First Thoughts on Year A Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Pentecost 3

William Loader

Pentecost 3: 21 June Matthew 10:24-39

This passage covers most of the second half of the major speech in Matthew 10. 10:40-42 is still to come. Already 10:17-23 has emphasised the persecution which awaits the community of believers. Our passage continues the theme. The break at 10:24 is almost artificial. If there is a shift, it is to compare the opposition which the disciples will face with that of Jesus. This coheres with Matthew's emphasis that disciples share Jesus' task. They also share the implications of pursuing that task. 10:24 picks up a statement which originally seems to have been part of the great sermon in Q which formed the sermon on the mount in Matthew (Luke 6:40). Matthew chooses to use it here, because it helps him introduce the imagery which follows which is tied to the surrounding context.

Thus 10:25 alludes to the accusation that Jesus casts out demons by Beelzebul (9:34). It will return in 12:24. In answer to this accusation Jesus will argue that in casting out demons by God's Spirit he brings the kingdom of God into the midst of humanity, he establishes God's reign. Living out the kingdom in the present in ways that disempower evil and evil's powers is also the task of the disciples and for this they will pay. Today the 'swear words' will not be Beelzebub, but 'bleeding hearts', 'leftists', 'welfare lobby', 'aboriginal industry' and the like. People use names to disempower others.

Matthew has already used Q material in the details of the sending and woven it with Mark's account of the sending. He had then transferred the warnings of persecution from Mark 13 and made use of the Q saying in 10:24 as a transition. Now in 10:26-33 he adds material from another body of Q material, reflected in Luke 12:2-9. It continues the link between Jesus' ministry and that of the disciples, only this time there is a contrast: Jesus' modest proclamation is to become a much more public affair in the hands of the disciples (10:26-27). People listening to Matthew's gospel would doubtless reflect on the turbulence which faced their community.

10:28-31 turns to comfort and encouragement in the face of such turbulence. Sparrows do fall to the ground and so will they! There are no easy promises of protection entailed in believing that God counts the hairs of one's head. The comfort is in knowing that God knows. These are mere hints of a greater theme of divine solidarity in our suffering.

Matthew combines them with his familiar ploy of focusing on the judgement day (10:32-33). Confessing and denying is very much the language of the Christian community. Solidarity is reciprocal. Confess and be confessed. Deny and be denied. We are in danger of trivialising the challenge if we see it is as a rather desperate plea (and threat) about personal loyalty, as though Jesus is building his own religion. The context is about God and God's reign. To deny Jesus is to deny the work of the Spirit. It will later be called blaspheming the Spirit (12:31-32). Mouthing the words of the kingdom while not allowing one's life to participate in God's liberating work in the world is playing a religious game which will be exposed. This has less to do with vengeance and more to do with being brought to face the truth about ourselves. Matthew has no room for hypocrisy.

Matthew makes much of judgement. 10:32-33 is the Q version of a saying present also in Mark 8:38. There Jesus speaks of himself as 'the Son of Man'. Matthew also uses Mark 8:38 in 16:27, supplementing it with Psalm 62:13, to leave no one in any doubt that judgement will be on performance not status.

10:34-36, drawn also from Q, but from further on (Luke 12:51-53), keep the focus sharply on human realities. Echoing the language of Micah 7:6, Jesus' words confront the mighty power of the family. 10:37-39 reinforces the challenge of family power. Since Freud and the development of the pastoral counselling movement we are well attuned to the potential destructiveness of family power and the false self it can generate in people which must be given up if there is to be new life. Family power extends its influence far beyond the psyche. Its unquestioned assumptions govern attitudes, hold values in place, and set patterns which can perpetuate systems of injustice and oppression at both individual and community level. Yet Matthew has in mind much more than liberation from such things; he has in mind liberation for living the life of the kingdom. Later he will speak of demons returning in force to an emptied soul (12:43-45). It is a call to the way of the cross, not just a call to be free.

Epistle:  Pentecost 3: 21 June  Romans 6:1b-11