11 October 2013Matthew 10:16-33
“Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (vv. 28-31)
The mission briefing for the twelve continues on from yesterday's passage. It is full of realism about the difficulty of the task of proclaiming light amongst those who prefer darkness, but it is also full of hope - a hope which is rooted in God's judgement - for the apostles are urged not to fear those who oppose them, but instead to fear God who has power over the soul and not just the body (verse 28); they are to remember that one day they will stand in judgement and that they can only expect the loyalty of Jesus then if they have been loyal now (verses 32-33); they are to believe that although people may seem to get away with dark deeds now, these shall be brought to light in the end (verse 26).
These instructions to the twelve raise questions for disciples today about what should motivate our engagement in God's mission. The references to future judgement may suggest to some that Christians should evangelise in order to save our own souls. There can also be a sense that unless we are attracting persecution we are not living up to the standard that is set here. However, if our prime concern is to broadcast Jesus in order to secure our own salvation or to attract persecution in order to bolster our own identity as proper Christians, we may succeed in getting others to join our cause, but will we have made genuine disciples of Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve? (Matthew 20:28)
For Matthew's Gospel the purpose of Jesus' references to judgement are to encourage the first apostles that however difficult the task of proclaiming and enacting the kingdom (verse 16) and however great are the powers that do not want to be challenged (verse 17), there is another unseen dimension of life which is, in the end, more real and more enduring (verse 22). This dimension is, in essence, love: the love that seeks to release people into the truth of themselves (verse 26); the love that notes the death even of every sparrow (verse 29); the love which is the motivation of the master himself (verses 24-25).
- God's mission is often recognised by the Churches as having five marks:
(1) proclaiming the good news of the kingdom
(2) teaching, baptizing and nurturing new believers
(3) responding to human need by loving service
(4) seeking to transform unjust structures of society
(5) striving to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
What do you find difficult about engaging in God's mission in today's world?
- What helps you to be rooted in God's reality and God's values in the face of these difficulties?
- The notion of God's judgement can be uncomfortable. Why do you think Christians continue to believe it is important?