Matthew 10:24–39 (NRSV)
24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 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!
Whom to Fear
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 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. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
Not Peace, but a Sword
(Lk 12:51–53; 14:26–27)
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 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;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 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; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
I have expressed on many occasions that I love to study scripture. It seems like every time I read a passage there is something there that I could swear, if Quakers swore, was not there the last time I read it. Obviously, words have not been added but the more we as individuals interact with scripture, the more we learn of history, the more we observe our culture and the cultures of the world, the more we learn and adapt in our lives, and the more trials and blessings we experience (usually trials) we gain a unique perspective to interact with the scripture with. Of course, our experiences should not be the basis of study, we should also make earnest efforts in learning all we can about the passage, but at times certain words just stick out, certain phrases seem to take our breath away, and at times upset us.
This passage is one passage that has been difficult for me. I find it difficult for several reasons. The main one though is it just seems like Jesus is throwing words out there that do not really fit in the general message He usually dictates.
Right from the start He talks about those saying that he is from the House of Beelzebul. Beelzebul is an interesting study. I say that because the history of the word is interesting not because of who the word represents. It is a word derived from the ancient Philistine god Ba’al, and that word basically means lord. The second half of the world “ze bul” is thought to mean of flies, so, ”Ba’al ze bul” lord of the flies. The Philistines believed that this god was one that flew, but the ancient Jewish understanding was a bit different, they regarded this lord of the flies to mean the attractor of flies or a pile of manure. So Beelzebul is a dung heap, one that attracts the undesirable pests of life. So often this word refers to the devil or Satan, the leader of the demonic powers and fallen angels. To be of the house of Beelzebul is a double-sided insult. The accusers of Jesus and his disciples are saying that Jesus is of Satan on one hand and a pile of excrement.
I find this first portion of this passage difficult because to me it almost seems as if Jesus regards this insult as humorous. Let’s take a different look at it. “If they regard the master a pile of manure, how much more will they regard the disciples of…” ok I think you get the point. The disciples are concerned with their reputation, and Jesus is basically telling them so they think you and I are piles attracting flies, who cares? It is almost as if Jesus is perfectly ok with this. Not necessarily the insult portion, but the reasoning behind the insult. He is attracting flies, the pests, the unclean and sinful segments of the population. Jesus is attracting the scum of the community, like manure attracts flies. They say this because Jesus spent time with his friend Matthew the tax collector, he even attended a party Matthew threw at his home, and not only did Jesus attend but he attended as an honored guest. To the religious orders of Jesus’ culture this was taboo. How can a truly religious man spend time with “sinners”? How can he attract such sinners to him as he does, unless he is the Lord of the Flies or at least of that fallen angel’s house?
He goes one after a good laugh about being the lord of the fly attracting pile, to get to the heart of why this has the disciples concerned. They are talking about you, they are calling you names, they are slinging mud and we hope it’s only mud and not something more ripe. Why do you care what they say? Do not fear, nothing will remain a secret or remain hidden. These religious leaders are making fun of the disciples because of the people they are helping. They are pointing out that these people, from their perspective, are not worth their time or energy because they are morally deficient sinners. Yet Jesus sent his disciples to teach and minister to these people’s needs, and to build relationships with them. Jesus tells his disciples to take heart and continue to speak boldly the gospel of the kingdom. Do not worry about what others will say because no secrets will remain, and when that time comes the religious leaders will be found wanting. Jesus once called these Pharisees white washed tombs, and this is basically what he is saying here. If you were to remove the façade those that are calling the disciples slaves to the Lord of the flies, will be shown as being the one that smell funny.
The disciples are concerned, getting upset that they are being characterized incorrectly, and they are so concerned about this reputation that they are pulling back on their ministry. Jesus is telling them don’t worry and don’t fear. They are not the judge, and are the true revolting piles. Instead be concerned with pleasing God. God is concerned with everything in his creation. He knows and God cares even for the insignificant sparrows.
So far, this passage of random sayings seems to be more connected than I thought. But then the most difficult saying of Jesus recorded in the gospels. “Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” How many of us look at this passage and sit dumbfounded? This one verse has probably caused the greatest amount of confusion as any passage in the bible. Jesus the prince of peace, the one that tells us to love our enemies is now saying he is not bringing peace but a sword. This passage has been twisted for centuries to justify crusades and countless atrocities throughout church history, but it has been twisted.
Jesus has said in the previous verses that we should not care what others think and say about us, instead we should speak boldly the message that Jesus has given to us. Jesus is illustrating to us a principle with these words. It is a principle that he has shared many times in his teachings, the concept of not being able to serve two masters.
The sword divides, it split, and separates one side from another. The disciples were worried about what the religious leaders thought. They were out there calling Jesus the Lord of manure, the very leader of demonic forces that attracts the pests and scum of the earth. They were worried and they feared their reputations would be blighted because of their association with Him. What would people think if they knew I was following, that I was a disciple of this man everyone says if full of crap? They were concerned yet they followed him. They listened to him and were attracted to him; did that mean they were also flies? They loved what Jesus had to teach, they saw that it made a difference in their world and in their lives, yet they struggled with what others might think.
We often struggle with this very same thing. The problem is that we are not free when we are bound to what others think. We are impaled with a blade, held down and unable to move. We want to pursue our passions yet what would my parents think? Would my spouse think I was skirting responsibility if I quit my job and pursued an education? Would my friends think I was crazy if I pursued a relationship with another? Would my coworkers think poorly of me if I applied for a promotion? We are stabbed by a sword, unable to move because if we do part of who we thought we were would be cut away, and as far as we know we need that piece of us to survive. That threatened piece next to the blade is the mask we use to be accepted in our society. If I were to pursue my heart’s desire the passion God has placed within me, God will cut out something I think is important.
If we are worried about what others might think we cannot be disciples. If we are afraid of what others might say we cannot serve our master. If we are unwilling to respond to the calling within our hearts we cannot commune with God. Jesus is saying that very clearly. If that is what we are worried about we will never have peace. We will be in a constant battle struggling to find who God made us to be while trying to be what everyone else expects us to be. This war within is an epic battle that many will not survive. Many will be taken prisoner never to see what might have been if only they had taken that step.
The truth is that God has given each of us passions. He has created us each with some unique ability and place within our community that only you or I can fill. He has brought certain people into our lives with the hope that we would participate with Him to bring about redemption and reconciliation. But all too often we settle for something less. I recently saw a quote on Facebook, and I don’t know if it is true or not but it said, “Researchers estimate that two-thirds of humans have no idea what they’re good at or what their strengths are.” That is one of the saddest things I have ever read. Two-thirds of us do not know who we are. Two-thirds of us live our entire lives trying to be someone we aren’t because it is expected of us. Two-thirds of us. It is no wonder that so many people today struggle with anxiety and depression, why so many hate their jobs, why so many seek relief through substance abuse, and why so many take their own lives. Only one in three are free to live, the rest of us are caught in a battle.
Jesus says, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Those who let the sword of Christ cut away aspects of their lives that are holding them back will find themselves free to boldly live for the Kingdom, everyone else is lost. Lost to the eternal battle of what others might think if. Who are we in Christ? And what is holding us back? Are the things holding us back keep us from fully embracing the love of God?
My prayer today as we enter this time of open worship is that we as individuals and as a Meeting will let Jesus weld his sword in our lives so that we can boldly follow him without reservations.