by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen
When we read this gospel passage at first glance, it’s frightening isn’t it? Is it Jesus intent to break up families? Just listen to this:
“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. (Matthew 10:32-34)
We have to look at the cultural and historical context of Matthew’s Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew was written about 10 years after the Gospel of Mark, Mark was the first gospel written around 70 AD, and the Gospel of Matthew was about 10 years later. So, in all reality, this was written about 45 years after the death of Jesus. We know that both Peter and Paul were put to death before this Gospel was written, and Paul is responsible for writing about half of the NT before the Gospel of Matthew was written.
There was a great persecution against the church, and not only the Christians but all of Jerusalem. In 70 AD we know that at the end of the Roman-Jewish war that the temple was completely destroyed and many people were put to death by the Roman Army as they entered the city. According the Jewish historian Josephus, there were thousands slaughtered, men women and children. There were so many deaths on the streets of Jerusalem that Roman soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives. It was a terrible situation for not only Christians, but for all those that lived in Jerusalem.
By this time it was definitely against the law to be a Christian. By this time most if not all the 12 Apostles, and many other Christians had suffered martyrdom for the treasonous act of being a follower of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of the World. I am reminded of the story of Jesus healing a blind man in John 9. The religious authorities called in the man’s parents and questioned them: “Is this your son and was he born blind. If he can now see, how did it happen?” They responded: “This is our son, and he was born blind. As to how he can see, ask him, he is of age.” They said this because they were intimidated, because the clerics had already decreed that if anyone acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah they would be thrown out of the synagogue.
That’s a situation when parents turned against children and these things continued after Jesus death. Parents and children were forced to choose between turning family members in, denying Christ in order to live and denying friends and loved ones for the same reasons. If you sided with a family member or someone else you were close too, you could lose your position in society; lose your status, your job and even your life.
Jesus says you need to love me more than anyone else. That’s what was going on. This is the context. Is this going on in America? No, I do not think so. There is religious persecution going on throughout different parts of the world. In Sudan it is against the law to practice any religion except Isalm, and it is against the law to convert to Christianity. Saudi Arabia is home to more than 1.5 million Christians, mostly Catholics, who are non-citizens and are allowed to worship only within the privacy of their own home. As such, there are no churches in Saudi Arabia and last March, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, was reported by the Middle East Forum as saying it was “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region”.
These situations have gone on throughout history. So, that’s the context of this passage. I like the way it’s translated from the Message Bible. It goes like this: “Stand up for me against world opinion and I’ll stand up for you before my Father in heaven. If you turn tail and run, do you think I’ll cover for you? Don’t think I’ve come to make life cozy. I’ve come to cut—make a sharp knife-cut between son and father, daughter and mother, bride and mother-in-law—cut through these cozy domestic arrangements and free you for God. Well-meaning family members can be your worst enemies. If you prefer father or mother over me, you don’t deserve me. If you prefer son or daughter over me, you don’t deserve me. If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me”. (Matthew 10:32-38, MSG)
In other words we need to love God over and above anything else. And, in loving God more we are in actuality loving others less that we love God, and this is in the context of not denying our faith in Jesus, not turning our backs on Jesus in order to save ourselves, our reputation or even our life. Jesus said whoever shall come after me, let them deny themselves, pick up his or her cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24)
Sometimes we do have to make choices that make things more difficult in our lives. I had a classmate at General Theological Seminary name Candace. Candace was married to a professor of Mathematics at Cornell University. She grew up in a very strict conservative Jewish home. As a young adult she converted from Judaism to Christianity. Her family disowned her and treated her as if she had never existed in their lives. They turned on her. This is a situation where that Gospel passage comes alive. A father is pitted against his daughter and a daughter is pitted against her father, mother and other members of her family. Jesus says love me more. Sometimes choices come with a big price.
We all make them, big choices and little choices every day. Remember those wristbands that people used to wear on the wrists that said, “What would Jesus do?” I haven’t seen them around lately. Do you see them? I like that idea of reminding ourselves to think things through and to be reminded at the crossroads of every major decision, “What would Jesus do?” How would Jesus respond in this situation?
What are the choices you make in your life every day? Some of you give up nights or opportunities to be with friends and activities because children or grandchildren want to do something different and of course they will need transportation. The kids need rides to the soccer games, and out of no fault of your own, you become a soccer parent. These are the kinds of things we give up for our families. We learn to deny ourselves for the people we love. This passage does not take that away from us, but we are encouraged to take our love for God serious too. What are we willing to give up in our relationship with God?
In ancient Israel people were called together to hear important news with the sound of a trumpet. Sound an alarm and let the sound of the trumpet be heard. (Joel 2:1) This morning the trumpet is blowing with this message. Love me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, Walk with me and I will walk with you.
Sometimes we get so busy with so much stress that we cannot really enjoy the benefits of this wonderful spiritual journey we are on. Sometimes, the most spiritual thing you can do when you’re really tired is to take a nap. Go to bed early. Turn off David Letterman and get an extra hour of sleep. And, then sometimes…we need to just slow down, smell the flowers, take a walk, get some quiet time in. These are the things in our daily life, our general routines of our day, the things we day after day at the same time, same place, driving or walking to the same places…this is where God likes to break into our lives unexpectantly.
It reminds me of the story of Moses and the burning bush. He is walking to his camp one night, probably at the same time, and in the same stride that he does every night, but this night something odd happens. He looks ahead in the distance and sees a burning bush. When you see a burning bush in the desert, it is a concern. Right? So, he walks off the trail to the bush and there is something extraordinary about this bush. The fire is burning inside the bush but the bush is not being burnt. And, he gets closer to this fascinating event, and he hears a voice say: “Take off your shoes. This is holy ground.”
The presence of God right in the middle of our day, in the middle of our daily routine, when we go here, go there, etc…in the middle of our routine is where God wants to break in, that thin place where our world and Gods world intersect. It is in this intersection, this thin place where our world and Gods world connect, we are reminded that we know God and are known by God. Jesus says love me more than anything else. “This is Gods Holy Ground and you are God’s holy people.”