A Reflection on Matthew 10:24-39
When reading this passage from Matthew I am reminded of the song ‘Let’s face the music and dance’. As you probably all know it begins ‘There may be trouble ahead…’ and this is basically the message Jesus has for his disciples. Their mission will not be easy, they will be hated and persecuted for following Jesus and they will need a lot of stamina to keep going. In order to show true discipleship the disciple must be like the teacher, but there is a cost involved. In following Jesus the disciples must deny themselves and take up their own cross and we as disciples must do the same. The final portion of this passage from Matthew is perhaps the most difficult of all, it is concerned with loyalty and commitment but also shows us that not all will be ready to follow Jesus. In turning towards God, we may risk turning away from even our closest family and friends. One can only wonder what sacrifices the earliest disciples must have made in leaving their families and jobs to follow Jesus, one can only wonder what a real risk it was. Ultimately life is about risk, and the choices we make, but even today experience shows that one family member can be turned against another because of their decision to follow Jesus. In reading this passage anew I was reminded of my own long journey towards ordination. I grew up in an environment where there was much opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood. Indeed when I first began to consider my vocation that route would not have been possible. My time in theological college has taught me that many have fought for their vocations against opposition from others. Whether that opposition be from a family member who is opposed to the ordination of women or a partner who has no faith of their own. There may also be struggles within families who have been uprooted for the sake of those who wish to train for ministry. Perhaps in theological college these struggles are intensified, all those who have vocation wrestle with it, but for those who face opposition from within their families the struggle is even more intense. Whatever the struggles of the earliest disciples were, it seems that even today, in a modern society where pretty much anything goes disciples still have to take up their cross to follow Jesus.
But, it is not all doom and gloom, alongside the challenges of discipleship this passage from Matthew also contains words of encouragement and comfort. The words ‘do not be afraid’ recur, bringing reassurance along with the reasons for keeping fear at bay. We must trust in God’s love. One of the Old Testament passages that may be read alongside this Gospel is Genesis 21. 8-21 and in it the redeeming love of God is revealed. At the beginning of the passage woman is set against woman, wife against mistress, and in the process a family is torn apart in much the same way as Jesus predicts for his disciples. Sarah is distressed to see Hagar’s son playing with Isaac and wants her and her son to leave. Abraham is caught in the middle and turns to God for some fatherly advice…the advice God gives him is to listen to his wife! Hagar and her son wander in the desert until the water runs out, Hagar puts Ishmael under a bush as she cannot bear to look on as he dies. It is here that Gods redeeming love is revealed. The family unit of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac may be paramount, Abraham after all is the forefather of the people Israel. But God does not forget the rejected ones, Hagar and Ishmael. It seems to me that here we can see God as mother rather than father, truly understanding the bond between mother and child and saving them both.
What the Gospel passage and the reading from Genesis teach us is that although ‘there may be trouble ahead’, if we are to be true disciples we must trust in the love of God and whatever the trials and tribulations of discipleship ‘face the music and dance’.
Dr Sarah A. Rogers
Ordinand of the Church in Wales.