Today’s Reading: Matthew Chapter 10
In the last several chapters, we’ve seen how Jesus has gone about his ministry, teaching, preaching, and healing.
Chapter 9 closed with Jesus looking around, seeing all the people that were in need, and having compassion on them. He encouraged the disciples to pray that God would provide workers to send out into these fields ripe for harvest.
Now Jesus prepares to send his disciples out into those fields. The kingdom heart compels one to action.
He conveys authority on them to do what they’re about to do, he gives them instructions about what to do and how to do it, he warns them about what they will encounter, and he provides some promises and comfort to them as well.
I find myself wondering as I read this passage, about how much of what Jesus said applies only to the apostles in their specific situation and how much applies to us. He gave the apostles the authority to drive out spirits and heal every disease. He limited their mission specifically to the lost children of Israel. Those were things, I think, that applied just to the Twelve. Certainly other things he told them – the need to preach, the need to be wary, some of the risks in sharing the gospel, and more – apply to all of us. There’s some I’m just not sure about. Will the Spirit of the Father speak through us and tell us exactly what we need to say when we’re in danger or on the spot? Things to wrestle with as you read this passage.
As Jesus sends the Twelve out, he does tell them to go just to “the lost sheep of Israel” – not to the Gentiles or the Samaritans. I’m not sure why that is; Jesus has already dealt with the Gentile centurion, praised his faith, and made comments that hint at the truth that Gentiles will be a part of the Kingdom. Were the disciples just not ready for that?
Their tasks are to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” – the same teaching that John the Baptist and Jesus had been teaching. They are to heal, cast out demons, even raise people from the dead – things he had given them specific authority to do.
He tells them as they go, not to take any kind of monetary recompense for what they’re doing, and he tells them, essentially, to only take the clothes on their back – not even to pack a change of clothes. They are allowed to let people house and feed them – “the worker is worth his keep”. They are, in fact, to seek out “worthy” people to do this, and in return to bless the homes of the people who do, and “let their peace rest on it”. If they are rejected in a home or a town, however, Jesus tells them to withdraw their peace, shake the dust off their feet, and move on. He promises, though, that God will deal with them.
After acknowledging that they won’t be welcome everywhere, Jesus goes further and warns the disciples that the consequences of their mission can be more dire. He likens his sending them out to sending sheep among wolves – they will be prey for some. He tells them to be “shrewd as snakes, and innocent as doves” – they need to have their eyes open, and be wise to the motives and plots that others may have for them, but not stoop to their level, and to be harmless to those they encounter.
He predicts persecution for them because of him (reminiscent of the last beatitude) – that if men call Jesus Beelzebul, they’ll do at least as bad (or worse) to the disciples. He tells them that they’ll be hauled into court, flogged in the synagogues, betrayed by those they’re closest to, and hated – all because of him.
I think it is interesting that Jesus quotes a passage from Micah as he speaks to the disciples, and the context of that quote. When Jesus says, “I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against his mother…”, etc., he’s quoting a passage that would have been familiar to the Jews. It comes from the prophet Micah, who lived and preached at the same time as Isaiah in the Divided Kingdom. He warned the people of Judah about the judgement that was coming in Chapters 6 and 7 of Micah; that God had done all kinds of good things for them, but they had turned their backs on God and so he was going to give them over to ruin. Then, he begins to lament the state of things in the land – that all the righteous were gone, their leaders (religious and political) were corrupt, and that no one could be trusted – don’t trust your neighbors, your friends, even your family – that “a man’s enemies are the members of his own household”. The only one to put trust in, says Micah, is God.
I’ve often been uncomfortable with Jesus saying something that sounds like he came for the purpose of bringing a sword and family division, especially after all we’ve read in the previous four chapters about the kingdom heart of peace and mercy. After reading Micah, it’s clear he’s making a different point. As Jesus has told them to be wise to what will happen, and predicted persecution, even from members of their own families, Jesus gets them to recall this passage from Micah. Yes, in way Jesus is bringing this on them. In a world full of sin, strife, unrighteousness, and that even in religious circles doesn’t understand what God really wants for them, a person who shows the kingdom heart, confronts hypocrisy, and preaches repentance will be subject to persecution, even from family and friends. In the end, as with Micah, the only choice is to turn to the one and only God.
Jesus tells them they’ll have to make that kind of decision. To be worthy, they must choose Jesus over family, friends, comfort, and everything else – even their lives.
Through the warnings, Jesus offers promises and comfort for those that choose him, however. He says that God will give them the words to say when they’re accused. That they don’t have to be afraid. That everything will be shown to them. That God is aware of what is happening to them. Most importantly, that he’ll acknowledge them before his Father in heaven, and that in losing their life, they’ll gain his Life.
There’s a promise for those that did receive them well too – that they will receive the same reward the disciples do.
As I said earlier, I do struggle with how much of the specifics of this passage applied only to the apostles, and what applies to all of Christ’s followers. The general message is clear, though: the kingdom heart that cares about people is compelled to action, and called to action. To preach the good news of the kingdom. To bring the healing they can to those in need. To choose Jesus over everything else – even to the point of persecution and death, if necessary. I think if all of that is true, we can also count on the fact that we don’t have to be afraid, that God is aware of what is happening and cares, and that the reward is Life with a capital “L” from the One that gives abundant life.
“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (v. 16)
“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.” (v. 32-33)
“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.” (v. 38-39)