The Cost ...
Matthew 10.34 Do not think that I have
come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a
The gospel reading set for today is part of the
discourse Jesus gives to his newly-commissioned disciples. To what extent
they are the words of Jesus, or later reflections on the early church is
difficult to ascertain, but however we choose to read them, the message is
one of warning - there is a price to pay for discipleship.
Disciples are told to expect alienation, persecution and possibly
martyrdom; nothing must stand between them and their duty to Christ,
including family ties and commitments. All are dispensable in the service
of the Lord, and, in return for the hard path of discipleship, there is
the promise that God will not desert them – ‘even the hairs on your
head are numbered’.
Matthew wrote his gospel probably some forty-five to fifty years after
the recorded event, and during that time the church had indeed known
One source of information concerning the early church rests with the
writings of Eusebius of Caesarea, an early church historian. He tells us,
for example, that Emperor Nero had Christians doused with oil and used as
human lanterns to light his palace gardens at night.
We know too that Christians were covered in animal skins before being
put in the arena to face the wild creatures of Nero’s circus. He records
that the apostle Paul was beheaded and Peter crucified, and we know that
many of the other early converts met a similar fate.
In today’s era, Christians in some parts of the world are also
heavily persecuted. The ownership of a Bible or the suggestion of
belonging to a prayer group is enough to warrant jail - or worse - in some
What is it about Christianity that causes such persecution?
The truth is, that Christianity is powerful and revolutionary stuff! It
flies in the face of both conventional authority and human nature.
Christianity encourages us to put to one side all that is most cherished
in secular society. It teaches that true power lies in servant-hood, that
wisdom requires the perception of a child, and that we are to embrace,
pray for, and forgive our enemies.
These are ideas that our evolutionary genes have not prepared us for,
and it is no wonder that the human ego blanches at Christian ethics. Quite
simply, it isn’t natural! That is why the faith is persecuted; it isn’t
the normal, everyday way of doing things.
In Nero’s day, of course, the threat of Christianity went even
further, for in proclaiming Jesus as a God he was seen as a direct rival
to the Roman Gods. Edicts were issued, specifically to entrap Christians,
obliging citizens to affirm allegiance to the crown.
In short, there is a fear about Christianity that has existed in one
form or another throughout its history.
Part of the problem lies with its own teaching. By this, I don’t just
mean Christian theology such as the incarnation, but verses like the ones
in today’s reading.
Matthew 10 makes it clear that a family rift must be expected by those
who follow Christ: ‘Brother will hand over brother to death, children
will turn against their parents’; ‘I have come to set a man against
his father, a daughter against her mother’; ‘a man will find enemies
under his own roof’; ‘no one is worthy of me who cares more for father
or mother than me’. Why such strong words?
My own view is that they contain elements of Jesus’ own teaching, and
thus his own experience of family life. Although some denominations try to
paint a rosy picture of Jesus’ family life, there is nothing to support
such a stance in scripture, beyond the idealised prologues of Matthew and
His father, Joseph, is never mentioned beyond the initial preambles,
suggesting that he either died or left the family home. And the few
references to Mary, Jesus’ mother, do not suggest particular warmth or
affection between them. Did Jesus’ radical religious faith cause rifts
within his own family? He was an obvious rebel to orthodoxy, and we should
not assume that he was easy to live with.
Thus I suggest that if the words of Matthew 10 do reflect Jesus’
thoughts, he was speaking from personal experience. He knew that his way
of living, his way of understanding God could cause family arguments and
worse. He also knew that to embrace his lifestyle left no room for
stability and family ties.
Whatever Jesus’ experience of home life, he obviously thought that
his cause was worth the price of alienation and possible death. And one
has to say that many a convert to a religious faith would say the same.
There is something almost intoxicating about a faith that can lead one
onto another spiritual plane. It is little wonder that St Paul was ‘caught
up unto the third heaven’, to ‘paradise’. Mystics throughout the
ages have vouched for such experiences. This experience of heaven
encourages one to take leave of worldly wisdom, worldly ties and
relationships because something richer and more enticing has been found.
This experience probably lies at the heart of much of Jesus’
teaching. After all, his sense of son-ship to God was hardly based on
The path of son-ship, the Jesus way? Simple really; to love until you
have nothing left to give, and then embrace death with a joyful heart.
It is no wonder that Christians are persecuted for such an outlandish
view of life, and that families are torn apart by such behaviour. In a
world where gain is all, to be told, ‘Whoever gains his life will lose
it; whoever loses his life for my sake will gain it’ (Matthew 10.39) is
But then, is not what seems folly to man, possibly the wisdom of God?