Following Jesus brings conflict!


25th June 2017 2nd Sunday after Trinity.   Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39

During this past week, someone checked with me that the gospel reading they had for today was the correct one.  On my reply that it was, their response was, I think, with a bit of a sigh and an ugh! I don’t like that one, it’s not nice having to say setting a man against his Father or daughter against her mother!

Listen along!

Yes, the lectionary does sometimes give us difficult passages and I’m thankful for that as otherwise we’d probably only pick the nice passages that we understand and make us feel comfortable.  This would not be a good thing for obvious reasons.

So, let us unpick what exactly is going on in this passage by looking at the whole picture instead of just focusing on these lines.  Here Matthew continues his discourse on mission and his audience are the Jews and Gentiles who are still learning about who Christ is and what it means to live life in the faith.

The passage gives various warnings.  Warnings about how being a follower of Christ will inevitably lead to persecution and hardship.  Jesus says we will suffer the same way he did as ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master’.  Remember how Jesus was accused of being in league with the devil, Beelzebul?  Then Jesus says, as he is the head of the household, the church, if he can be accused of that then don’t be surprised how much more they will accuse you of!

Jesus tells his disciples to not be afraid, to not fear the personal threats or difficult trials because God is aware of everything that happens and that they, we, are more valuable to God than sparrows and that every single hair on our heads is accounted for.  Why is Jesus using such mundane examples of sparrows and hair?  Because these are little things that no one really pays attention to.  Jesus is showing that God really takes note of every little detail.   Just as nothing is too great for him, so nothing is too small for him to care about.  God knows us inside and out.  We may fear the disclosure of our innermost private thoughts and words.  Yet, with Jesus, everything done in secret is known and will come into the light.  We need not fear confessing to Jesus even our darkest secrets because he already knows them and is waiting to lovingly heal us.

So, if God cares for us so much, why is Jesus saying he has come to set a man against his Father or daughter against her mother?  What about God’s commandment to honour thy Father and Mother?  What has happened here?

Jesus has already spoken about religious people accusing him of being in league with the devil.  The same people who say they believe in God.  As they were angry with him for showing a new way of following God, so members of families may become uneasy with those who follow Christ.  Jesus is not encouraging disobedience to parents or conflict at home but rather, showing that his presence demands a decision.  A decision to either follow him or not, to be rescued or not.  Sadly, there are some who just don’t see the need to be rescued and will criticise others for their faith.  Either way the decision made will cause conflict to arise because when we take up our cross and follow him, our different values, morals and goals will set us apart from others.  We are called to bear conflict with patience and persevere in our loyalty in Christ.  To have a resolute determination to follow the Lord of life as God bears us through the worst times.  So, when conflict does arise, we are assured that God is with us, caring for us.  Despite our struggles we are called to continually serve others out of the love for Jesus with the same generosity as God has shown us.

This means, yes, we are to love our families even if they disagree with our faith.  However, we are not to love them above Jesus, as God is our top priority.  This means working out a balance between serving God and the needs of our families.  We should never neglect our families but there is a need to be mindful that even this love can be self-serving and used as an excuse not to serve God or to do his work.  However, it is highly unlikely that loving God, family and friend will come into conflict!

This passage from Matthew continues his discourse on mission by alternating between warnings about not following God and encouragements showing how God cares for us.  The passage from Romans support this idea by offering reassurance that both in and beyond this mortal life God has provided for us.   Together the message they give is that those who live with integrity despite what the world says about them will be vindicated.  This goes far beyond the simple ‘God-will-look-after-you’ message as letting go of earthly rewards of power, popularity, financial security will reveal them as empty compared to the fullness of living in Christ and the inheritance of eternal life.

This passage at first seemed difficult and not nice but in fact, it is a profound statement that we are serving God that is stronger that the strongest opponent we will ever meet.

(Then follows an adlib!)

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