Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.
2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
5 These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6 Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[a] drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.
9 “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts—10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave.12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master.25 It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!
26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
So my Biblical memory ends at v. 30 with that warm and fuzzy bit about meaning more to God than the sparrows, feeling all special because even the hairs on my head are numbered. All this talk about bringing a sword? Fighting among families? I definitely forget reading that, ever. Quite frankly, I don’t know what to do with it.
Part of me wonders if Jesus even actually said it. Remember, the whole Bible is written by people. It may have been divinely inspired, but it was recorded by decidedly fallible humans. Matthew was a shrewd writer, and I don’t want to say he straight up fabricated a story, but it seems so off-message from the rest of what Jesus has said so far. My main point of contention is I find the reference to the cross a little self-conscious. True, crucifixion was a common form of execution back then, so the disciples would have been familiar with it, and Jesus’ words in v. 38 would have had meaning to them even before Jesus was crucified himself. But knowing that this Gospel was compiled after (well after, some say) Jesus’ death and resurrection makes me wonder if time colored Matthew’s memory of the event.
But then I wonder if I’m just being comfortable, and trying to fit Jesus into my own comfortable little box. I like thinking of Jesus as a bringer of peace, a righter of wrongs. But it is true that father and son, daughter and mother, whole families do often turn against each other in the name of righteousness. This passage immediately made me think of our own Civil War, and all the anecdotes I heard about two brothers fighting on different sides of the same battle, or young boys sneaking away from their Confederate families to fight in the Union army. I wonder how many people back then thought that it must be the end of times, remembering Jesus’ words. That that war was the sword Jesus promised to bring to Earth.
It’s a disconcerting passage, but upon reflection, I think it is still in keeping with Jesus’ teaching of love. Whether Matthew embellished it or not doesn’t even really matter in the long run, because it is urging us to do the same thing: work to spread the good news. Even if it means a break with your family, persecution, or even bodily harm unto the point of death, work to spread the good news of Jesus. Of course this means the Gospel, and if anyone is made a believer in him through whatever work you do, that’s great! But I’ll tell you my favorite saying when it comes to a lot of things, but especially when it comes to evangelizing: A drowning man doesn’t need swim lessons, he needs a life-preserver. In other words, I think Jesus would be most concerned that we are providing everyone with enough to eat, a safe place to live and work, and access to medical care. Only then, when they’ve stopped drowning in the trials this life brings, can we discuss loftier ideals.
That doesn’t sound like it should be so controversial, right? But try enacting those policies in this country: We have escalating tensions – and death toll – at our Southern border as people are denied entry and even denied their own needed medications. We still have over half a million people experiencing homelessness in this country every year, and those numbers are starting to creep back up again. Flint, Michigan still doesn’t have clean water. People effected by these headlines, and millions of others I haven’t mentioned, are just struggling to survive.
The best way to make an impact on these problems isn’t to preach about Jesus, but to be an instrument of Jesus, and act. And perhaps that does mean fighting. I still don’t think Jesus is advocating violence as a solution, but he did advocate for radical non-violent resistance. So fighting hard for what you think is right by protesting, sit-ins, or disrupting family dinner to vocally disagree with racist Uncle Jimmy may be just as Christian as serving in a soup kitchen or filling an Angel Tree wish list. I just prefer to be on the safe side, and offer any who needs it “even a cold cup of water.” In other words, we may never know who among us is Jesus’ disciple, so why deny anyone dignity and equality? And if we have to be vocal to the point of strife in our support of said dignity an equality, then perhaps we ourselves will become the righteous sword of Jesus.