Mark Calder is Rector of the Anglican Church in Noosa, QLD
I invite you to read one of the very challenging statements of Jesus in Matthew 10:32-36. On first reading, this is so upsetting. It’s very provocative. The inference is that Jesus has come to divide the human family — the closest and most loving of relationships. But isn’t Jesus called the Prince of Peace? Surely he did come to bring peace! Didn’t the angels proclaim at his birth in Luke 2 – ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favour rests’?
Of course, we understand from elsewhere in our Bibles, that Jesus came so that through his perfect life and sacrificial death we might have peace with God. We also take on board what else we know of God’s will for us and for families. He is responsible for what we could argue is the greatest of all divine inventions, and he commands us to honour our mother and father and to love and care for our children. So then, how do we understand Jesus’ teaching here? Let’s explore:
The context of the passage
The paragraph is part of Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve apostles from 10:1 to 11:1. The chapter is all about Jesus’ instructions to the twelve apostles, sending them out on mission. It was a mission of liberation; going through these towns and villages, gloriously liberating people from evil and disease and sickness, giving these people a foretaste of the end time Kingdom!
And yet such is the folly of mankind that Jesus anticipates that many will not welcome them. In fact they will face devastating opposition. So v14, ‘if any one doesn’t welcome you shake the dust off your feet’; v17, ‘be on your guard against men. They will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues’, v21 — even members of your own family will dob you in; ‘brother will betray brother to death and a father his child’. Verse 22; ‘all men will hate you because of me’.
So, on the one hand they have such wonderful authority to liberate people in the most marvellous of ways, and anyone who receives them receives Jesus (v40), yet not only will many people NOT want what they have to offer, but will actively fight against them.
Yet look at Jesus’ care for them! In v19 – they’ll be given what to say; in vv26, 28 and 31 he says three times ‘do not be afraid of them’. Why? V29; because ‘not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father’, and v30 ‘even the very hairs of your head are all numbered’. So as they go out into the world they can be sure on the one hand of great opposition (even from their families) and on the other, of their heavenly Father’s care and protection.
The other contextual background to consider here is that in the Semitic languages, intent and result can be almost intertwined especially when you’re speaking of God because they understand God to be the final cause of everything. So when we read Jesus said ‘I did not come to bring peace, but a sword’, he is saying the result of him coming plus the resultant opposition, will inevitably mean that there will be division even in the most precious family relationships. So inevitable is that, that in terms of language, you can speak of it as though it was the intent. Intent and result are intertwined.
The outworking of the passage
‘When the son or daughter of a devout family became a Christian while the father or mother did not or vice versa, it caused the bitterest hostility within the family.’
‘For many this alienation would be harder to bear than the danger of arresting or flogging or death.’
(So Frederick Dale Bruner in his Matthew commentary.)
How true is that in many Middle Eastern parts of the world today? Muslim families have been known to hold a funeral for their son who became a Christian, because as far as the family is concerned they are as good as dead!
Dick Lucas tells the story of the horror a Jewish woman felt when Judy her daughter rang from university and told her family she’d become a Christian. Her mother was mortified. For Judy herself, it was difficult. She may well have gone to the Lord crying: ‘I’ve come to you, but what is the result? My whole family are in shock? It’s almost more than I can bear. Lord what are you doing?’ Verse 35 must have been an enormous reassurance! Reassurance? This is exactly what was to be expected, hard though that was. Yet Judy had fulfilled v 37. She stuck to her guns and obeyed the Lord’s command to put him first. She accepted the necessity of his priority. Christ had become her first love and remained her first love. Let’s just imagine Judy had not stuck first to her first love and decided her family was too important. She would not have been worthy of Jesus. (Great blessing awaited Judy for her family also came to know Jesus in the end!)
The challenge of the passage
Here’s the challenge of the passage. Is Jesus your first love? Will you stay strong and true to him — even when it means opposition? When you face opposition will you take the principles from a passage such as this and know that you ought not to be afraid because the Lord cares about the sparrows and you’re worth much more to him than they? Will you stay with your first love even when it means division in your family? Will you love Jesus more than your family? And will you love him more than yourself? Knowing that you are to lay down your life in his service; to let go of your life that your life might be his? It’s a harsh test isn’t it? Do you love Jesus more than anyone, or anything else in the world?