24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever 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; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
What I Am Learning:
People often laugh this passage off as confusing. Jesus seemed to be saying lots of random things in this passage that don't make sense.
But when a passage of scripture, especially something in the Gospels, does not make sense, maybe the problem isn't with the scripture - maybe its the frame we are projecting on to the scripture.
If our frame is that Jesus is a wise man who came to be our divine life-coach then this passage makes little sense.
If our frame is that Jesus came to start a franchise of religious services centers then this passage makes little sense.
But if we see that Jesus was a public leader, a nonviolent revolutionary who sought to fundamentally reorient the way people lived with each other and themselves, then it begins to make sense.
Ronald Heifitz says that people do not fear change, they, they fear loss. In the Exodus story, we see that after being freed from slavery in Egypt, that the people began to long for the food security it offered. Human beings react to unjust societies in many ways: some openly work for change, some deny there are problems, some adapt themselves to it, some say that the current reality is the best of all possible worlds. When change is actually proposed, everyone's anxiety rises a great deal, wondering if they will lose more than they gain.
Jesus engaged people with a vast and deep kind of change: replacing the Roman Empire of bullying, domination, Lord of the Flies culture and gangster governance with God's way of mutuality. It would impact every part of their life:
God’s Way of Mutuality is God’s love, grace, and shalom in everyday life, in every aspect of human relationship: public, private, economic, political, personal and communal, body, mind and environment.
In this passage, Jesus was giving fair warning to disciples about what walking in his way of mutuality in the midst of domination would mean: conflict.
38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
This line here spoke volumes to the people of his day. The cross was a torturous death reserved for revolutionaries working against the Roman Empire. Jesus was engaged in wholesale cultural, economic and relational change.
As I have been engaging in public leadership, I have realized that I need to engage in three kinds of healing conflict:
- conflict with the worldviews of the public
- conflict with worldviews of my social networks, church, family
- conflict with my own worldview, about how to live, what my best future might be and about my own safety and security
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword" Matthew 10:34
Jesus' ministry was not that of a "nice" person: fitting in, getting along and making the best of a bad situation. Jesus' ministry is to deeply challenge the way things were and proposing that his people didn't have to keep living that way.
In this brief quote, Jesus was not advocating for violence or warfare. He was saying that conflict with the way things were was an inevitable part of God's way of mutuality emerging and breaking into the kingdom of domination. Jesus may not have liked the conflict, but he saw that it was a necessary part of bringing a more just, equitable and peaceable society. He wanted his disciples to know that to follow him meant to engage in such healing conflict.
In this passage, Jesus told his disciples that taking part with him in his public leadership would mean being in conflict with the worldviews of the general public. Some will dismiss disciples of Jesus. Some will privately plot to discredit them. Some will try to intimidate them. Some will try to kill them.
28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
But this is not the only "front" on which such conflict takes place. Following Jesus will also mean engaging in conflict with the worldviews of people in our social networks: family, friends, and colleagues.
In Jesus' day, the family was their primary means of survival. Families were led by an elder male, who represented the family's honor or status in the community. You had status or honor to the degree your family members behaved to the expectations of the larger community. When Jesus told his disciples that he had come to set father against son and so on, he was not saying he has come to destroy the family. What he was saying is that the family itself, in his day, had become a tool of the status quo. What good is it to abide by the expectations of the larger community, when these expectations were themselves leading to the destruction of their community?
Ronald Heifitz also has been a leader in talking about adaptive change. Adaptive change is the kind of change required when the very survival of a community is in jeopardy. In this kind of situation, no "off the shelf" response will work. Rather, the community needs to even figure out what questions to ask about how it will survive into the future.
To follow Jesus in public, healing conflict with the larger world means engaging in conflict with our family, friends and colleagues who may be trapped in expectations that benefit the unjust status quo, a status quo that itself is destroying their own families and communities.
35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
But of course, we each have our own worldviews, expectations and attitudes - conscious and unconscious. One part of the control system of the larger culture is our own way of seeing the world, ourselves and our ideal future - how we understand what makes up a "life". I cannot count the number of times when my own thoughts, feelings and fears have confronted me, encouraging me to be more reasonable, to just get along a bit more, to realize that things aren't that bad and that I am putting myself in danger.
Jesus knows these voices all too well, as he has heard and rejected them in his own temptation in the wilderness.
In this passage he plainly tells his disciples that they, too, will be tempted to fear for their "lives" in such a way as they kill their own souls.
Jesus tells us plainly that to follow him means to engage in conflict with ourselves and with what we think makes up our ideal life. On the other side, and perhaps more importantly, in the struggle this entails, we find our true, authentic and God-given life.
All of these forms of healing conflict are a part of what Paul means by "daily dying and rising in Christ." (Romans 6) This is not done without pain and loss and no small amount of confusion.
Jesus loved God, himself, his neighbors and neighborhoods and the earth through the practice of LOVE in which he reorients people from domination culture to God’s Way of Mutuality.
Jesus is saying that the kind of change he is inviting us to share in, requires conflict with public worldviews, the worldviews of our family, friends and colleagues, and with our own culturally influenced ideals of what makes for real life.
He is not trying to be witty, or our divine "get along within domination life-coach".
He is trying to be straight with his disciples and with us.
Being his disciple is often gonna suck. It can get you killed. It will not always be comfortable.
But the kingdom of God, among all of us (Luke 17), is worth it. Being authentic to who God is making us to be is worth it. Just walking on God's way of mutuality is worth it.
He wants us to get real life, not just get along.
How would we want to live, anyway?