been one of their targets. Finally, he names the one who would eventually betray him to the authorities. By listing the twelve Matthew is telling us that anyone and everyone can be called to be a disciple. We shouldn’t be shocked by God’s choice. All a person needs to do is to say yes to the call. But…..
But Jesus goes on to tell us of the difficulties anyone who accepts his call will face. “I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves…They will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.” In other words, we’ll be rejected by both the church (synagogue) and the state. He continues by blessing and consoling us with the most tender and encouraging words. “Do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be made known. What I say to you in the darkness speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
What Jesus has spoken in our ears and whispered to our hearts is a message that will not be accepted by everyone. Jesus is warning us not to be surprised or discouraged should people act violently against us. His message of love will divide the dark from the light, good from evil. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.”
This brings us to the conclusion of chapter ten, and to the passage that we’re focusing on today. What a challenge it is! He presents a harsh image of the cost of discipleship. There will be those who hear and respond to his call for unconditional love, and there will be those who do not hear and so will not respond. This will separate people from one another, even friends and families.
For some disciples this may mean suffering and even death. “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” This was a shocking statement. Anyone who heard this teaching would have immediately thought of the rebellion of Judas the Galilean. In the year 6 AD Judas urged the people not to respond to the census that was being taken, the census under way during the time of Jesus’ birth. Not responding to the census meant that people would not pay the Roman tax. Those who dared register had their houses burned by the Zealots. The Roman general Varus was called in to crush the revolt. He crucified two thousand Jews, mounting their crosses along the roads leading to Galilee.
Matthew concludes the chapter by naming the spiritual dynamic that accompanies the disciple – you and me. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple – amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”
Jesus is telling us that by our saying “yes” to his call to be his disciples we’ve given permission for him to continue his work through us. Like him, we’ll be prophets; we’ll be models of justice and righteousness. So much so, that an act of kindness done to any of us, will be an act of kindness to him.
I’ve tried, in this reflection on chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel, to shed some light on this simple handbook for disciples. I hope it will make it easier for you to make your own, uniquely personal, reflection in light of this unique time in our world’s history.
Each and every one of us is living through a powerful, global, and I believe, Spirit-filled time. The Spirit that released the divine fire on the day of Pentecost has released that same fire of courage, transformation and purification into our world. A pandemic, global protests and crashing economies seem to be the vocabulary the Spirit is using to call forth the reign of justice and equality, the reign of the kingdom of God.
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to lay down our lives for each other in many ways, whether as front-line medical workers, people running mass transit, cashiers or parents isolated at home with the families. It has forced us to give up our social lives for a while – to stop us in our tracks – to slow us down – to free us from the slavery to endless activity and distraction.
The Spirit is using this time to give us an opportunity to heal our souls, personal and communal. Racism, injustice and systemic inequality in our societies is revealing itself. The Spirit is urging a response.
The Spirit has shown us that our economies are fragile; a microscopic virus is powerful enough to shut them down. The Spirit is giving us a chance to transform them into social systems that benefit everyone.
With all this is mind, please read chapter ten of Matthew’s gospel. Read it very personally. It’s the handbook for disciples. It’s your guide through this difficult and trying time, this time of purification and transformation. The Spirit is calling each of us to respond with unconditional love. What role is the Spirit offering you?