TEXT: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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.” (Matt. 10:34-36)
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus reminds us that being a Christian does not mean that life will be a bed of roses. There is a cost to discipleship. As followers of Jesus, we live in a world that does not usually share our values. More often than we like, we encounter people who are openly hostile to Christian principles and teachings. And you don’t have to be especially perceptive in order to understand that there is a real presence of evil in this world—evil that goes far beyond an Adolf Hitler or an Osama bin Laden or even a Derek Chauvin.
Throughout the centuries, the church has taught that in our world there is a polarity—of good and evil, darkness and light, heaven and hell. Or, to state it differently, there is a Kingdom of God—which is a state of being where God’s love reigns supreme—and a kingdom of evil, in which the evil one (or devil) reigns. These kingdoms are in constant warfare with each other, struggling to prevail. That is traditional Christian teaching, and when we look at human history, it certainly appears that this perspective is not far off the mark.
As Christians, we live in a world that unceasingly tempts us to do evil—to take a lesser road in life, to satisfy the self with no regard for the impact it will have on others. The church, when it is true to itself and its Lord, calls us to seek the higher road—and to willingly pay the price the world extracts from the righteous, the loving, and the merciful.
The whole of our Lord’s ministry focused on calling us to this higher road. In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus spoke of those who are “blessed.” Now, to be “blessed” in the sense meant here means to possess an inward contentedness and joy that is not affected by physical circumstances—in other words, to have a soul which is at peace. The Beatitudes imply that people who are not normally considered blessed on earth are in fact blessed by God—and will experience the Kingdom of God!
As you may recall, Jesus lists a whole string of blessed ones: the poor, the persecuted, the meek, the merciful, the hungry, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers (see Matt. 5:1-12). But if there is one group that stands above them all, in terms of being even more blessed, it is those who are persecuted for seeking righteousness. Jesus says that those who seek righteousness are assured of a place in the Kingdom of God.
And so it is that our gospel passage focuses on the price of seeking righteousness. Jesus warns again and again that those who follow him as disciples will pay a price. He said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). This is figurative speech, certainly—but his point is made. We have to be willing to take up the cross if we want to follow him.
Yet, we are taught, from an early age, that if we want to get along we must play life smart, never discussing religion and politics. We are told that we must absolutely separate religion from public life. Well, if we follow that advice, we can only describe ourselves as “closet Christians”—hiding for fear of humiliation and persecution.
I think we have to honestly ask ourselves: if we act as if we are ashamed of God because of a fear of consequences from others, what do we suppose God thinks of us? Jesus was pretty clear about this, in today’s gospel reading. He said: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33).
Following the Lord involves a cost because following the Lord cannot be done in secret. Following the Lord involves public action; it involves all aspects of our lives. Above all, it involves telling others about the Lord who loves us and who gives us life. And this is where the cost begins to make itself known.
In Canada, we do not live in a society which uses the power of the state to persecute Christian proclamation. There are in the world many places were Christians remain subject to arrest and punishment for publicly proclaiming the Good News. Yet even there the Good News is preached.
In our society the cost of “going public” about one’s faith often looks different. Our culture increasingly views Christianity as irrelevant, a cultural hang-over from some unenlightened pre-modern era. Or it sees Christianity as painfully relevant, but as one of the “bad guys”—wielding a “big stick” and sternly enforcing a moral code which is imposed even on those who choose not to embrace it willingly.
In many places—and in many hearts—Christianity is being replaced by some vague notion of a private, innate spirituality which makes very few demands intellectually, socially or morally. The refrain here is: “I’m not religious, but I’m a very spiritual person.”
In most parts of our country, Sunday morning is no longer viewed as the time for gathering to offer praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God (and this was true long before the pandemic locked all the church doors). Rather, since many people still don’t work on Sunday morning, it has become the ideal time to gather for brunch or soccer or hockey practice. And when you decline the brunch invitation or refuse to attend the soccer game, the cost begins to show itself. Your child is bounced off the soccer team, ostracized from her peers. And those who invite you to brunch look at you in disbelief. They say, “You can’t really believe all that stuff!”
In our society, the cost of discipleship takes the form of ridicule and ostracism. Yet, to be a disciple means “going public” about one’s faith.
It is something to think about. To share the glory of God’s Kingdom, we must be disciples. To be a disciple is to study and learn from the Lord and then carry his message wherever the Holy Spirit takes us.
All of us who have been baptized into his death and resurrection are called to proclaim—in thought, and word, and deed—the Good News of the risen Christ. If we do it, we should feel assured that on the day when Jesus stands before us as judge, we will hear him say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Amen.