This is Part Four in a series I’m calling “Jesus the Divider,” which is all about trying to make sense of these words from Matthew 10:
34 “Don’t think that I’ve come to bring peace to the earth. I haven’t come to bring peace but a sword. 35 I’ve come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Part I set the series up.
Part II put Jesus’ words in the larger context of Matthew 10:5-39 (Jesus was sending his disciples out for ministry armed with a progressive message designed for a conservative crowd)
Part III explored what it was the disciples were tasked with (announcing the Kingdom and performing some radical acts of love)
Here in Part IV I want to point out what Jesus told his disciples they could expect as they went from town to town.
I hope you’ll notice the picture emerging as to why Jesus said that he came not to bring people together but to tear them apart.
A quick recap:
Verses 5-6 describe where and to whom the disciples were being sent.
Verses 7-8 describe what their specific tasks were.
Verses 9-10 describe how they should conduct themselves: travel with no money or lodging plan and rely on the hospitality of those you are ministering to.
Then, in verse 11:
11 Whatever city or village you go into, find somebody in it who is worthy and stay there until you go on your way. 12When you go into a house, say, ‘Peace!’ 13 If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if the house isn’t worthy, take back your blessing. 14 If anyone refuses to welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet as you leave that house or city. 15 I assure you that it will be more bearable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on Judgment Day than it will be for that city.
In short, Jesus was sending his friends to travel from village to village, ministering to their conservative friends and family with a radical message of a progressive word about God and humanity, but he wanted them to do so while relying on those same individuals to take care of their basic needs.
You can imagine the twelve looking sideways at one another, secretly wondering if anyone else was freaking out on the inside.
What were they getting in to?!
Look, we trust this guy and everything, but this sounds mad! It almost sounds like he’s sending us out for slaughter… oh wait, what did he just say??
16 “Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves.
At least Jesus was being honest.
He knew the task he was giving his friends would not be an easy one. He knew not everyone would respond well to their announcement of the Kingdom, to their challenges to the status quo, to their pushing back against long held ideas and beliefs about God and humanity.
To his credit, Jesus wasn’t glossing over what they could expect as they went.
Listen to these spoiler alerts:
17 Watch out for people—because they will hand you over to councils and they will beat you in their synagogues.
18 They will haul you in front of governors and even kings because of me…
21 Brothers and sisters will hand each other over to be executed. A father will turn his child in. Children will defy their parents and have them executed.
22 Everyone will hate you on account of my name.
23 Whenever they harass you in one city, escape to the next…
25 If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, it’s certain that they will call the members of his household by even worse names.
Put on trial.
Betrayal among family.
Jesus sure knew how to rally the troops!
The point I’m hoping to make in this post is that the words Jesus will eventually speak, about bringing a sword and not peace, and about dividing families up, are in the context of him explaining what the disciples could expect as they travel from village to village.
In their role as “sheep among wolves,” it wasn’t going to be all unicorns and rainbows.
When you prophetically step in to the space of challenging traditional beliefs, of calling out the abuse of power, of naming oppression and exploitation and the damaging effects of certain beliefs, don’t expect everyone to respond well.
Sure, some might welcome you in their home, listen to your words, and experience a change of heart and mind.
But more often than not you’ll be rejected.
Called all sorts of names.
It’s scary and threatening to be told that maybe your ideas and beliefs are wrong, or are hurtful to already-vulnerable people. And because of the danger involved, many people will choose to remain silent out of fear of persecution. Fear of loss. Fear of being cast out and labeled “heretic” or “divisive” or “false teacher.”
However, according to Jesus, as hard as it can be to be a sheep among wolves, the even more frightening thing is to stay home and stay quiet.
26 “Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27 What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops. 28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.
In other words, the truly scary thing is when you fear the scorn of humans over the destruction of your own soul.
Which to me, in this context, the “destruction of your soul” is all about what happens when you ignore the leading of the Spirit within and don’t speak out against injustice.
Don’t seek to live on the outside who you are on the inside.
Don’t pursue the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
When people know what love, grace, truth, justice, compassion, and mercy look like, but out of fear they remain silent, that is a recipe for your soul to slowly wither away.
And that, according to Jesus, is far more damaging than the ridicule of other humans.
So now we know:
Who the disciples were being sent to (conservative friends and family)
What they were tasked with (announcing a new way to be human)
How they should conduct themselves (relying on the hospitality of others)
What they can expect (rejection and ridicule)
In the next post we’ll finally arrive at verses 34-36. Which hopefully by now should be a little more clear.