Matthew 10:24-39 - The Message (MSG)
24-25 “A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher. A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss. Be content—pleased, even—when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get. If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface,’ what can the workers expect?
26-27 “Don’t be intimidated. Eventually everything is going to be out in the open, and everyone will know how things really are. So don’t hesitate to go public now.
28 “Don’t be bluffed into silence by the threats of bullies. There’s nothing they can do to your soul, your core being. Save your fear for God, who holds your entire life—body and soul—in his hands.
Forget About Yourself
29-31 “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.
32-33 “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you?
34-37 “Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me.
38-39 “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.
This passage is part of a speech Jesus gives to his 12 disciples as he sends them out two by two to preach the gospel and spread his message. If you are someone who is keen to know what Jesus says you should say on such an evangelistic mission, you will be disappointed by this chapter. His advice, further back in the chapter is to proclaim that “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” and then to do some healing and raising of the dead. It’s almost like we’re supposed to believe God is alive, active and self-evident in the world, and that we don’t need to engage in as much verbal description of him as we often do! This advice is in sharp contrast to the long lectures about Christian apologetics I attended in a time when I believed being clever would persuade people to like God.
So what advice does Jesus give? In the part of the passage designated for this Sunday, he deals exclusively with our fear and challenges us to reflect on the nature of our relationship with himself. He is not concerned by what it is that you are going to say, but how you feel about him and about yourself. It makes a lot of sense. None of us makes our family and friends learn off a fact sheet to use when they might be called upon to describe our personality or our wishes to a stranger. I have a level of confidence that my family and friends would be capable of making an accurate representation of me without having to engage in any kind of preparation with them. What is more, I don’t necessarily trust the people who know a lot about me to best represent my character; I trust the people who have felt most loved by me.
If we don’t feel loved by someone we are more prone to mistrust their intentions, more likely to feel sensitive to hurt, more inclined to judge and to see everything in them that is disordered by sin. I might spend every working hour with you, more time than your young children do, but if you don’t love me, the beloved father and mother that they experience is the office ass that I experience.
Before Jesus sends these 12 out to describe him and his kingdom vision, he addresses the misgivings we have about God and ourselves:
Don’t forget that when they say they hate you, it’s not about you. They cannot cope with me, but those of you who spend time in my house are an easy target. Don’t be surprised by it, but also, don’t give it too much thought.
I know you are afraid, but do not be afraid to speak the truth because in it end, it will stand.
I know you are afraid, but do not be afraid of a finite something that is unable harm the eternal in you.
I know you are afraid, but do not be afraid because we really love you very much.
After these soft words, Jesus does engage in some tougher love towards the end of this passage. Following these words of encouragement he challenges us by reminding us of our duty to acknowledge Jesus in our lives or risk being unacknowledged ourselves before God. What’s more, he goes on to speak words that genuinely terrified me as a child – you must love me more than your mother and father! I took this quite literally and cried at least once because I felt I would never be able to do this. In Luke’s gospel it says you must hate them! I now understand that Jesus is being hyperbolic to make a point. In fact, he’s clearly joking when he finishes with the example of a daughter-in-law being turned against her mother-in-law! I have no doubt those relationships were as strained in Jesus time as they so often are in ours. This serious speech, which horrified me as a child was probably lightened with a good laugh at that point at time he delivered it! As I grew older I understood the metaphorical nature of the words and I also began to understand what change in attitude he was getting at. Jesus is not asking us to love our family members any less. Instead he asks us shift the role the play in our lives a bit. As a child I believed my parents were infallible and that they could protect me from any danger. I honestly felt totally dependent on them for survival (which I was) and the idea of announcing to them that I loved God more felt like a sort of ungrateful, treasonous thing. I understand now, as an adult, that no human person has control of the events in the cosmos and that kind of reliant, dependent relationship is unhealthy when taken past childhood. In fact, I can love my parents more if I let them be human and don’t expect them to perfect. Jesus, used these provocative words to remind us his love demands some sort of response and that that response will shake up our lives in the way they need to be to make sense in light of that love.
As you go forth into the world with all the weary responsibility we put on our own shoulders to be ambassadors and defenders of God, try to remember He is not as interested in what you have prepared to say about him as he is in how you feel about him and if you trust him. And maybe you need to be reassured by moving descriptions of his love or maybe you need a (loving) poke in the back of the head to remind you of what you once knew.
Emma Rothwell currently divides her time between the Church of Ireland Dioceses of Meath & Kildare where she is the Diocesan Youth and Children’s Officer and Wilson’s Hospital School where she is the School Chaplain.