Proper 8 • Matthew 10:34–42 • June 26, 2011
By David Peter
This text is appointed for this date simply because it falls in the sequence of the lectio continua for the gospel readings from Matthew’s Gospel. The theme is that of division, conflict, and strife which inevitably accompany the faithful proclamation of God’s word. The appointed Old Testament reading from Jeremiah 28:5–9 aligns with this theme as Yahweh’s prophet finds himself in conflict with the false prophets who prophesy peace. The theme is also supported in the appointed psalmody, Psalm 119:153–160, in which the psalmist laments persecution which he suffers for righteousness’ sake. Incidentally and ironically, this text from Matthew 10, which describes Christ as coming to “set a man against his father,” appears on the Sunday immediately following Father’s Day. Perhaps the preacher will want to comment on the seeming incongruity of this shocking message as compared to the popular sentiments of that civil holiday.
This text falls in the second of five major discourses of Matthew’s Gospel, which is typically regarded as the “Missionary Discourse” (Mt 10). Here Jesus sends forth his twelve disciples, and the bulk of the discourse provides instructions for their mission. Much of this instruction applies not only to the original twelve, but also to later generations of disciples who carry out Christ’s mission (see Jeffrey Gibbs, Concordia Commentary: Matthew 1:1–11:1, 538, 542–43).
Verses 34–35: The infinitive constructions in these verses express result, not purpose. The purpose of Christ’s mission is actually to bring peace (10:13; see also Lk 2:14, Rom 5:1, Eph 2:14–17). But the result of the proclamation of Jesus as Messiah and Lord often is division and conflict due to the scandalous nature of the gospel, as described in 10:21–25.
Verses 35–36: These verses echo Micah 7:6, in which strife in families is a symptom of life in an apostate world.
Verse 37: The issue Jesus addresses here focuses on one’s love of others in comparison to one’s devotion to Jesus himself. Jesus must be preeminent.
Verse 38: This is the first occurrence in Matthew of the word cross (σταυρός). Its meaning in this context is a kind of shorthand for going to the limit of shame, suffering, and death. The reader who knows “the rest of the story” understands that Jesus himself will literally go to this extreme.
Verse 39: These words express a profound paradox for followers of Jesus of all eras. Others have summarized this verse with the adage “finders weepers, losers keepers,” which is a reversal of the popular idiom. The phenomenon of losing one’s life for Jesus’s sake in the first century would include everything from being ostracized by the patriarch in a Jewish family, to being “expelled from the synagogue,” to being burned alive in Nero’s gardens. Today in America it might manifest itself in rejection by loved ones and loss of endearing relationships. The reference to finding life ultimately points to resurrection life in the eschaton.
Verse 40: The reference, “receives you,” equates with the reception not only of Christ’s emissary but especially the reception with faith of the message delivered by that emissary (see 10:14 where “receive you” is equated with “listen to your words”). In receiving this word, one receives also Christ and the Father who sent him. There is great comfort and encouragement here for the one “sent forth.” He goes not alone but with the presence and power of Jesus and the Father, a promise which is reaffirmed at the end of the Gospel (20:20).
Verses 41–42: The idiom “in the name of” (εἰς ὄνομα) means “with faith in what his title implies” (Gibbs, 541). The references to prophet, righteous one, and disciple do not describe different offices but are meant to be synonymous. The promise of reward (μισθός) is one of eternal life in the eschaton, as is clear in Matthew’s use of the term in 5:12 and 20:8. Note well that the “reward” is imparted through the messenger, or more accurately, the message (see also Rom 10:14–17).
In this discourse Jesus is speaking, of course. Note the frequent use of the first person pronouns (ἐμέ μου ἐμοῦ με). As Gibbs puts it succinctly, “The issue is Jesus himself” (538). Jesus is the reason for opposition, even within families (vv. 34–36). Jesus is the primary object of a disciple’s love and devotion (vv. 37–38). Jesus is the source of true life (v. 39). Jesus is the one received when his emissaries are received (vv. 40–42). It’s all about Jesus!
A Christian disciple’s identification with Christ and confession of him will result in opposition from unbelievers but also blessing to those who receive that confession in faith.
Trusting in his/her union with Christ, the hearer confesses Christ faithfully in the face of opposition and hostility.
Law/Gospel Analysis Law Proclamation
One might focus the proclamation of the law upon the opposition from the unbelieving world encountered by one who confesses Christ. The possible weakness with this is that it doesn’t necessarily accuse the Christian hearer of sin. A more inculpating approach is to reveal how the hearers are reluctant to confess Christ out of fear of opposition and rejection.
The good news found in this text is that Christ identifies himself with his disciples (v. 40), thus empowering them for mission. The broader witness of Scripture attests that this identification with Christ unites believers with his righteousness and his victory over sin and the enemies of the church. The gospel is also evident in this text in the offer of true life (v. 39) and reward (vv. 41–42, see its meaning above).
A primary truth exposed in this text is that Jesus’s disciples are identified with him and joined to him. This brings results which are both painful and blessed. This concept of identification with and joining to might be envisioned as a “bundle.” Today consumers are familiar with various offers for “bundles” which conjoin electronic media such as cable television, high-speed internet, and telephone service (whether land-line or cellular). Just as these resources are “bundled,” so also Christians who are united to Christ should expect other elements of the bundled package. The structure of the sermon may even be organized around these components of the bundle.
The disciple of Jesus will find as parts of the package of the life of a disciple:
- Bundled component #1: The call to mission (context of text, especially 10:5a, 10:16).
- Bundled component #2: Opposition and hostility (vv. 34–39).
- Bundled component #3: The presence and power of Christ and his Father (vv. 40–42).
- Bundled component #4: The “reward” of eternal life (vv. 39, 41–42).