The Rev’d Penny Body
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Reflection July 12th 2021
The Gospel – Matthew chapter 10 verse 34 to chapter 11 verse 1
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
40 “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
11 After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
I am writing this a little while before the football final begins – thank goodness I don’t have to reflect on the result – whatever it might be – though I do wish England well of course!. However – one thing I have heard said about football is that it is often a “game of two halves” – well today I think our reading is a “gospel of two halves” – and there ends my football analogies!
In our gospel reading today we’ve got some warnings and some rewards. Jesus begins by speaking of bringing a sword – conflict – division to the earth not peace. Well we know something must be up because Jesus is the Prince of Peace – for example in John chapter 16 he says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace”- so what’s going on?
The words Jesus speaks would have been very well known to the Jews of the time – verses 35 and 36 come directly from the book of Micah. In Micah chapter 7 we read about the Day of the Lord where no-one can be trusted – where (Micah 7.6) a son dishonours his father and a daughter rises up against her mother – a daughter-in-law against a mother-in-law and a man’s enemies are members of his own household – the same words. So Jesus is speaking about the end times, and in so doing, warning the disciples that following him is bound to lead to some families and neighbours becoming divided and pitted against each other. It is more than sad, but bound to happen – it is part of counting the cost of following Jesus that we thought about a couple of weeks ago.
Then he gives three warnings – that anyone who loves a father or mother more than him, or a son or a daughter more than him, or does not take up their cross and follow him is not worthy of him.
These feel such stern and uncompromising words.
Then we have what feels to me like the pivotal verse – “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
This is the constant, mysterious refrain that comes to us through all the gospels. That we must lose our lives in the material world, put all our love and trust and faith in Jesus, live in and for him – and then – amazingly emerge into the sunlight and find new and amazing life in him – but we have to go first through the mystery of the death and resurrection of the self.
So now, in our reading, the tone changes and Jesus – speaking to the disciples – and through them to us – now says – whoever welcomes you welcomes me and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. What an incredible thought – that through us – people welcome Jesus – and through Jesus – God our Father. Then he offers three blessings – whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet receives a prophets reward – whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person receives a righteous person’s reward – and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a hot and thirsty disciple of his will not lose their reward.
These are words of love and light, of hope and humility – that even the smallest acts of kindness and welcome are seen by God our Father and are worthy of reward. That not all of us will have great roles to play – but all of us through offering welcome and kindness will be counted by God as his children.
There is a balance here with a fulcrum in the middle it seems to me. Three warnings and commands to love him in uncompromising language that leaves no room for doubt – and three comforting thoughts that the smallest of deeds of welcome that show our love will be recognised by God our Father. A movement from the language of the Old Testament to the New perhaps. Yet all are true.
As Christians we are always commanded to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves. We know that as followers of Jesus we must love him above all other people and things – no matter how dear they seem to us – his love is dearer. We hope we don’t have to make the hard choices Jesus talks about – but we know that we might – and that if we do it will be for love of Him. We know that as Christians we are always going to be called to walk the way of the cross, because it is the way Jesus walked himself. We know that we will lose our lives and find them new in him – though that seems a huge and impossible step before we have walked through that change with him. And we know too – and I think of Matthew chapter 25 – that even our smallest acts of love and kindness are great in his eyes.
These first verses in our reading can be hard sayings of Jesus to hear. They may even be words that evoke fear in the sense of being afraid – of seeing God as someone fierce and demanding. Yet we need always to remember that God is always good and loving and merciful above all else. That he will never ask us to do anything that is beyond us, because with him all things are possible. That even the smallest of our acts of love are seen and recognised by him. That if, in the end, in following him, hard choices have to be made, he will be with us and all those whom we love, always. To fear him is good – but in the sense of being awed by his wonder and love. Amen
Collect for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.