(for the Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 22, 2014)
‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 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.
‘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.
‘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.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.’ (Matthew 10:24-39, NRSV).
When Jesus was accused of being ‘Beelzebub’ – the prince of demons – it was a direct attack on his credibility. In the absence of any genuine objection to his actions – the healing miracles, the ‘casting out’ of demons, and his authoritative teaching – the religious leaders began to attack the man.
This was more than simply a move against Jesus, however. It was also a pointer to the treatment that those who closely followed Jesus could expect: ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master.’ (Matthew 10:24, NRSV). To follow Jesus is to know something of the suffering and rejection that he knew.
But this pep-talk is not about heightening fear. It is about nurturing faith. There will come a time when the semi-secret motives and dealings of Jesus’ accusers will be exposed to the light of truth. Any fear is best directed to God rather than this compromised leadership.
After all, only God values you more than the sparrows who’s lives ‘the Father’ so completely perceives. Jesus’ accusers do not.
Please hear this clearly: God is not described here as just another father. God is being compared to a father who cares for, knows about, and highly prizes his children. God is a complete and good father.
And so the invitation of our passage is to acknowledge and trust the one who numbers each hair.
We do so, however, with open eyes. The message – and messenger – from heaven is divisive. Jesus – for all the good he did – lived a life of controversy. As his followers expect the same.
There is, however, a reward to be found here: the finding of true ‘life’. It may initially seem impossible to understand, but in imitating Jesus’ taking up of the cross we find life.
Perhaps this should not be such a surprise. After all, the author of life is like the Jesus who lived, died, and rose again. From within our life-to-death world this is difficult to understand. The ‘good news’ is that Jesus breaks the sequence: in him is life-to-death-to-life.
It is a hope way beyond that which we can see on our own. To perceive heaven’s out-of-our-box movement will take a glimpse beyond the limited vision of this world.
That glimpse, however, is exactly what Jesus came to give.