Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 25, 2023
Matthew 10:24-39 Commentary
We’re in the same narrative moment as last week’s lectionary passage, meaning we are still considering the nature of our calling to go out as disciple-apostles who proclaim the good news of God through doing Kingdom good. You’ll note that last week had the option of including the verses where Jesus describes the hardship that his missional calling will cause. For this week, you’ve got no choice but to talk about them.
We start with the clear reminder that our Master is hated by some in this world because he disrupts their influence and privilege. If it’s true for Jesus, it will be true for those who live like him. If people try to discredit Jesus by maligning him as demonic (calling him Beelzebul), trying to spin it so that truth sounds like falsehood and lies are thought to be true, then we know the ‘game’ the world will try to subject us to.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t tell us to not be outraged or frustrated about this; he tells us that we don’t have to fear. We can remain steadfast in the truth because the truth will set us (and the world) free. We can speak the truth that Jesus has taught us, with our actual words along with our very lives, even if it comes at physical cost because God is at the centre of it.
Jesus contrasts fearing those with limited power to do us harm with fearing God, the one who made us, body and soul, and controls our eternal destiny. Then, as though to further contrast the quality, or character, of that fear, Jesus tells us that the one we are to fear is the one who is steadfastly and providentially devoted to us. The one who knows and is present for all things, is the one who is with us in all things.
To make this point, Jesus tells us that even the cheapest bird, the sparrow, had God the Father present with it as it fell to the ground in death. Though the traditional interpretation of “apart from your Father” has meant to many that God allowed the suffering to happen, it could just as easily be a statement of presence: our Father was with—not apart from—the sparrow as it suffered. (See Dale Bruner’s commentary for more on this point.) So how much more can we trust that we are not alone? God keeps closer track of us, has more intimate knowledge of us, than we do of ourselves—that’s how God knows how many hairs are on our heads! (I can’t even keep track of how many hairs I lose while combing my hair every morning… And even my poor husband, who is all too aware of the hairs he is losing on top of his head, is unable to keep an exact count!) God is present, and aware, and with us, no matter what.
Then comes perhaps the hardest part of Jesus’s truth-telling. He tells his followers that he comes not in a way that reveals peace but one that reveals the sword; see the textual point below for how to parse this verse. We know that Jesus will ultimately bring peace, but until then, the disruption and division will continue—even to the most core of relationships and places. Allegiances will be tested: allegiances to our families as well as ourselves.
As the opposition to the good news of God’s compassionate presence in the world mounted against Jesus and led to his crucifixion, we must expect the same for those in his household. Powers and principalities, from the global scale to the ones that rule over our own hearts and minds, do not like losing control and making way for King Jesus. Therefore, we must keep a close eye on who we are closely affiliating ourselves with—who we are in phileo love with and to whose household we truly belong.
And then we must reckon with the sword that Jesus reveals in our own lives. Does the Spirit’s compassionate presence reveal to us the Father who is with us, the way of our brother Jesus Christ? To whom/or what do we most faithfully follow/heed? Do we fit the patterns of this world that will lead to monetary success or will protect us from physical discomfort? Or do we look at the call of Christ and give up what could be for the even greater witness of what is meant to be? Do we cling to the truth, or do we settle for the lies we’ve been gaslit to believe? Do we cut away the BS and simply live in the loving knowledge of God’s compassion?
Verse 34’s grammatical structure is worth considering. According to Greek scholar Dean Deppe, the main action we (the listeners) undertake is about what we think about Jesus’s purposes: Don’t think that Jesus comes for peace. Jesus tells us that he comes (a regular verb) not to bring (infinitive of purpose) peace but to bring (infinitive of purpose) the sword. Now, I’m not a Greek expert, but I do think that this leaves ambiguity about who actually has the sword. Could it be that Jesus is saying he and his way of being in the world, through love and compassion, evokes others to bring out their swords, proverbial or otherwise? Throughout Matthew chapter ten we see this very possibility in the way Jesus talks about the mission of doing Kingdom good: there will be people who persecute and try to destroy God’s apostles. Based on the larger narrative of Scripture it seems that Jesus, by saying he brings the sword, is saying being his disciple will cause division and disruption in one’s life. And isn’t that the way it is supposed to be, as we trade the dysfunctional patterns of this world for the holy ones of God?
While attending two different Seminaries I sat alongside students from all over the world; some of them were first generation Christians who knew firsthand what Jesus describes in this passage. One classmate from India shared about not being able to go home to see his family because they had turned their backs on him. Even worse, he knew a young man who had been beaten to death because he became a Christ-follower. These perils are real for many of our brothers and sisters around the world.
It can also be real for us in the North American church, albeit in a different way. It is difficult to deny that the modern Western church is in a season of division and upheaval with people on all sides claiming that they are “standing with Christ.” According to Christ, the upheaval is inevitable because his very existence disrupts all of the patterns and relationships in our lives. So, the question becomes, have we mistaken the disruption we are experiencing as a call to arms (the sword) instead of as a call to repentance for turning to the sword instead of the way of compassion?
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