Monday of Week 15 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 10:34—11:1

Today, we come to the final part of Jesus’ apostolic discourse in chapter 10. At a first reading, today’s passage could be puzzling, not to say highly disturbing, to some. Jesus seems to contradict everything that he has said and done so far.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.

But do we not call Jesus the Prince of Peace? Does Jesus not say during the Last Supper discourse in John’s Gospel (14:27) that he has come to give his peace to his disciples, a peace that no one will ever be able to take away from them?

And Jesus goes on to apply to himself a passage from the prophet Micah (7:6):

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law,
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

It sounds a terrible thing for Jesus our Saviour to be saying. But it expresses, not what he wants to happen, but what he sees as an inevitable outcome of his message of love. It says more about us than about him.

Unfortunately, what Jesus says has only been confirmed again and again. We have mentioned before the paradox that the message of Jesus about truth, love, justice and freedom for people everywhere is seen by some as highly subversive and dangerous. And people who subscribe to this vision of Jesus and try to implement it in their lives are likely to run into headlong opposition with those who have a totally different vision of life and who see Jesus’ vision as a real threat to their interests. In a world of conflicting ideologies, philosophies, cultures, traditions, ethnic and religious identities, to declare that one is opting for the Way of Jesus is often to invite opposition, persecution and even death.

What Jesus says here is a fact – and was already a known experience when this Gospel was written. Christianity divided families and, in some places, it still does. But people who see and understand and accept the vision of life that Jesus offers know they have no choice but to follow it, even if close family members object. To go with Christ is to enter a new family, with new bonds – a family which, for its part, does not at all reject those who reject it. The Christian may be hounded and hated and expelled by family members, but that is not the way he or she is going to respond to them. On the contrary, the dearest wish of the new Christian is for family members to be able to see what he or she sees and, until they do, that new Christian will pray for them, bless them and love them.

Jesus then goes on to lay down the conditions necessary to be a genuine disciple.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me…

In many cultures this is a hard saying and seems to fly in the face of the filial piety and respect for the authority of elders which is at the heart of such societies.

It is not, in fact, a conflict. Love and respect for family members is a very high value for the Christian, but there are even higher values which may take precedence. Filial piety and parental authority can be very inward-looking, too centred on just this group of people. Racial, national and religious identity can also be very narrow and intolerant in its understanding.

Christianity is outward-looking and realises that there are people out there whose needs are even prior to those of my family. To the Christian, his blood family are only some among many brothers and sisters who have to be loved, served and cared for. One is also never bound to follow family requirements which would be against such values as truth, love, justice and honesty. As a Christian, I cannot obey a parent or other family member who practices dishonesty in business, who cheats, who sexually abuses, who practices racism or narrow-minded nationalism and the like and urges me to do the same.

Jesus, as the Word of God, stands for a level of truth and integrity and love which is the ultimate measure of all that I do and say. I cannot conform to the wishes of anyone, however close, who falls short of that measure. But my Christian love and concern for that person will not be diminished, in spite of how I may be treated.

To live like this can at time involve pain, separation, intense suffering and even death. This, I think, is what Jesus means when he says that I am not worthy of him unless I am willing to take my cross and walk with him. There is a price to be paid for being true and loving and just. This also is what he means by ‘finding’ life and ‘losing’ my life. To ‘find’ life is to take the easy way of accommodation and compromise, not to mention material gain and pleasure; to ‘lose’ is to let go and let Jesus take charge. Of course, as Jesus points out, in the long run it is the ‘losers’ who find and the ‘finders’ who lose.

The discourse ends with some advice about finding Jesus in other people, especially his own followers. Anyone who welcomes a follower of Jesus, whether that person is a ‘prophet’ (a missionary) or a ‘holy man’ (an ordinary Christian), welcomes Jesus himself and welcomes the Father also. Even giving a cup of cold water to someone who is a Christian will not go unrewarded.

The discourse is then clearly brought to an end by Matthew saying:

…when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.

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