Matthew 10:5-42, The Mission Discourse

[June 3, 2012] Today is Trinity Sunday, the beginning of the season of the church. The church calendar year falls into two halves: one half stretches from Advent to Pentecost in which we celebrate our Lord Jesus; the other half stretches from Trinity Sunday to Christ the Victor Sunday in which we celebrate the church. After the ascended Lord Jesus sends the Holy Spirit upon the church on Pentecost to equip it to be His witnesses, the church goes forth witnessing and baptizing into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Trinity Sunday). The church continues in tribulation and patience (Ordinary Time) until the victory of Christ the King when He returns in glory to establish the Kingdom.

It is expedient that today I am considering Jesus’ sending-out speech to His disciples. The local church is the testimony of Jesus where it lives, and the banner and even the vanguard of the Kingdom that is coming. It is partnered with the (trans-local) work of the apostolate, the apostles and their coworkers, who are sent out to establish and build up local churches. The universal (or catholic) church consists of these two aspects: the local churches and the apostolate, administratively independent but spiritually dependent on each other. The local churches support the apostolate financially, with their hospitality with their concern and prayers, and with their receptivity; and they also give birth to the apostolate as they send forth workers into the work of the apostolate. In addition, the local churches are also themselves engaged in the work of the apostolate within their own localities, among their unbelieving neighbors and by the hospitality they offer to travelers (see 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). The work of what we call “evangelism” is not for the coworkers of the apostles alone but for every disciple to be engaged in. To evangelize (euangeli΄zō) is to tell the story—the “good-spell”—of Jesus, His coming and what it means. In other words, it is to proclaim that, “The Kingdom of the Heavens has drawn near.”

The Temporary Restriction (Matthew 10:5b-6)

Jesus temporarily restricts His disciples to the limit of His own range. If He restricted Himself to the Jewish towns of Galilee and Judea, they were to do the same. Jesus did not restrict Himself entirely to “the house of Israel” yet it was where He concentrated. He withdrew with His disciples to the other side of Lake Galilee and to the region north of Galilee, and He did minister to Gentiles in these regions, but not actively. He also ministered to Samaritans when He passed through Samaria, but again, it was not active. He tells His disciples to do the same.

The day would come, however, when He would send them out into the nations, not only to seek out the Jews of the Diaspora but to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles (Matthew 28:19). He alludes to this in verse 18 (not to mention the rest of the gospel). The restriction here, then, is temporary, until His resurrection from the dead (when the judgment of God is accomplished for those who will believe—even Gentiles).

The scope, then, of what follows, exceeds the work of the Twelve within the limits of Jesus’ own ministry. It is a charge for all the workers of the apostolate and indeed for all disciples. As we pointed out last week, it is probably for this reason that Matthew does not narrate the actual going out of the Twelve and their return, as Luke and Mark do. The address is open-ended. Within the Gospel according to Matthew it functions as one of the five catechetical “manuals” for local churches (each of which is preceded by a preparatory narrative subsection).

The Work (10:7-8)

The instructions for the disciples as they “go” are as follows: to announce, herald or proclaim (kērus΄sō) that “The Kingdom of the Heavens has drawn near”; to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to cast out demons; and to do all this without charge. The kerygma (the announcement) is the same as what John the Baptist announced in 3:2 and that Jesus was doing, as we are told in 4:17. The nearness of the Kingdom of the Heavens was the nearness of Jesus Himself. He brought the Kingdom of the Heavens in His own Person. The announcement was that the Coming One, the Messiah, had come, and what was the significance of His coming. The miraculous signs that accompany this announcement are no different than what Jesus Himself had done: they are harbingers of the age to come.

Perhaps we ought to expect such signs to continue. Paul tells the Corinthians, “Indeed the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all endurance by signs and wonders and works of power” (2 Corinthians 12:12), and we see this reported in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul also tells the Galatians, that God “bountifully supplies to you the Spirit and does works of power among you” (Galatians 3:5). Certainly such signs do take place around the globe as the Gospel is proclaimed. It is also sadly missing in many of our churches. We lack the bountiful supply of the Spirit that equips us to be the witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8).

That we cleanse the lepers means first that we do not avoid and shun them as others do. Francis of Assisi showed us how to imitate Christ in this regard (though it is possible that he may have caught leprosy himself by not exercising more self-regard). It is not about audacity but about love, love that sees the fellow-humanity of the sufferer.

As people invite us into their homes and as we meet them where they are, we offer to pray for their needs, including prayers for physical healing. The Gospel itself speaks to people’s mental illnesses, and is liberating when a person is under the domination of a demon. I have discussed demons elsewhere. In part, they are—at least sometimes—independent fragments of the psyche that are directly under the powers of the world gestalt. The Gospel of Jesus’ authority and victory has the power to reintegrate the personality. On a practical level, however, the disciple need only proclaim the Gospel in utmost simplicity and faith, in the power of the Spirit, to heal and restore and exhibit signs of the age to come, and to act according to her or his spiritual intuition in any given circumstance.

