Thursday, January 12, 2017

Fresh Studies in Matthew, Matthew 10

This chapter, or portion, must be taken as a whole and not parsed out like the others.  Of course, we could argue that is true of earlier passages.  Here he is commissioning his 12 to go out and preach the gospel of the kingdom, pre-cross, and this is not pretty.  He addresses opposition, persecution, fear, separation from family, inter-familial conflict, death.
What I have missed up to this point is that this chapter immediately follows “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Jesus has looked at the masses and it is clear as one person in a body he cannot minister directly to all of them, so he commissions the 12 disciples (including the one who betrays him!) to go out and reach the masses with healing and teaching.  That part holds true today: we are an extension of the body of Christ.
The ideals of the gospel, the real essence and mandates of it, so transcend where we are.  
(In my original reflection I went on a diatribe about the election, because it was written ten days before it and I was appalled by what was going on, but I'll omit that here as untimely but not irrelevant.)
Jesus tells his disciples (and I take this as directly to them, only indirectly to us, so we must be careful to go too far with some of it, like the shaking the dust off your feet part), that he would bring division (the very strong metaphor of “a sword”) between family members.  He has.  What is it about choosing to follow Christ that causes such division?  Why do the nonbelievers in Christ become so opposed?  What point of doctrine is the crux of it?  The exclusivity of the gospel?  The negation of self-reliance?  The insistence on clear right and wrong behavior?  The need to repent and say, “I am turning from my past?” 
In turning from our past, how much do we turn from the people and relationships of our past, and how do they interpret that?  As rejection?  As superiority?  There is no sense in the New Testament that those who came to Christ really rejected their families.  The sense is that the families would reject the new believers, not the other way round.  This is vital.  Those who reject him, not those who take him, yield the sword Jesus brings.  However, I am sure it has often worked out as the believers seeming to reject, or actually rejecting, their families. 
When Jesus says that family members will deliver up others to persecution, it is of course the believers who will be delivered up.  Is this passage just for that time, for these disciples on this mission?  I tend to think so, although obviously it still happens today.  The fact that a parent or child or brother would “rat out” a child or parent or brother for believing in Christ may have hit the disciples as an impossible situation; it surely is for us, although it has happened.  The fact in v. 23 that he focuses on Israel leads me to believe we should not take this passage too much for us today, not literally.
So in the next verses he comforts them; they are worth more to God than animals that God cares for intimately.  Their bodies are vulnerable, but not their souls, not in God’s hands. 
It just seems that in my Christian experience I have heard sermons on these verses in an isolated way, but not holistically, not contextually. I don’t mean to dismiss them as not applying to us; I think they do in a global sense, but not in an immediate sense.  So, takeaways:
1.     Jesus commissions us as the extension of his ministry; we are embodied and empowered to extend his ministry (although not healing today).
2.     Opposition is endemic to the faith.  Expect it.  Prepare for it. 
3.     God is intimately involved in our lives, whether we “get it” or not.
4.     The claims of Christ are exclusivistic; that’s a fancy way of saying it’s his way or the (broad) highway. 

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