In today’s gospel, Jesus gives a “pep talk” to the twelve disciples he is sending out on mission. It has to be the worst pep talk ever – realistic, but grim.
16 “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.17 But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues,18 and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say.20 For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.21 Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.22 You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 10:16–23)
Jesus tells the disciples what they are to expect. They can expect the same treatment that Jesus himself receives. Far from promising a mission free from conflict or opposition, Jesus prepares his disciples for hostility.
- They are sent as defenseless creatures (“sheep”) among predators (“wolves”), and so they are urged to be shrewd while retaining their guilelessness (v. 16).
- In being tried and punished (vv. 17–18) by Jewish religious leaders (“their synagogues”) and by Roman governmental officials (“governors and kings”), they share in Jesus’ own passion.
- Among the terrors awaiting the disciples are the anxiety connected with speaking at a public trial (v. 19), divisions within families and subsequent acts of betrayal (v. 21), hatred (v. 22), and persecution (v. 23).
As grim as the “pep talk” was, the disciples were to remember, these terrors are outweighed by confidence in the Spirit (v. 20) and in their ultimate vindication when God’s kingdom comes (v. 22).
In our day and age, there are social and business settings where Christians do not speak up – not a theological or moral soliloquy on a topic – but just the simple, “Because of my faith, this is what I believe…” You probably won’t be put to death. You might be ignored, dismissed, ghosted, unfriended, canceled, or some other thing. You might lose a friend or no longer be able to speak with a sibling.
Why are we called to “say something?” Because of His name. Simple as that.