Without charge: while the churches are obliged to support the workers, the workers should never charge or accept payment from the unbelievers to whom they are sent and among whom they minister (see 3 John 7). They are commanded to receive their hospitality (of unbelievers), but not as a charge or a payment for the Gospel and the accompanying benefits.

Depend on Hospitality (10:9-13)

The disciples are to go out without money or supplies but to be completely dependent on the hospitality of those to whom they go. The Franciscans understood this quite literally. “No sandals” meant that they were to go out barefooted; and “no staff” meant that they were to go out defenseless. How literally did Jesus mean for these words to be taken by the church in the long centuries that followed can be ascertained by the example of the Paul, one of the few apostles about whom we have some details. The point is probably not the extent of their poverty, however—though it obviously would entail voluntary poverty and dependence on God’s providence. The point is rather that the workers were to be dependent on the household hospitality of the people wherever they went.

They were to find a welcome in someone’s home and that household would become their base of operations within a particular village or town. Like Jesus, they were to meet people where they were and converse with people over meals. We read nothing here of setting up and holding meetings, revivals or church services. It was all one-on-one on the street, or household by household, the same as we see Jesus working. Jesus also taught crowds, but we do not read of crowds here (for Jesus did not send the disciples out to teach—teaching for them would take place within the local churches once they are established, not in the outreach to unbelievers). House churches—on the basis of locality—would naturally grow out of such a beginning.

Those Who Reject You (10:14-15)

Sometimes people “do not receive you” or “do not hear your words”: Waste no time—move on to the next town. Shake the dust off your feet so that there is no lingering resentment. It is not our affair when people refuse to hear us; we leave that in the hands of God. Jesus tells us that when people refuse the Gospel they are left facing the judgment of God on their own. In such a case, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” They were consumed by fire and brimstone; so this is a severe warning. Nevertheless, the disciples need to shake the dust from their feet and move on; people’s negative attitude is not to “stick” to the disciples: it is not their problem.

We sometimes want to argue with people, to engage in apologetics (the defense of the faith). This is not appropriate. We can certainly explain the faith and do all sorts of things to help people understand, but we do not need to defend or persuade. Because of the poverty of our own understanding, this might make things even worse; it can create further misunderstandings. To proclaim the Gospel is to announce it as news, to be heralds. That is all. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be witnesses and thus gives us the words to speak. Then the Holy Spirit does the rest. The Holy Spirit works independently of us in the people who hear our words. In fact, it is the ascended Christ who works through the Holy Spirit among the people of earth—simply using us as His mouthpieces. “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and disciples all the Gentiles … And behold I am with you all the days until the consummation of the age.” We do our part, but our part is limited. We do not make happen what needs to happen. It is the Lord who must work—alongside us as we work but—independently of us. Let Him—the ascended Lord—and Her—the infilling and interior Spirit—do Their work.

Beware of Persecution (10:16-20)

The disciples are sheep in the midst of wolves. Some people are “worthy” but others are characterized as wolves. “They” will deliver us up to the visible powers of the world, to courts and halls and governors and kings. We need to beware of them and be prudent, even as we remain honest, transparent and guileless. Yet when they haul us before their “powers” (the visible ones), the Spirit of the Father will give us the words to speak and will in fact be the One speaking through us. What we say will be a testimony to them of the Kingdom of the Heavens: that is, of the victory of Jesus and the way of it, and of human guilt in the face of it.

The Costliness of the Gospel (10:21-22)

Our enemies will come from within our own households. Just as we are no longer speaking of the Twelve being sent only to the house of Israel—for we are in the post-resurrection time—we are also no longer speaking only of apostolic workers but of all disciples. All disciples are everywhere at risk, even from members of their own household—from siblings and parents and children. No human bond is greater than family; for this reason we see how costly our acceptance of the Gospel can be. And we will be put to death. Jesus says here quite plainly that the Gospel may cost us not only our families but our very lives. In other words, our faithfulness to the Gospel is worth more than our ties to family and even to the circumscribed time of our short lives.

It is hard to imagine that this can be the case: how is the Gospel worth more than life itself? That is a question every believer needs to ask seriously, but our answer will determine how we live our lives. In view of this worth, it is clear that we waste away our lives in what does not matter, acting as slaves to the world, expending far more on its demands than we ought. The Gospel is worth more than our lives. How can this be? What do I not see here? Think on this. Many of our sisters and brothers—countless thousands—have given up their lives for Jesus’ sake. Can we? Are we with them, and if not, what do we really mean when we take the name of “Christian”?

