Mt 10: 16-25
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking though you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
There is a gloomy Gospel on a bright summer weekend. These verses would certainly not encourage anyone in their right mind to sign up for this mission! However, this only comes as bad news for those who only read the words without going deeper into the message because, there is really good news here. A deeper look with some serious reflection and study can reveal some very important details that lead to a very profound instruction for us all, not just for those first disciples.
Matthew chooses his words very carefully here with purpose. When he uses the words: “hand you over”, he is using the same words that he will use to describe what happens to Jesus. When he uses the words “governors and kings”, we may start to catch on to what’s behind this. What happens to Jesus happens to his missionary disciples, and that will include the final victory for those, who like Jesus endure to the end. They will be saved. Then a little further on Matthew slips in a possessive pronoun that is very important when he has Jesus say: “ …the Spirit of your Father”. No longer is it “my” father. When disciples carry on the work and mission of Jesus, they now truly children of God.
Finally, no one should ignore the instruction on how to respond to hatred, betrayal, and persecution. “Flee” is what he says. No fighting back, no hatred, no cursing, just leave it alone, and go somewhere else. As with Jesus, there is no place for violence and no place for hatred. Disciples come in peace, and they leave in peace.
When we proclaim this Gospel in our lifetime and place, it is easy to think that this is some historical moment in the past, but to do so forgets that the Word of God is alive and speaks to us in the moment when proclaimed to those assembled for the Divine Liturgy. God does something here right now, and God says something here right now. In our culture today, there is little likelihood that what Matthew describes is going to happen to us. It’s hardly likely that we will be flogged or hauled before Kings and Governors, although some in my life-time have faced prison for their messages of peace and non-violence.
For us, it is more probable that we will simply be ignored, dismissed as fanatics, or brushed aside by a world of indifference. Sometimes, being ignored is more painful than being attacked, and that is what we can expect to face. Rather than face persecution, we are beginning to face indifference or maybe some kind of ridicule if we are noticed at all. It’s a soft kind of persecution these days that we face while our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world do endure what Matthew describes. We can take courage from their example, and we can speak in their defense.
Sometimes I also think that we face so little persecution because we have said and done so little to attract it so easily have we accommodated ourselves to this secular and godless culture. Nonetheless, we too have been sent like sheep not because we are helpless and stupid like sheep, but because we have a shepherd. We are sent like doves, “innocent”, he says, meaning without malice to bring peace and healing of forgiveness where ever it is needed most. We don’t come to judge, but to understand and listen. If these gifts are not welcome, we leave so that we will not be caught up in the evil that refuses what we have been given.
Like those first disciples, what we have to offer this world is the simple truth that forgiveness, not revenge, is the only way to peace and, that love is a greater power than all the weapons we may build. What Jesus would have us see is that none of us can ever get ahead while trying to get even, and the only people we should get even with are the people who have helped us. This is the kind of wisdom that our Father’s spirit will teach us.