Radical Loyalty

Next Sunday is the celebration of the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. You can read a complete commentary on the Gospel here.

37 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;38 and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.41 Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man’s reward.42 And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple—amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.”  (Mt 10:37-42)

By this passage, we are well into the “Missionary Discourse” of Matthew’s gospel. Last week, in discussing the 12th Sunday passage (Mt 10:26-33) we noted that Jesus had sent the disciples on mission: we learn the names of the Twelve, hear of their commission (vv. 5-15), and, also, we hear warnings of the persecutions they will face (vv.16-25). It is after this warning that last week’s gospel, ominously opens with: “Therefore do not be afraid of them.” Yes, as Jesus warns, they will share in the life, mission, and suffering as will their Teacher. But, they are to trust the One who cares for the even smallest of creatures. The sparrows, which can be purchased for a pittance, are cared for by God (v.31) during their lifetime alive, but even their death is within the Creator’s care. All happens with “your Father’s knowledge” – and so the disciples are to trust.

The Sunday gospels pass over several verses, important to the context of the reading: 34 “’Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword.35 For I have come to set a man ‘against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;36 and one’s enemies will be those of his household.’” (Mt 10:34-36) One should not think of an actual sword, but rather an eschatological one that is reminiscent of the sword of Rev 6:4 that involves a division within families, households, and society.

Last Sunday’s gospel warns 32 Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.33 But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.”  It is asking for a radical loyalty – not just obedience to the teachings, but to witness to Him before the world. The text reflects a real situation in Matthew’s church, where people sometimes had to choose between their family and their faith. In some apocalyptic views, the breakdown of family structures is part of the terrors preceding the eschaton. Matthew finds this a meaningful framework within which to interpret the experience of his own church.

The gospels have already introduced the idea of the “true family” of Jesus, those who are already members of “his household” in v.25.  There Jesus had alluded to the community of disciples as Christ’s true family over against the charge of possession by Beelzebul and the disruptions of the ties of natural kinship. It is Jesus’ affirmation of the Christian community as the family of God where ties are closer and more demanding than natural family ties

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