“You will be hated by all because of My name.” This is frightening. For we want to be loved, not hated. It is okay that some people hate us, but for all? This speaks of real isolation. Sometimes—often!—not even those in the church will stand with us. We will—legitimately!—question whether we are really sane. It will try our souls, and we will probably be humbled. As we see our psychological limits and delusions, our mental state may come into question. This is when we might break. Yet, Jesus tells us, “He who has endured to the end, this one shall be saved.” We do not need to break; for if we endure there is a breakthrough. The Gospel is the light of reality, and though our own soul may be deluded (so also may be the souls of our fellow Christians), the world that conspires against the Gospel is also (definitely) deluded, and we begin to see through it all. Our inner eye—the eye of our heart—needs to be focused on the light of the revelation of the Gospel in our spirit, and endure the losing of our soul. Then we will know the saving of our soul on the Day when the revelation of Jesus becomes manifest and we appear before Him.

Expect It (10:23-25)

When we are persecuted, we ought not to look for martyrdom. To invite or encourage martyrdom is a form of violence, an insidious and perverse kind and one that we find in the early church. By provoking persecution, we are tempting others to sin against us. It was a short step from encouraging violence against oneself and being more than willing to suffer it, and perpetuating violence against others when the tables turned. The persecuted becomes the persecutor as martyrdom becomes militancy (we become that which we hate). That violence destroyed the Christendom of the Middle East and paved the way for the Muslim takeover. No, when you are persecuted in one town, flee into another. Persecution is inevitable but we should strive to avoid it and escape martyrdom. Have the courage to face martyrdom when necessary, but do not tempt or encourage others to sin; instead, love your enemies, even then. Use nonviolence to persuade; do not use nonviolence as a form of coercion.

The world will persecute us just as it persecuted Jesus. The world was acting in the Pharisees who called Jesus “Beelzebul” (see 9:34), and the world is the same when it persecutes the disciples of Jesus. If we imitate Jesus, as we ought, we should expect the same treatment. We should not expect the world to change, for it won’t (though individuals will). This is the mistake of Christendom. We think that Christendom is not the world, but it is. Civil religion is the world. When the civil religion claims to be Christian, it is not. It is the world and it will persecute the church or at least regard the church the same as the governor Pontus Pilate and the emperor Nero, though with a more Pharisaical style. Let the disciple of Jesus not be deceived!

The Christian may be concerned about the political issues of the day, but let no Christian be deluded about the unseen powers at work in politics. Christian politicians play into these powers as often as not, even when what they are doing seems like the right thing on the surface. We recommend that Christian politicians and judges develop humility, to question all assumptions (especially the deepest cultural assumptions), and to understand opposing perspectives. We recommend that they understand that they are operating in the world (which by its nature strives for insularity from God and the reality of creation), and the world—as an unseen gestalt—generates “necessity.” Their position normally compels them to sin, and in such an arena they usually have to weigh between sins. They need to look for an opportunity to do what is right—which under such conditions would of necessity be radical—though it may likely cost them their job.

But Do Not Be Afraid (10:26-33)

Persecution is inevitable. Nevertheless, we ought to proclaim the Gospel without fear. We proclaim the Gospel with a consciousness of the reality of God before whom we and all others stand, and of the reality of heavenly and spiritual things, of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Before these realities (and the reality of creation itself) the world of men does not seem substantial at all.

They can kill the body but not the soul. For in view of the resurrection, the body will be raised and the soul is preserved and restored. On the Day of Judgment, the soul of unfaithful believers can be destroyed in the fires of Gehenna. This is what believers ought to fear, more than what man can do to them. The description of that judgment may be metaphorical, but only because any literal description does not do justice to the severity of it. “Destroy” (apo΄llumi) does not mean annihilate but rather to bring to loss and ruin, and in that way to reduce to nothing. If we try to save our soul now, we will lose it then (see verse 39), though we will not lose our redemption and eternal salvation. (The soul that we lose is a construct of delusions, the soul that we save is natural, but pliable to reality.)

For believers, nothing can happen to them apart from their Father. Even the hairs of their heads are numbered. The Father cares about the sparrows, and we are worth more to the Father than many sparrows. We should not therefore be afraid of what might happen, for nothing happens that the Father—who cares for us—has not willed.

If we confess Christ before men, Christ will confess us before His Father. If we deny Him before men, Christ will deny us before His Father. This is spoken to the believers. This is what we ought to fear, not the danger to which men expose us (even the loss of family and life). For Christ to deny us before men means that we will lose our soul in shame and not inherit the joy of the Kingdom in the age to come. If Christ sees, however, His own similitude in us (in our souls), then we will join with Him in the spiritual work of establishing the Kingdom after the disestablishment of this world as the massive delusion that it is, which keeps humanity enslaved and puts the earth and its creatures at such risk.

To Be Worthy of Me (10:34-40)
The Reward for Those Who Receive You (10:41-42)

[unfinished]

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