In yesterday’s post, I used the example of a college student selling Cutco knives to family members to try to explain what I thought was happening in the rather intense prep session that Jesus gave the twelve before they embarked upon their first evangelistic tour in Matthew’s Gospel. To hear Jesus tell them that ” 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; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household” is difficult to hear, even if it is a rough quotation of the prophet Micah’s lament over his rejection by the people. As I’ve struggled with what to do with this passage as a preacher, this Cutco image continues to play in my mind. It seems to me that Jesus is inviting the disciples to think long and hard about the cost of what they are taking on.
Sure, they have spent considerable time following Jesus, but what he is preparing them for is something quite different. They are about to move from being the students of a less-than-well-pedigreed Rabbi to being the carriers of his message in the world. As Jesus notes, it is one thing to simply follow one said to be of the house of Beelzebul, it will be quite another to multiply his message in towns and villages all around Judea. Before, these idiots who followed a fool weren’t worth the effort. Now, they will be the target of some pretty brutal attacks with collateral damage that will threaten the livelihood of their entire family. Jesus wants to be sure they have counted the cost before they weigh the benefits.
Like the Cutco knife salesperson, the key to understanding the cost, is being fully aware of the benefits. Jesus isn’t promising that proclaiming the Kingdom will be easy, but, he is quick to assure the disciples that “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven…” If one is willing to take the risk of evangelism, the rewards will be exceedingly great.
So, like I asked yesterday, what does this have to do with us in the 21st century? Well, I would suspect that a lot of the anxiety polite Episcopalians have about evangelism has to do with our images of it. The cost of sounding like a Bible thumper who stands on a street corner and tells people they are going to hell seems awfully high. The fear of ostracizing oneself from relationships because of a deep desire to see the whole world come to know the joy of the Kingdom is a significant cost. What the Church hasn’t been so great at, and, quite frankly, this passage doesn’t do all that well either, is highlighting the benefits of a life of evangelism. Without the full picture, one can’t make an informed decision. In our lesson, Jesus is trying to give his disciples an idea of the cost. In time, they will come to know the benefits. This week, the preacher might do well to offer a look at both so that our people can do their best cost benefit analysis and decide for themselves if becoming an Apostle is something their faith life can handle.