Five discourses or sermons can be identified in the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount, Missionary Instructions, a Collection of Parables, Community Instructions for the future church, and The Sermon on Eschatology or the End Times. Matthew chapter ten, from which today’s gospel comes, is the Mission Discourse with the commissioning and instruction of the Twelve Disciples by Jesus. Jesus chooses the twelve disciples, empowers them for the work they are to do, names the twelve apostles and tells them what their mission is. In the discourse Jesus advises them how to travel from city to city, to carry no belongings and to preach only to Israelite communities. He tells them to be wary of opposition, but to have no fear for they will be told what to say to defend themselves when needed: "For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you". (MT 10:20)
Jesus is telling his disciples that if he the teacher is persecuted and will be killed then they, his students and followers, cannot expect any less. And yet Jesus’ disciples are not to fear opposition or be intimidated by those who reject their message as they, Jesus’ disciples, are accountable to God. The judgment of God is what they should fear.
The Twelve included fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot and even the one who would betray Jesus, pretty ordinary, run of the mill guys. They are to tell those they visit that the kingdom of heaven is near, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the leper and the untouchables and to kick out the demons. In response they will be met with hostility and will be ill-treated, arrested and even killed. Family members will turn against each other because of their work.
One of my colleagues says that Jesus is not very family friendly, that in fact Jesus is openly hostile to families. I do not like to hear this, but in today’s gospel that is what we hear Jesus say, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 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—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me””. This is a real hard saying, but we know it to be true. Jon’s father tells of a Seventh Day Adventist that came to town where he was growing up and his family was split down the middle on those who supported and those who opposed his message. My father’s family went to the Baptist church in the winter and the Anglican Church in the summer when it was easier to travel further. To this day our family is split on what it means to be a Christian. My cousin Harvey from Alberta visited me this week. Over breakfast he was telling me about the down fall of the United Church of Canada and on how they are accepting of homosexuals and even have gay and lesbian ministers. I took this as a criticism of the Episcopal Church as well. I told him that we would have to agree to disagree on this topic. My experience is that those who are hostile to gender, sexual orientation, or race issues are not usually open to an honest conversation and a free exchange of ideas.
Jesus teaches and preaches a message of love, care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized. Jesus teaches the Great Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, this is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (MT22:37-39) The Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, teaches a similar message. “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in their lawsuits”. “You shall not oppress a resident alien”. (Exodus 23:6, 9) “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…you shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Leviticus 19:17, 18) “Judaism, Christianity and Islamic teachings are based on the same moral and ethical principles.” I am reading Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss and thought this passage on Muhammad might be of interest.
When Muhammad began conveying his divinely revealed message to the larger community, he faced great resistance. In Arab society at that time, women, orphans, the disabled, and poor were treated with scant compassion. The social reforms that Muhammad was called to institute angered some fellow Arabs who did not want to change the social order that benefited them at the expense of the less fortunate. They attempted to lead an assault, yet Muhammad prevailed. He improved life for Arab women by prohibiting female infanticide and the prostitution of slave women, and by establishing the rights of women to inherit a half-share. He did what he could to shift the balance of power in marriage by proclaiming that couples have reciprocal duties and rights, and that women should be educated. He made it part of Muslim law that the followers of Allah must donate a fixed portion of their income to the support of orphans, beggars, and anyone in financial straits. Muhammad’s followers have not always maintained his reforms or abided by his teachings, just as followers of other great mystical leaders, including Jesus, have not. After the founders died, the entrenched customs of male dominance endemic to the honor-and-shame-based cultures of the Middle East and Asia often reasserted themselves in short order.
Nothing changes! Down through the millennium and centuries God’s prophets and his son Jesus teach the same message and are rejected. In our modern Western society we still do not want to hear God’s message that the kingdom of heaven is near, that we are to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to care for those with AIDs or HIV, the alcoholic and drug addict, the mentally ill, immigrants and refugees, the poor, children, women, and men, the elderly, …
What does it mean for us today to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? We are students who learn as much as we can from the great teacher Jesus Christ. As disciples we receive the call of Jesus to enter into a lifelong relationship with Jesus and not just his teaching. Discipleship requires a total break with the past, putting Jesus before our family and friends, even denying ourselves.
As disciples we are sent out to proclaim the Good News and are given the power to exorcise and to heal human infirmities. We will meet with rejection because of following the cross, but the church is strengthened by our social resistance.
As Christians and followers of Jesus we are to stand up for the rights of the poor and the marginalized. We are sent out to heal the sick, the deaf and the lame. What would it look like if all including the poor have access to affordable health care? We are sent out to cast out demons. What would it look like if the mentally ill were loved and provided for? What would it look like for a minimum wage family whose mother develops Alzheimer’s Dementia?
What would it look like if every family could have affordable housing? A study shows that no state in the United States has a minimum wage that covers the rent for a two bedroom apartment. In Michigan it is estimated that a minimum wage of $16.24 for a forty hour week, 52 week year is required to afford the Fair Market Rent of $806 for a two-bedroom rental home, without paying more than 30% of their income. As of January 1, 2017 the minimum hourly wage rate in Michigan is $8.90 or $18,512 per year as opposed to the $33,779.20 ($32,240) required to pay the fair market rent in Michigan of $806 a short fall of over $15,000.
As disciples of Jesus, these are the questions we are to struggle with and not just talk about, but to act on. We will face opposition, but this is what Jesus is teaching us and sending us out to do; to proclaim the gospel, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the untouchable and to cast out demons with no expectation of personal gain. This is hard stuff, but this is our mission. Amen.
 Myss, Caroline, Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential, Muhammad’s Contract, p. 93-98, Harmony Books, New York, 2001, 94.
 Ibid, 97-98.
 David Noel Freedman, Editor-in-Chief, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume 2 D-G, Disciple, Discipleship, II-207-210, Doubleday/New York, 1992.